English in basketball is the sidespin you apply to the basketball when you go up for layups.
If you’re on the right side, but you extend for the layup on the left side, you need to add sidespin so that the ball boomerangs back into the basket.
If you’re under or behind the backboard, the easiest way to make the layup on either side of the rim is with the English: a twist of the wrist on your release as if you were turning a lightbulb.
When you’re removing a lightbulb, you turn counter-clockwise. When you’re installing one, you turn clockwise.
If you’re a right-handed player taking a layup on the left side of the rim – facing the basket or behind it – you flip the ball clockwise at a high angle off the backboard. If you take it on the right side of the rim, you flip the ball counter-clockwise.
General Rule of Thumbs
Right hand -> right side -> counter-clockwise
Right hand -> left side -> clockwise
Left hand -> right side -> clockwise
Left-hand -> left side -> counter-clockwise
The side spin comes from your fingers, so just like in shooting regular jump shots, standing shots, and regular layups, train only your thumb, index and middle fingers, instead of all 5, when adding English to your layups.
Bonus Tip: The English works best when taking high angles off the backboard, so aim your shot higher than you normally do. Most layups are missed because the ball falls short and hits the side or bottom of the rim. When Rajon Rondo, Kyrie Irving and Steph Curry – guys that can finish layups in traffic at the rim – go up with acrobatic moves, they usually make tough baskets because of the English they add at the last second.
The pros don’t just incorporate English in the different types of shots they take, but also in their passing and dribbling. Notice when Chris Paul runs in transition or off pick-and-rolls; he’ll fake a pass to his cutters by whipping a hard dribble so that the ball returns to his hand. Or when guards feed bounce passes into the post past a defender: instead of passing the ball directly in a straight line, they flick the ball a few feet away from the recipient and yet it spins right into their hands, like in a V shape.
English can also refer to body english where after you give the ball some english, you contort, dodge, sidestep in order to avoid a charge, an odd landing injury, or to follow through on the shot itself to ensure it goes in.
The English matters in basketball because understanding the power of what you can do with the ball, and what the ball can do for you, if you develop a feel for its’ physics, you can become maneuver better on the floor and make craftier moves.