By Dave Mast
Imagine going to a basketball game and leaving with no ideas as to what the final score was, or possibly even who won the game.
That is the plight of the scout, those men and women who venture into the cold of night to basketball games sometimes three hours away, to garner information that they hope will help their respective team gain an advantage when they meet head-to-head down the road.
For some time, scouting has been a tried and true way to help gain some insight on an opponent’s strengths and weaknesses, although not every team does it as well as those who truly excel at it.
Don Hall, current assistant coach for Keith Troyer at West Holmes, has been around the game for a quarter century-plus, coaching as an assistant under Jack Van Reeth and Dave Schlabach, two legends of the game. He also served as head coach at West Holmes, and he has scouted hundreds, and probably thousands of games over the years.
“It is a long, drawn out process, but one which is really helpful to a head coach when it is done right,” said Hall.
Scouting is a thankless job, as far as the fans are concerned. Most fans are under the assumption that great teams simply show up and beat an opponent on sheer skill and determination.
However, scouting can give a team an advantage when both teams are capable of great things.
However, the art of scouting goes well beyond simply watching the flow of a game.
The obvious tactics for a scout are finding out what types of offensive and defensive scheme teams implement throughout a game. Inbounds plays, trapping tendencies and pressing styles are also a big part of the overview.
However, any good scout will delve far beyond the Xs and Os of the game, and start to formulate detailed sketches of what individual players do, their preferences, faults and strengths.
“You’ve got to be able to break down individual strength and weaknesses and take that back to the coach,” said Hall. “You need to write down anything and everything that you see that might give you an edge. Anything can be valuable information. Little things like tendencies players have can mean the difference between winning or losing.”
Fans go to games and watch the action, get caught up in the thrill of the moment and root for their favorite team.
A scout has not favorites, nor do they care ho wins or loses. They are simply at a game to glean information.
Many head coaches would love to get their own eyes on an opponent, but because of busy schedules, they must turn much of the scouting process over to trusted assistant coaches, and at times people who aren’t listed on the coaching staff.
West Holmes Lady Knights coach Lisa Patterson has benefited greatly over the years from detailed scouting bios. While she does a lot herself, West Holmes’ scouting game is so detailed, and canvases out so far as to include teams they will eventually see well down the tournament trail, that it becomes impossible for her to see that many games.
That is where the staff becomes so crucial.
“Scouting for us is extremely important, and Brian Vess has helped me from the very beginning,” said Patterson. “He is a very detailed oriented person, and that is something I think any good scout possesses. He has been a huge part of our success.”
Patterson and her staff see every team play, usually multiple times, and by tournament time they have seen their key competition play three or four times, in the process obtaining crucial information designed to help stymie the opposition.
Scouts must understand the game of basketball at a very basic level. They must recognize how to detect fundamental flaws in a player’s game, picking up fine nuances in personnel.
Having a scout who doesn’t understand how the game should be played would be akin to sending a man into a duel who doesn’t know how to fire a gun.
“You’ve really got to have a true understanding of how the game is played, and how to pick up on the littlest of details,” said Hall. “You end up watching a game from a completely different viewpoint. You don’t really watch the game at all, but what makes up that game. The score is totally irrelevant.”
The constant chore of scouting is tiring. Many coaches and their assistants will go to practice for two hours after school, then drive an hour or two to catch a game in Columbus or Youngstown that night.
It is long hours and it is tedious work, but coaches who have gained an understanding as to its importance would never let that stand in the way of developing a huge scouting library.
David “Cousy” Borter, who served as an assistant coach to Hiland legend Dave Schlabach over the past 15 years, and was with Garaway legend Geoff Stevanus before that for a decade, knows how to scout.
He said that during games, he will find himself totally unaware of what is happening on the ball, his focus fully on a player away from the ball.
Borter said the art of scouting boils down to a couple of simplistic ideals.
“You need to be willing to do what others aren’t,” said Borter. “It takes time to scout well, and I think that as a coaching staff, the kids that we ask so much of should be given every opportunity to be successful. Giving them an advantage with a good scouting report is part of that.”
Borter said scouts have to be even keeled, analytical and unbiased when it comes to creating a scouting portfolio.
He noted that if anyone would take a good look at the girls basketball programs on the state Route 39 corridor, those being Garaway, Hiland and West Holmes, it would be no secret that scouting has been and will probably always be a huge part of each program’s success.
“If a team wants to be successful, they have to do it, and do it well,” said Borter of scouring. “Head coaches can’t do it all. They have to delegate and trust their scouts, and give them responsibility. And you can’t just scout your best competition once. It takes several times of seeing someone play to get a good grasp on what they do as a team, as well as what they do individually.”
Borter is one of those scouts who is so analytical and detailed, that he has a folder started well before the regular season even begins.
He will use information from the prior season, then scour the Internet for any press releases, and often times will utilize preseason write-ups from publications to begin his opponent profile.
By the time the season has begun, Borter has already begun his collection of details on teams like Fort Loramie or Zanesville Rosecrans. He then will try to get out to see those teams several times in person to collect further data. At the least, he will use one of the scouting services which can provide film on teams.
It is all part of building a resume that can help a team win games by gaining the slightest of edges, helping them anticipate rather than react to what a team will do.
West Holmes boys coach Keith Troyer said that he will often times have people come to games and scout his own team.
One might think a coach would understand what his own team does, but getting a fresh set of eyes on how the Knights do things as a team and as individuals can help him get a better grasp on some of the nuances which might be eluding his coaching staff.
“Scouting is a great tool, and an important part of preparing,” said Troyer. “Finding ways to disrupt an opponent’s offense is huge. But sometimes I think it is just as important to get a scouting report on our own team. I’ve always felt that the easiest way to win ball games is to know what we need to do and execute properly. Having someone to pick out little things we can improve is a great way for us to get better.”
The local teams up and down the state Route 39 corridor have all seen the benefits of scouting, and understand the need to give their teams the best opportunity to win. Whether it was Van Reeth’s championship teams of the 1980s, Schlabach’s four Div. IV titles or the recent rash of Lady Knights trips to the Div. II finals, scouting has played a big role in their success.
And like anything worthwhile, it is not an easy task, but one which, when done correctly, provides a real edge.
“There are no hidden secrets in basketball” said Hall. “Whoever executes usually wins. But by scouting well, a team sets itself up for greater success to execute. It is finding ways to force an opponent one step out of their comfort zone.”