How the UAlbany women’s basketball team scouts ahead

In the bygone days of the mid-2000s, at the birth of WikiLeaks and Twitter, college basketball coaches were still using VHS tapes of film to scout their opponents.

University at Albany women’s basketball coach Colleen Mullen, then an assistant at Southern New Hampshire, would use VCRs to make a highlight reel to show her players.

Assistant coaches like Mullen were also responsible for making sure opponents got film on their games, whether that meant overnighting it or driving to meet another assistant halfway.

“It was a lot of work, a lot of organization,” she said, even once DVD players replaced VCRs.

Before ESPN broadcast every college basketball game, there was no other way to get film other than from the school itself, though mutually assured destruction meant that coaches didn’t usually refuse requests.

“We needed film from other people, so you were going to give them film,” Mullen said. “When I did film exchange, I always really wanted to be on top of it so that they knew we’re always being respectful and they’d want to make sure that they returned the favor.”

Back then, the coaching staff would pick the best two minutes to show the players.

“Now, we have seven clips for each player and their tendencies,” Mullen said. “It’s gotten to be a lot easier and you can just have a lot more focused game plan.”

The internet revolutionized the way Mullen and other coaches scout their opponents. Instead of having to request film from each school and send tapes out after every game, schools upload their film to an online database that everyone else can access.

The most common platform, and the one the America East mandates member schools use, is Synergy, which contains film not only from NCAA games but also junior colleges and high schools.

The conference started mandating the use of Synergy in 2020, although because of the pandemic some schools did not begin using it until this season, America East spokesman Sean Tainsch said.

Synergy was selected “after a lengthy bid and evaluation process,” Tainsh said.

Having that much film available “sees more overwhelming,” Mullen said, “but when you get down to it it’s nice to have access to all that information.”

Synergy and its competitors also break down film for coaches and can show them everything from every time a specific player takes a 3-point shot to a team’s pick-and-roll plays.

Breaking down the enemy

At UAlbany, as at most schools, each assistant coach is assigned an opponent to scout. They research the team, watch the film and pull the most pertinent clips.

“The first piece is player personnel,” said associate head coach Megan Methven. “Keying in on them and how they get their touches, where they score a majority of their points. And then offensively, what types of things we have to be prepared for. What types of things with ball screens, what types of sets a team runs.”

Methven also takes note of what works well against a particular team’s offense so UAlbany can try to replicate it.

Once Methven, or whichever assistant is assigned a particular opponent, has narrowed down the clips, she goes over them with Mullen to decide which to show the players.

“We try to kind of focus on five things for the game that we really need to make sure our players do well,” Methven said.

No matter how crazy the Great Danes’ schedule gets, Mullen doesn’t watch any film on an opponent until after she’s finished with the last one.

“I’ll be up all hours of the night,” she said.

Once Mullen and the assistant coaches have come up with a game plan, they need to teach it to the players.

In practice, UAlbany players will act out their opponents’ tendencies so their teammates can learn to defend against them. As the team prepared for New Hampshire, for example, Fatima Lee and Abby Ray played the role of Amanda Torres, UNH’s top player.

The scout team plays an important, if unglamorous, role.

“The scout team has just done a tremendous job and I can’t say enough about how focused they are. It really helps prepare us and they really are bought into it and making all of us better,” Mullen said.

Come game day, the scout coach is responsible for giving the pregame talk in the locker room.

They present a couple of bullet points for each opposing player — the player’s tendencies and what the plan to defend those is — as well as the team’s strengths and weaknesses, five keys to winning the game, and five offensive and defensive keys for the Great Danes .

“We try to really simplify it for the players, but it is a lot of information that they need to remember,” Mullen said.

Then the game tips off and the players do their best to execute what they’ve learned.

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