Most college basketball fans have no idea that nearly every team in the country conducts a 60- to 90-minute dress rehearsal prior to every game, home or away. These debriefings are held about five hours prior to tipoff, mostly in empty gymnasiums and mostly for the benefit of the coaching staffs that want a last-minute review of the game plan.
They are called shootarounds.
“I think they’re valuable,” said Dave Odom, who utilized shootarounds prior to most of his 406 wins in 22 seasons as a head coach at East Carolina, Wake Forest and South Carolina. “You’ve got to know what you’re doing and why you’re doing it, and then be able to sell it to your team. That’s the key.”
Bill Sharman is generally considered the father of the shootaround. He started the day-of-game practices in the early 1970s as coach of the Los Angeles Lakers. Sharman’s thinking was that such a morning get-together would curtail the late-night activities of his players.
His star player at the time, Wilt Chamberlain, famously demurred by saying that he either played the game at 8 a.m. or 8 p.m., but not both. Apparently his teammates did not possess his veto power, and when the Lakers won the 1972 NBA championship every other team in the league began holding shootarounds.
Colleges soon joined the ranks.
Most teams abide by similar nonwritten guidelines. The home team gets first choice for its scheduled shootaround time, and the visiting team gets its choice of gym availability after that. Teams generally prefer a shootaround prior to the pregame meal, which usually is about four hours prior to tipoff. Players dress in shorts and T-shirts with ankles taped only if the coach calls for a more strenuous or full-court workout.
Generally, shootarounds are just what the name implies. At Wisconsin, both under former coach Bo Ryan and current coach Greg Gard, the Badgers do nothing but shoot. When the late Skip Prosser coached at Wake Forest from 2001 through 2007, his shootarounds were full-scale practice sessions.
The objective of shootarounds appears to be threefold.
First, getting the players out of bed, out of their hotel rooms for road games and into the gymnasium occupies their time. Odom said the shoot-around prevented his players from watching TV and becoming sedate on game day. If his team appeared tired, Odom occasionally substituted the shootaround for a trip to a mall or to a movie. While coaching at Wake Forest, Odom once led his team to the Martin Luther King Jr. National Historic Site in Atlanta prior to that night’s game against Georgia Tech.
Second, for games played on an opponent’s home court, players can acclimate themselves to the surroundings. Although all basket rims undergo NCAA-sanctioned tension tests, players believe there are “shooters,” or soft rims at some venues. The old Reynolds Coliseum at N.C. State long was considered to have “shooters” rims, as are the rims at Virginia today.
Home teams also use the brand of basketball of their choice, usually that means playing with a ball supplied by the product provider under contract with that athletics department. NIKE, Spalding, Under Armour, Wilson, adidas and Baden are among basketball manufacturers, and every brand of ball has a different feel to it.
So intent was the late coach Dean Smith in having his players accustomed to using a different basketball for road games, he annually commissioned an assistant coach at UNC to learn the brand used by every opponent on his schedule. Smith then ordered one dozen of each of those basketballs and used the appropriate ones for two days of practice prior to a road game. Roy Williams, once an assistant under Smith at UNC, continued the practice when he was head coach at Kansas, and does so today for the Tar Heels.
Finally, and perhaps most importantly, coaches review details of the game plan.
Jay Bilas played at Duke. By virtue of his position as a color commentator on ESPN telecasts, Bilas is admitted to nearly all shootarounds he chooses to attend. He said many coaches cram as much as possible into these brief study sessions, from how to defend pick-and-rolls to denying passes to inbounds plays.
“When I was a player, sometimes we would talk about how we’re going to take away this pass, deny this reversal, and afterward, the players would kind of joke around that, ‘Hey, it’s going to be a shutout. They’re not going to score.’ ” Bilas said with a laugh.
Even with that kind of detail, college shootarounds are not nearly as complex as those in pro basketball, according to Wake Forest coach Danny Manning, who played 15 years in the NBA.
“College teams go into it, and you have this game plan or that game plan,” Manning said. “There were times in the NBA, ball-screen coverage would be three or four ball-screen coverages at one time throughout the course of a ball game. ... College-wise, you stick more to your core principles. You make some adjustments based on personnel, but you try to do what you normally do throughout the course of the year.”
Clemson coach Brad Brownell might have been speaking for most coaches in the way a shootaround is staged. His include 12 to 15 minutes of shooting, 10 to 12 minutes of offensive review, 10 to 15 minutes of free-throw shooting and more shooting, 10 to 12 minutes of special situations and 10 to 15 minutes of walking through what the opponent is likely to do.
Not all shootarounds are that structured or even conducted in gymnasiums. Occasionally, especially during holiday tournaments, a hotel ballroom will be secured for use. Brownell recalled once holding a shootaround poolside at a hotel on an overseas trip in front of wide-eyed spectators.
Jim Boeheim of Syracuse might be the only coach in the country who does not believe in shootarounds.
“We meet as a team and go over some film clips wherever we are staying and then get to the arena at a time which allows us to get in the shooting we need,” Boeheim said. “With the amount of time it took for us to go from the hotel, to practice, and back to the hotel, it made more sense for us to do it the way we do.”
Smith made shootarounds optional during his days at UNC.
“I would always go,” said Williams, then an assistant under Smith, “and the guys who could really shoot, the Ranzino Smiths, the Jeff Lebos, the Joe Wolfs, those guys would always go. The guys who didn’t shoot it well, they wouldn’t go.”
When Williams got to Kansas, he made shootarounds mandatory, and has ever since.
Most shootarounds conclude these days with the entire team attempting half-court shots. A practice I once attended included building a jackpot through $1 contributions from everyone involved. The first one to connect from half-court collected the winnings.
The most unusual conclusion to a shootaround likely occurs at Virginia Tech. Coach Buzz Williams allows family members of his players and coaching staff to attend the shootarounds. Afterward, they all gather with the team on one baseline. Everyone holds hands and walks, while praying, to the opposite baseline in what Williams calls “praying across the floor.”
For mid-major coaches playing on the home court of a Power Five Conference opponent, the shootaround means having their prayers answered in the form of a check. Cy Alexander, the head coach at N.C. A&T in 1995, recalls an elderly man approaching him during a shootaround the morning of the Aggies’ game at Duke.
The man, a Duke athletic department official, pulled an envelope from his jacket pocket that contained a check for $80,000 and presented it to Alexander by saying: “This is the nicest thing that’s going to happen to you all day.”
After Duke dismantled N.C. A&T, 99-56, Alexander went searching in vain for the man. He just wanted to tell him: “Mission accomplished.”