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Coaches Network: What To Look For At Tryouts

  • Date:
    Oct 13, 2017

There are many ways that youth basketball players can prepare for the upcoming season. Some kids have signed up for USA Basketball’s Regional Camps, with the intention of raising their game in time for school tryouts.

So what exactly do coaches look for when they get to tryouts? It’s valuable insight for players of all ages, so that’s our question this week for the USA Basketball Coaches Network:

With preseason tryouts on the horizon, what specific skills are you looking for when evaluating new players?


Sue Phillips, head coach, Archbishop Mitty High School (Calif.)

When it comes to evaluating players, coachability is the first and foremost observation. Some view coachability as having a good attitude and working hard, but that’s the price of admission at the gym door. For us, coachability is a player’s capacity to quickly digest feedback and make the immediate correction.  Without coachability, a player’s skill set will remain static. We believe that coachability is paramount to a player’s potential for development.

As for specific skills, we look for players who are equally capable with both hands in the areas of passing, ball handling, and varied rim finishes. We value a player’s ability to create separation off the bounce for an uncontested shot or to set up a teammate for an open look. Shooting mechanics, footwork, and their ability to set up and read screens are vital skills as well. We cherish players who exhibit stellar leadership skills that are evident in their communication, unselfish play (such as making the extra pass or setting a great screen), and holding teammates accountable to standards of excellence.

As a staff we absolutely treasure lock-down defenders and rebounders. Rebounds are possessions and possessions/defense win ball games. In addition, a player’s innate talents such as exceptional length, noticeable quickness, and good hands are definite checks in the plus column.

While coachability, skill, and talent is the bulk of the evaluation process, never ignore a player’s willingness and capability to fill a team role. Teams are most successful when each player clearly understands and buys into their role.  


Brian Robinson, head coach, Bishop McGuinness Catholic High School (N.C.)

The two abilities that we look for in players are: playing hard and listening skills.  Talent, of course, is important, but we've found that at our level if a player is willing to listen and then follow instructions and is giving it their best on every possession, we will have more than our fair opportunities to win games with or without talent.

We stress that in the offseason and during tryouts. If a player can do those two things, we feel we can teach them how we want them to play. If they have talent on top of that, it makes things a lot easier. What we do not like is begging players to play hard and having to repeat ourselves numerous times as it throws our practice rhythm off. If they refuse to do either, if they make the team, they usually find themselves very frustrated throughout the season because they won't be playing much or they'll be cut before the season starts.


Eric Flannery, head coach, St. Edward High School (Ohio)

Skills that I would be looking for in new players are both measurable and immeasurable. I personally believe players who show a great desire to get better are the ones that stand out the most. When we, as coaches, are evaluating talent (and we all can agree that talent is first on our minds when evaluating players), we look for those players that have a great work ethic, great attitude, and that would fit into our system as a great teammate whether he/she is playing or not.

However, once we evaluate the immeasurables, we then need to find players who can fit what is best for our team. I think one mistake that kids fall into is that they try to become great in all areas of the game. When they try this, they become average at best in many areas, therefore they become an average player. I try to tell my guys who are trying to make a team or get more playing time to become great in one or two areas of your game, spend a majority of time on those skills that you are good at.

For example, if you are a great defensive player and struggle with your offensive skills, continue to work on those skills, but become the best defensive player on the team (truly focus on that). If you are great shooter and are not a great ball handler; continue to develop your ball handling skills, but become the best shooter on the team.


Scott Fitch, head coach, Fairport High School (N.Y.)

The tryout week is the worst week of the year for me. I try to get the kids to improve and believe in themselves all offseason – then you have to pull the rug out from under them in cut week.

Tryouts are very competitive for me every year. I coach in a district in which parents are involved and can be vocal. To cover my evaluation, which is usually very subjective, I will have certain skill sets for which I record the results. A few of these are: 3-pointers made in a minute, shots made from outside the lane toward the corner (showing who has touch), endurance testing, layups made in a minute touching the three point line in between each layup, defensive slides, etc.  The point of these is to justify a cut to someone that does not agree with your subjective assessment.

Going in you usually have some idea of the kids that will be a tough cut -- you can choose which drills you are going to record based on what decisions you may have to prove. Another skill set I will evaluate is if they can play organized basketball. I will put in a play very early in tryouts to see who can learn a play and then play within the framework of a set. Some kids are great in AAU but have a tough time playing organized. I want to know that before finalizing my team.

All that being said, I feel the last spots on my team are usually dependent on who is the best fit for the role I am going to ask them to play. I may keep kids that are less talented in the last spots on the team because they are a better fit chemistry-wise or fill a specific need that team may have. 


Don Showalter, head coach, Iowa City High School (Iowa)

I think first of all we want to give all players a chance to show what they can do in our three-day tryout period. We do individual position work, team drill work and scrimmage work to evaluate players before we make any cuts. Our state does not allow us to work with players on the court from the day school starts until practice begins (Nov. 16 this year), so all our player evaluation is done for a three-day period starting Nov. 16.

Obviously, when we work with our players during the summer we evaluate them as well. Our evaluations take on a very subjective nature, which was not always the case. Basically, we make the decision based on how we think the players will fit into our team atmosphere and contribute to the goals we have for our team. I feel if we do all kinds of stats during the tryout period, the player may think he would have made the team if he would have made one more shot or one less turnover -- which in most cases is not true. The certain skills are shown during the three stages of the tryouts -- position work, team drills and scrimmage work.  We then have individual meetings with each of the players to let them know where they stand as far as making the team.


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