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TMCNet:  Varsity Xtra: Seeing is believing -- video has attention of players, coaches

[February 15, 2013]

Varsity Xtra: Seeing is believing -- video has attention of players, coaches

Feb 15, 2013 (Pittsburgh Post-Gazette - McClatchy-Tribune Information Services via COMTEX) -- Fox Chapel boys basketball coach Zach Skrinjar takes his team to the movies almost every day of the week.

But instead of eating buttered popcorn and watching famous actors, these Foxes might eat a doughnut left over in the coaches office as they watch basketball players on a screen in a room near the Fox Chapel gymnasium.

Fox Chapel's team watches 10 to 15 minutes of game videos nearly every day before practice. Sometimes, they watch themselves. Sometimes, they watch an upcoming opponent.

The frequency of Fox Chapel's movie-going is an example of how popular watching game videos has become in high school basketball scouting these days. The scouting also has gone high-tech, making use of digital video and the Internet.


For example, just about all the 61 boys and girls teams in WPIAL Class AAAA this season have access to all AAAA games through StatEasy, a new Pittsburgh-based company that is making a dent in the high school and college sports video market.

Just about all Class AAAA teams agreed to download all of their home games to the StatEasy web site by 11 p.m. the night of the game. Through the company's web site, GetStatEasy.com, a coach can call up a game to watch on his laptop or computer tablet, such as an iPad.

The WPIAL playoffs start tonight and pairings were released Tuesday night. By Wednesday afternoon, Upper St. Clair boys coach Danny Holzer had watched six games on GetStatEasy.com of Norwin, his team's first-round opponent.

"I would say in the last decade or so, watching film has really changed on the high-school level," said Don Williams, in his 38th season as Carmichaels' boys coach. "I don't know many coaches who don't watch a lot of film these days." Decades ago, football coaches were the only ones who used to watch film -- and lots of it. Not any more. Many high school basketball coaches are video junkies, and technology makes it even easier than five or six years ago.

For StatEasy, coaches are given a password to get into the system to watch games.

"We were in Florida for a tournament earlier this year, and there was one day where I didn't even go to the [Disney World] park with my team," Holzer said. "I went into the hotel cafeteria, put StatEasy on my laptop and started watching film of Bethel Park. Some people thought I was out of my mind, but it's like a new toy." But it's not just coaches watching a lot of video these days. Some coaches also have their players watch.

"We watch something just about every day, and we never used to do that," Skrinjar said. "We might watch some film of the game the previous night or an upcoming opponent.

"I think our players enjoy it, too. I think it just gives them a better feel for more things and more confidence in some tendencies of kids, or if someone is doing the same thing every time. You can pick up on other team's plays." Fox Chapel uses StatEasy, but also the Krossover video system. Fox Chapel sends a game via Internet to Krossover, which then downloads the video and, within three days, sends the game back to Fox Chapel with statistics, box scores, shot charts and other visualizations.

"As a coaching staff, we watch a ton of film, and we have the kids watch maybe 15 minutes at the beginning of a lot of practices," Bethel Park boys coach Ben O'Connor said. "I remember the old days of double VCRs and clipping things up. You'd like to think watching all the film helps. I think it does.

"But I think sometimes people do get caught up more in their opponents than themselves." Most sports video on-line companies charge to use their service. Some football teams pay $500 to as much as $2,000 for a video on-line service. At many schools, booster clubs pay the fee.

StatEasy was started by two Carnegie Mellon University graduates -- Mike Ressler and Tom Matta. The company has attracted a few investors and now has four full-time and two part-time employees.

In getting off the ground this past year, StatEasy offered their video service to WPIAL Class AAAA basketball coaches free.

"We have close to 100 collegiate teams using StatEasy by subscription," said Ressler, StatEasy's CEO. "A lot of the high schools don't have the money to buy it, so we switched our business model in June and July. With the WPIAL [AAAA basketball] coaches, it has been good.

"There have been a couple bumps, like any startup company. But it has gone fantastically lately." StatEasy will soon start marketing its services to parents and players -- and in other sports. For one payment level, a parent or player will be able to cut highlights of their team's games from the StatEasy web site. For another payment level, a parent or player can acquire video of every one of their team's games.

StatEasy believes this will be a big help for players who hope to get recruited. Instead of asking their high school coach to make a highlight video for a college, the athlete can make one himself through StatEasy, thus saving the high school coach plenty of time.

"We think it's a vibrant market with the players and parents," Ressler said. "But we have visions of sharing beyond that, even with media organizations." StatEasy has some fascinating features for coaches right now. Stat keepers can put information into a table that has a time stamp so it can be synchronized with the video of a game. The stats can be input live during a game or after the game.

The software then creates box scores of statistics that are synched to the video of the game. For example, a coach can call up the box score of a game on a computer, click on "3-point attempts" by a certain player, and the video will show every 3-point attempt by that player, one after another.

While many coaches use high-tech equipment, some actually still admit to using old VCRs and VHS tapes.

But at least one highly successful coach watches very little video of opponents. California boys coach Phil Pergola, 66, has won close to 600 games coaching 43 years at four schools.

"If we're getting ready for the playoffs, I might look at a film of a team, but otherwise I don't," Pergola said.

"I know some colleges have guys whose only job is to break down film. They can tell you how many times a point guard dribbled in a game.

"I've always been more of 'These are the things we do and let's just do them well and not worry so much about the other team.'" California, by the way, is 18-3 this season.

Mike White: mwhite@post-gazette.com ___ (c)2013 the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette Visit the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette at www.post-gazette.com Distributed by MCT Information Services

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