January 5, 2022 • Athletic AdministrationBasketballCoaching

How to be Unscoutable to Opposing Basketball Teams

One aspect of coaching I always loved was scouting and game planning. Not the hours or the late-night trips to watch an opponent. But the putting together of the game plan was a fun challenge for me. It was like putting the pieces of a puzzle together. When you finally got them to fit together, it was beautiful.

However, keeping the other coach from scouting you can be just as beautiful a picture when done right. It’s called being unscoutable. While most would agree that scouting is a vital part of any program it doesn’t seem to get the attention it deserves. But why not? Why work so hard to figure out what the other team is doing, if you were going to telegraph your calls, sets, and plays? Throughout the years, I have developed some systems to try to be unscoutable. Hopefully, these methods can be as helpful to you as they have been to our teams.

Teach Them to Ball

unscoutableThe most full-proof way to be unscoutable scheme-wise is to not run a set or play. If your players are just playing good, fundamental basketball, there is nothing discount. It is easy to get caught up in a game and long to control every position. But if you have made an effort to teach your players how to play the game, instead of how to do a play, it is a valuable weapon. Teaching things like how to do a screen and roll or a pass and face cut during the flow of the game can be hard to stop. Most know the rules of defending a screen and roll. However, think of how much more difficult that execution becomes when there is no call from a coach or teammate yelling, “Here comes the pick and roll. Watch out!”

Silent Calls

There is no way to overestimate the number of hours a coach sits in the stands or in front of a monitor trying to listen to what an opposing coach says. So why not give them nothing to hear sometimes? Take advantage of breaks in the game like timeouts, quarters, or halves to call a play in the huddle. Go out and run your best stuff without giving the other team the heads up of what is coming. Even if you were coming out on the defensive end, tell them what they are running the first trip down the floor. Do it in practice and get them used to the no-call. You may steal one or two points a game because you run your best say it without them being prepared.

Play the Name Game

Maybe you feel more comfortable calling most of your sets. Well here’s a way to make that even harder to understand — thus, becoming more unscoutable. We started using things such as professional teams or states to represent these. For instance, if we wanted to run our high/low set, we would use any NBA name such as  Celtics or Lakers. Any name in that league means high/low. Other sets might use states or cities. This system allows you to run your favorite plays more times without having to call them out repeatedly. If you wanted to make it simpler for a particular group, you may choose one or two teams or states for a game. The next game could be two different choices. But always sticking with the concept that all those options only mean one particular set. Many times I would include the information on the game plan a day ahead of time about what we would use for these calls. 

An example from a game plan would include information like this:

  • Red Sox, Cubs – Pick and roll 
  • Arkansas, Texas – Four out one in isolation 
  • Three, Four, Five – Screen the screener inbounds 
  • Packers, Rams – Motion 
  • Piston, Pacers – Backscreen lob

I would suggest using these disguises for your best plays. Then you can mix and a few other options to go with them. Since you have created some confusion, the other team really won’t know what is coming. (*Note: use the same system in practice. Do not call it “screen the screener” in practice and then suddenly use it with codes in the game. There will be confusion, but not on the bench you intended it for.)

Change the Look

A veteran coach said that at least half of your man-to-man plays can be run effectively in several formations. Such as, you may run the same play out of a traditional two wing to post set, a box set, a stack high set, or a stack low set. They all employ a point guard, two guards, and two posts. They are just adjusted somewhat. Find a few plays you can use this strategy in each game. We would find a play or two each game and execute them from out of the stack low formation for example. No special call. You will run these plays from this formation. In the next game, we may run those plays out of a box formation or pick another play to change the formation. Just a little wrinkle with something they were not instructed on in practice can make a big difference.

Disguise the Defense Too

Our final tip on being unscoutable comes on the defensive side of the ball. Find ways to throw off the other team’s rhythm offensively by surprising them even if it is for only a few possessions a game. One way is to have a certain defense for every time a certain event takes place. For example, go into a 1-3-1 whenever a 3-pointer is made. Or maybe picking up man-to-man after every turnover. No call. Just do it for that one possession. Whatever fits your team and program. Also, you can use those quarter and time out to maybe jump into something unusual for a position and then transition back to your main defense the next possession. If you create two bad positions a game with this, it is well worth the effort.

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I have had some success from these strategies through the years, but each of these may not work for all programs. In many cases, just throwing in one or two of these wrinkles can give you an advantage. Remember, you have to practice these disguises just like any other part of the game. If you decide to use one of them, go all in. Do it in practice, on scouting reports, and pregame. Fully commit or do not do it. If you do, you may find that being unscoutable is an enjoyable part of running your program you never thought about. 

Cliff McCain works as an Assistant Director and Learning Specialist in the athletic department at the University of Mississippi. He spent two decades working as a coach and administrator at the secondary education level. McCain holds a doctor of education degree in higher education and master’s degrees in history and educational administration.