Every new season, every new round of basketball tryouts, brings a mix of hope and anxiety. It's the beginning, so anything can happen. You've got many months and dozens of basketball games ahead of you, and if you do it right, you're pretty sure you can win more games than you lose and maybe even come out on top. You have a head full of offensive plays and amazing basketball strategies, and all you need is a few players with the basketball skills to pull off a successful basketball season.
But then, you don't know for sure what you'll be working with. If you're lucky and in the position to recruit, then you may already be expecting a couple of good players to be filling positions on your team. But many coaches aren't in such a position. It is these two or three days of tryouts where we pull our talent from - where most of the players are unknown to us, and within a few short practices we need to decide who gets to stay and who goes home.
You've got to make decisions. They need to be quick decisions, because basketball tryouts only last a few days. And they need to be smart decisions, because the basketball season lasts for many months!
Have a meeting before the first session of basketball tryouts. Emphasize what you'll be looking for - the lists below - how important it is for players to have these attributes, and how these abilities will help them succeed.
Also emphasize that these are expectations on the court and off. Work hard in practice, but work hard in school as well. Have a positive attitude on the court, and a positive attitude on the street. Trouble with academics or outside of school will signal trouble for the team - players can't play if they are suspended from school.
This should also be the time where you gather information from the players. At this stage, simply a list of their names, ages, grades, home room, and basic contact information will suffice. After you have chosen the team, add more information to this, such as the players' academic schedules, so that you can contact teachers if necessary. Teachers usually appreciate this - for some players, the threat of sitting the bench or suspension from the team will make them study harder, or at least, hard enough to pass.
Run basketball tryouts like you would a practice - have a good practice plan for tryouts, incorporating drills that focus on fundamental skills and conditioning - you can find plenty here on Better Basketball Coaching, or you can check out Coach Derek Kellogg's eBasketballdrills program for a ton more. Focus on basic fundamentals and make them work, make them show you what they've got to give you. This will demonstrate not only who has talent, but more importantly, who's serious, who's been practicing, and who you will want to coach. Nobody wants to coach a player who won't hustle.
Have an assistant coach or a couple of managers help you. I always issue numbered and colored bibs at the beginning of each practice, so if I'm taking notes I don't need to be remembering the player's name, just the number. This allows my managers to do the same when they are tracking performance as well. A lot of the basic information you are tracking can be done by managers (points, turnovers, rebounds) which frees you up to focus on the more important aspects - attitudes and interactions.
Just a note - I know of coaches who have returning players do some of this - not always a great idea, in my view, since personal biases can pop up. Stick as best you can to using adults for your assistants.
So, what do you look for in these tryout sessions? A mix of basketball skills and more intangible attributes. Let's deal with the intangibles first.
Evaluate players for the qualities listed above - attitude, work ethic, team play and leadership, hustle, speed and quickness.
Also evaluate their skills in the following areas:
If your numbers permit, try to talk to each player you've cut individually. Offer advice and suggestions of what they can improve on, and how they might go about making those improvements. Suggest basketball camps or rec leagues you know of where they may get some coaching and experience. Remember that these kids have a lot of their hopes and egos wrapped up in this, and to be cut can be a painful experience for them.