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Is There a "Best" Way to Cut a Basketball Player?

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I am sure that you can think back to your own playing days and remember the sense of pride and joy you felt when you heard the final news that you made your school's basketball team. The same feeling that swelled up in your chest that day is the exact same one that kids feel today when they get the news.

Part of the reason that kids are so ecstatic to make the basketball team is because they get to be on a team. For many kids, belonging to a team is the very best thing that ever happens to them as it helps them make friends, develop their social skills, increase their work ethic, and learn to recover from adversity.

Being on a team is often their first opportunity to be a part of something that is bigger than themselves. Making a basketball team not only results in learning how to shoot a jump shot, box out and play defense but also helps learn many important values and life lesson. Because we know better than anybody else what those who do not make the team will be missing out on and it makes us feel bad.

Many school districts, athletic departments, and even coaches have started using various forms of documentation to justify why they chose some players to be on the team and yet rejected others. In theory that is a good idea and the intent is definitely admirable.

However, after coaching for over 25 years, I can say without any hesitation that it is literally impossible to make a thoroughly accurate and objective evaluation based solely on the successful completion of some fundamental basketball skills. For example my criteria for the successful completion of a crossover dribble might be completely different from yours. Plus there are just too many other factors that go into making a good basketball player and a good team.

For that reason I think using evaluation forms are great to use as guidelines but I personally would not want to be bound by the results. For example, if a player possesses exceptional offensive skills but insists on playing "1 on 5" basketball do I have to keep him based on the fact that his skills are more developed than the others?

If a coach is bound by the information placed on the evaluation form then he should devise one of his own that can be used to reflect  exactly what he is looking for in a potential team member. If he is not bound by the results, then using them may cause more potential problems than they solve.

Curious about how others go about their business, I've talked to many, many coaches about how they conduct their tryout sessions and how they approach the daunting task of cutting players from the program.

Talking to that many coaches was an extremely educational experience but the one thing I learned above all else was that there seems to be almost as many ways to cut a player as there are man to man offenses. Now I'm not saying these methods are either right or wrong - I'm just listing some of them so you know what a few of your coaching colleagues are doing:

  • Post a list of players who have been cut.
  • Post a list of players who have made the team.
  • Leave a list with a secretary so it can't be viewed by everyone.
  • Post a list on the school's message board.
  • Meet with 4 players privately each day after practice. Keep 2 and cut 2.
  • Give each player a sealed envelope that contains a letter describing their fate. Instruct them not to open it until they get home.
  • Talk to parents and encourage them to persuade their son/daughter to drop out before cuts are made.
  • Call players individually and cut them over the phone.
  • Email players individually or collectively with the news.
  • Make tryouts so strenuous the first few days that the least serious players cut themselves. (Quit)
  • Call on the phone the players being cut and then post a list the next day.
  • Announce that you will call the players who made the team. If you don't get a call then you didn't make it.
  • Cut players personally but in "waves." For example, first talk to all the players who can't shoot, then talk to all the non athletes, then talk to all the bad attitudes, etc.
  • Assign each player a number at the beginning of tryouts and then post numbers instead of names.
  • Post a list but also give cut players the option of meeting with you.
  • Call and break the news to the parents and let them relay the information to their son or daughter.

Is There a "Best" Way to Cut a Player?

After discovering there are so many different ways to accomplish the same thing, I couldn't help but wonder whether or not there is a "best" way. Not knowing exactly how to determine that, I decided to find out what method was used by  Morgan Wooten, former coach at DeMatha High School and one of the top high school coaches in the history of the game.

Most of the players in Coach Wooten's program started at the Freshman level and worked their way up the ladder giving him a pretty good idea of who was ready to move up to the Varsity level. Nevertheless he would still have approximately 40 players show up for Varsity tryouts every year.

After three days of constant scrimmaging, Coach Wooten would start periodically cutting players. He has no set plan regarding how many to cut each day and preferred giving a player too much time to prove his worth than not enough. Some years the process went fairly quickly and in others it took a little longer. Ideally he would have his Varsity roster of 12-15 players finalized by the 10th practice.

Coach Wooten's philosophy was to keep the best, most productive players. During games he believed that a coach should "Play performance, don't play potential," and wanted that same guideline to influence his cuts. "Don't keep potential, keep performance." Along those same lines, Wooten thinks far too many coaches keep players simply because they look like players. Mistakenly, they ultimately cut some guys for the sole reason that they don't pass the "eyeball test."

Even though it took quite a bit of time Coach Wooten met individually with every player he cut. During that meeting he told the player something like "You are a great student. You get along well with people and I know you're going to be a success in life. But you're not going to win every game you play and this is going to be a great experience for you. My last year of playing organized basketball was after my first year of junior college. And I accepted that, just like you have to accept this. But what you have to do now is go on and have the greatest year you can. You can continue to play basketball and have fun at it and I hope you'll come out and support the team."

Is that the very best way to cut players from your program? Unfortunately, I can't answer that. But if it has worked for one of the top two high school coaches ever to roam the sidelines then it is definitely worth considering.

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