Inside the complex the Huskers women’s basketball team ramps up for the next season, where the gymnasium echoes the crescendo of voices bouncing up and down the court. The heat and humidity add to the sweat pouring from shiny and damp foreheads. Music pumps through the facility while the pounding of an orange ball meshes with the beat. Banners hang afloat on the left side of the gym marking all of the team’s postseason appearances, serving as motivation to chase greatness.
This is the Hendricks Training Complex, where the husker women’s basketball team laces up their sneakers and spend dozens of hours each week preparing for showtime at Pinnacle Bank Arena.
The women’s players are not the only ones squeaking their shoes across the smooth hardwood, in fact some of them are men.
Gage Pohlmeier, a senior at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, shows up to practice a few minutes early, laces up his sneakers and puts on his white headband. He spends the rest of practice helping in drills in whatever way is needed. Whether that be rebounding for shooters or hopping into a full-on scrimmage, banging around with Big Ten Freshman of the year Alexis Markowski in the low post.
He is what is known as a scout player.
The women’s team utilizes scout players in almost everything they do, whether it be during the season or off-season workouts. Scout players are most useful during the season, where they use scouting reports to try and mimic the Huskers’ upcoming opponents.
“They’ll assign a certain player that they have on the other team, and you can just learn their tendencies. Coaches give you the scouting report on Player B,” Pohlmeier says. “You just memorize that for practice. And then you work some of those tendencies into your game. Give the best you can there.”
Assistant coach Tom Goehle is in charge of assigning many of the scout players’ roles during practice and finds their presence to be extremely helpful to the team’s development.
“Your roster can focus just on what they run offensively and what they run defensively,” he said. “They don’t have to worry about what the other team is learning. You know, they have enough to learn in their own place.”
The role of scout players also allows the team players to use reps more efficiently and lighten the load that goes into preparing for games.
“I think we greatly benefit from having guys show up to practice every day because it’s you know, it’s less wear and tear on your student athletes, your players because you know, you don’t have to have them going every single rep on each end,” says Amanda Hart, director of basketball operations. “If you have guys there that can guard or guys there that you can guard that really helps with keeping their bodies fresh.”
Using scout players is not a trend unique to Nebraska. Various other schools across the country utilize scout players in their practice schedules.
“We use practice players everywhere,” says Goehle who has coached at North Dakota State, Coastal Carolina, and South Dakota State.
This practice is used by some of the top programs in the country. The University of Connecticut, which finished second in March Madness this year, has a squad of its own. In fact, the squad made an Instagram documenting some of their experience and it has garnered about 2,000 followers.
But every school utilizes scout players in different ways.
“The extent that they were used varied at each place,” Goehle said. “In some places that I was at, we maybe only use them twice a week, maybe some places only use them for individual workouts now, you know, ever since we were at South Dakota, and here, you know, we use them quite a bit for as much as we can, whether it be helping with workouts, individual workouts, group workouts or practices.”
A big role in a school’s ability to use scout players relies on the ability to attract potential players for positions.
“I know a lot of schools also have difficulties getting guys to practice against them,” Pohlmeier said. “I talked to Wisconsin managers and staff guys. They’re saying how they have to go through the campus rec center and basically ask guys to come to their practices.”
Early on Nebraska faced a similar experience and initially struggled to bring people on.
Goehle recalled the coaching staff’s first year at Nebraska. “(Amanda) would watch intramurals. And she would watch, you know, players play. And then to get a feel for who was there who was out there.”
Today, coaches recruit by hanging up fliers around campus, and the recommendations of current scout players. Yet, at times it can still be different for the staff to get the right amount of people for each practice.
“We’re always desperately looking for people for practice just to have five or six, but that’s the case. So, we usually start with about 20 to 25. And then it dwindles down to probably around 12 to 15 Guys, by the end of the season,” says Hart.
Despite the small handful of players, it can still be a fun experience that provides benefits and good opportunities for those who participate.
For Pohlmeier, being a practice player in college has been an experience he won’t forget.
“Especially if you’re in love with basketball, it’s a great way to stay in shape. You meet so many people and have so many connections. You get to have all this access to a college basketball team.”