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Film at 3 a.m. (cont.)

Posted: Friday April 20, 2007 10:56AM; Updated: Friday April 20, 2007 11:09PM
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By Alexander Wolff, SI.com

Before he became a head coach, Rudy Tomjanovich cut his teeth as a video guy for Bill Fitch.
Before he became a head coach, Rudy Tomjanovich cut his teeth as a video guy for Bill Fitch.
Al Messerschmidt/WireImage.com
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Mike Budenholzer, Spurs
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The first occurred in 1983, when Rudy Tomjanovich joined Bill Fitch's staff in Houston a couple of years after being slugged into retirement by Kermit Washington's punch. Fitch, known then as Captain Video for his devotion to film, was far too hard-boiled to simply hand Rudy T a sympathy sinecure. If the former Rockets star wanted to be an assistant, he'd make his bones with grunt work -- and given the technology of that time, there was nothing more tedious than breaking down film. Tomjanovich spent two years pushing tape, which had only just moved from 16mm to VHS, and people around the league took notice. That a former NBA great would hole up in the Cave gave video work respectability.

The other change came more gradually. By the end of the '90s companies like XOS had begun to develop technology that could capture and edit games digitally, thereby allowing video coordinators to quickly chop action into ever smaller, more discrete bits. Today each of these bits can be labeled and sorted on demand at almost instantaneous speed. A coach can ask for an edit that shows, say, the last dozen Detroit Pistons sideline inbounds plays involving Rip Hamilton on Tuesday nights at home, and with a handful of keystrokes a video coordinator can oblige. Today NBA teams take a video guy on the road; he'll slap together a two-minute edit of the first half to be screened before halftime is over. It's a long way from the days when Fitch would order up the same sort of stuff, only his video coordinator had to painstakingly copy snippets from one analog VHS videocassette onto another -- the dreaded "deck-to-deck."

Says Hetzel, who is to Mike Brown what Brown once was to former Denver coach Dan Issel: "We can never say, 'Uh, that's too much to ask.' I mean" -- and here he utters that phrase again, the one spoken with reverence within the profession -- "he was going deck-to-deck."

While video provides a reality check for coaches and scouts, its greatest value lies in the ability to call out any player at any time. There's a reason that coaches refer to a VCR or DVD player as "the Truth Machine." There may be no hard proof that a team's success correlates with video savvy, but even if a player may not necessarily be great because of the technology, most of the league's stars use it -- so why take the chance?

"If they play bad, a lot of guys don't want to see the tape," says Minnesota video coordinator Mike Lindahl. "[Kevin] Garnett wants it regardless. He might turn me down on a DVD once a year."

The physical gifts of the Spurs' Bruce Bowen make him one of the league's best defenders, yet his coaches believe video supplies his decisive edge. By tip time he'll have watched several times a customized DVD with clips of his defensive assignments. More than that, he'll seek out additional input, peering over a coach's shoulder at the screen of a laptop or DVD player shortly after the team charter takes off. Players like Garnett and Bowen have trained themselves to match what they see on tape with the actions they'll need to take on the floor. Younger players are even better conditioned to learn visually.


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