PAWTUCKET — You could say Henry Coleman goes above and beyond the call of duty. Then again, when you have a zest for leaving no stone unturned and the passion is vehemently apparent, it’s never perceived as work.
Now in his third year as an assistant basketball coach at Shea High, Coleman’s true worth to the program stems from the cornucopia of information he collects and distributes to head coach Matt Pita and the players. From video taping each varsity game to cataloguing statistical data in easy-to-follow spreadsheets, Coleman unquestionably is the area’s answer to Bill James, baseball’s famed sabermetrician.
“He enjoys the scouting aspect and examining other teams,” notes Pita, whose Shea squad ventures to Roger Williams University Thursday night for a “Round of 16” state tournament matchup against Division III champ North Smithfield. “Henry puts in countless hours.”
The perception is that scouting is an art form that can’t be faked; either you’re heavily invested in combing every possible angle or just dabbing a toe in the water. In Coleman’s case, the former hoops coach who had prior stints at the now-defunct Feinstein Academy and Central High has established a system where information is plentiful and only a couple of mouse clicks away.
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How are these numbers obtained and calculated? Coleman commissions a crew of junior varsity players to keep tabs on the varsity game. They’re handed sheets of paper and asked to keep a shot chart and denote individual stats for Shea and the opposition.
“We have the kids partner up with one person actually doing the writing and the other person can tell them ‘No. 50, offensive rebound,’” notes Coleman, a teacher at Hope High and also an assistant baseball coach at Shea (through a good word put in by school baseball mentor Dino Campopiano is how Coleman hooked on with Pita and emerged as his trusted and invaluable lieutenant).
“It’s kind of a rough estimate and not going to be 100 percent accurate, but (the stats kept by the varsity’s understudies) are very helpful, especially at halftime when looking at what areas we’re getting beaten up on or doing well with,” Coleman added.
To get a visual sense of what’s going on, Coleman videotapes every Shea game. Jamiel Rodrigues, a junior varsity player, has been entrusted with the task of balancing a camera on top of a tripod. This season marked Rodrigues’ second straight of monitoring the action.
“One of the main reasons for videotaping is to show the kids what mistakes they’ve made, what they did well and what they need to improve upon,” said Coleman. “We can tell the kids in practice and point out mistakes, but the video serves as a great tool to give them an actual visual of themselves committing their miscues. Hopefully they can learn from it.”
By delegating responsibilities to the J.V. players he coaches, Coleman is able to sit on the bench during the varsity game and assist Pita with in-game strategy.
“Basketball is such a fast-moving game that you’re bound to miss something,” said Coleman about not having to worry about tabulating stats during the heat of the moment. “Plus, I think it’s a good learning tool for the J.V. kids. They may pick up on different aspects and when it’s their time for varsity, they can apply it.”
After the final horn sounds is when Coleman’s true sabermetric side comes alive. He’ll take the game tape – Rodrigues has it down pat to pause the recording whenever there’s a timeout – and review with a notepad, pen and the sheets filled in by his junior varsity players by his side.
“I’ll get the actual stats themselves so we know specifically as far as how well we actually did,” says Coleman. “With the video, you try and pick up what the team does offensively and defensively and notice individual tendencies – what they do with the ball and how well they handle it.”
Once the numbers are up to specification, Coleman enters them into a data bank in his computer. For every Division II school, individual player stats are denoted along with box scores from as many games as he can procure. To be expected, the individual stat lines for the Shea players is far more expansive and includes field-goal percentage, offensive and defensive rebounds and charges, both taken and attempted.
While the numerical side of the game is near and dear to Coleman, he’s also a visual person in the sense that he’ll head to gyms and scout the opposition. Of the 15 opponents Shea has faced in 2012-13, Coleman has seen 13 of them up close.
The information gathered is not just for the coaches’ benefit. Coleman will concoct a thorough scouting report that is distributed to the players. A teacher at Shea High, Pita says he will pass a player in the hallway and notice the sheets with keys to the opposition sticking out of books or notepads.
“It is a lot of information that we’re throwing at them, but it does seem to be sinking in,” Coleman feels. “We want to put the players in the best position to succeed.”
Breaking down a North Smithfield squad that represents new terrain for Shea to mine hasn’t proven too taxing a chore for Coleman. With the Interscholastic League streaming Sunday’s divisional finals on the Internet, the assistant coach had something to go off of besides phoning Division III coaches.
“We haven’t seen (the Northmen) at all this year so we’re just trying to get a better look as far as different areas we can attack,” Coleman said.
Judging by the time and energy Coleman devotes to his craft – or perhaps it should be dubbed a labor of love – the Shea players will no doubt have a leg up on North Smithfield come Thursday’s 6 p.m. tip.
“He’s a very organized person,” was Pita’s ode to his diligent assistant.