NOTE: This article originally appeared in the February 18 issue of CAROLINA.
by Robbi Pickeral
CHAPEL HILL -- When he was a point guard at Kansas, C.B. McGrath loved being on the scout team. Playing the role of Chauncey Billups or Tyronn Lue-his two favorite college foes to impersonate, because they had so much freedom to score-McGrath enjoyed doing everything he could to help his teammates ready for the likes of Colorado and Nebraska.
Now in his 11th season as an assistant coach at North Carolina, that passion carries over to preparing scouting reports for various ACC showdowns, too. "I really do like scouting, because it can help our guys-it can help our team," McGrath said last week, watching tape of Florida State on his laptop and marking possible plays to later show the Tar Heels. "Any extra edge, any extra wrinkle, can matter. I get into it."
Indeed, if you don't know game to game which teams McGrath scouts (hint: his conference responsibilities this season are NC State, FSU, Miami, Virginia Tech and Notre Dame), glance at the sideline. After a score of hours studying each foe, he often can be found on his feet-bellowing to remind the Tar Heels what set the opponent is running, screaming about individual habits.
McGrath still is vocal when the scouting report is penned by fellow assistant coaches Steve Robinson or Hubert Davis, but his countenance is different. "I get worked up during those games [that I scout]-I get mad at the guys when they know the play, but just don't get there, or when they know a player is a big scorer, but they don't get to him. So I yell at them," McGrath said. "When it's not my scout, I tend to focus more on, 'Are our guys playing hard?' When it's my scout, I'm looking more at what the other team is doing."
McGrath, though, always has had an eye for noting other teams' tendencies. A natural ballhandler ever since his pee-wee playing days in Topeka, he showed a knack early on for court vision and an understanding of every teammate's role. He had court smarts, but as he grew older, "I knew I wasn't going to be a superstar, so I needed every advantage. I always wanted to know what [the opponent] was going to do.
"If they were really fast with the ball, I would try not to let them get it-because it's easier to guard them when they don't have the ball. If they hated to go left, I wanted to make them go left-just to make things harder for them."
When he played at Kansas (he was initially a walk-on who earned a scholarship before his freshman season) he was always watching, always noting. In a game against Missouri during his senior season, for example, he distinctly remembers noticing that the Tigers' big guy wasn't particularly attentive on inbounds plays after made baskets. "I thought if I got in, I would sneak up there and try to get a steal, because he wasn't really watching where he threw it," McGrath said. And with about five minutes left, he did just that, helping push the Jayhawks' lead to seven. "It was just about paying attention," he said.
For less familiar opponents, such as ACC newcomer Notre Dame, McGrath spends up to a week watching, noting and digitally clipping roughly seven games' worth of video in an effort to prepare UNC. (For more familiar foes, like the Seminoles, he might limit his study to three or four games, but the focus is always intense.) Coach Roy Williams allows his assistants 24 minutes to present scouting reports to the Tar Heels: eight minutes to talk about the foe, eight minutes to show clips, and eight minutes to walk through plays on the court.
Because of many players' attention spans, brevity is key, so McGrath wants the Tar Heels to walk away knowing the opponent's top three to five sets, its habits on defense and a few of the key players' individual tendencies. For the rest of the coaching staff, he prepares a longer list of trends, details, and what-to-watch-for's. "The goal is to know what they're going to run, so we can take away their top options," McGrath said. "And for us to know how they might try to defend, so we can counter."
Sort of like when he was a player.
McGrath, now 38, married and a father of three, admits he probably loves scouting as a coach because it's so much like being a point guard on a scout team: you have to see the whole court, call second and third options, anticipate change-ups and challenge the players you are trying to help. He wants to try his hand at head coaching somewhere soon, and he hopes his experience preparing for so many teams will prepare him for that, as well. "I love every win," said McGrath, who drafted the scouting report for UNC's national championship win over the Spartans in 2009. "But there is an extra little jolt when you pick up on something, or have something in the scouting report, that helps get a win."