Battle of the Sexes
Published Jan 1, 2008 9:00 AM
There are some formidable female college basketball teams in the United States. To prepare for them, the UCLA women's basketball squad needs a little something extra to toughen themselves up for game time #8212; so they practice against men.
When it's practice time at Pauley Pavilion, the members of UCLA's women's basketball team find themselves scrimmaging against some pretty formidable-looking opponents. There's "Candace Parker," star forward for the University of Tennessee Lady Vols, appearing unusually muscular and macho. Or "Briann January," point guard for the Arizona State University Sun Devils, looking like she could use a shave.
There's no need to break out the Nair, however. "Candace" and "Briann" are actually men #8212; full-time UCLA students, as a matter of fact #8212; who play a critical role as members of the Lady Bruins' "scout" team.
In college and in the pros, scout teams are comprised of non-starters on football and basketball squads who mimic upcoming opponents so that the starters can practice against the kind of playing style they'll be facing in the real game. For some collegiate women's basketball programs, that's a man's job. So six days a week, the members of our intrepid male scout team offer themselves up as practice partners for the female Bruin hoopsters, participating in their drills, watching game films of other teams and assuming the roles of opposing players such as Parker and January.
"These guys, they help us so much," says Head Coach Kathy Olivier. "They're stronger and they're quick, and they really take pride in making our players better. They love seeing improvement. They're a big part of our success."
So dedicated are these dudes that they'll show up for practice even when they're hurt. Junior Jon Silver, a history major minoring in political science, tore his MCL playing pickup basketball in the Wooden Center. Yet he shows up to almost every practice. "I'll be here most days, whether I can play or not," Silver says. "I'm trying to pick up some things on the players that might help me later to help them."
The complicated task of finding guys to play on the scout team falls on the shoulders of team manager Marvin Hamlin, a fifth-year anthropology major who combs the Wooden Center for potential recruits. Currently he's got 13 guys on the roster, but he constantly has to deal with conflicting class schedules and injuries.
"I watch guys play in the Wooden Center and try to find what the women's team is looking for," Hamlin says. "Quick point guards. Big guys on the inside. People who are fundamentally sound and who can run a play. Guys who played in high school and are in reasonably good shape."
He laughs. "We're very selective here on the women's scout team."
And with good reason. Once chosen for the scout team, players are bound by the same rules as NCAA student-athletes and must sign drug-testing forms and pass a physical with the Athletic Department's training staff. Then there are other rules that Hamlin lays out for the guys: No cursing. No talking trash. No egos. And no dunking.