Larry Drew II sat on the couch and watched as the television in front of him cycled through clips of his plays.
Within an instant of a highlight popping up on the screen, UCLA’s starting point guard remembered what had happened.
“Turnover,” said Drew, watching as he blew by his defender and headed for the hoop only for the ball to get poked away.
Jason Ludwig, seated on an office chair beside him, paused the tape.
“If you had jump-stopped, how many people would you have drawn right there?” Ludwig asked.
The freeze-frame shows four defenders, all fixated on Drew, drifting away from their men.
“I had Jordan, and a twin,” Drew noted, seeing how open his teammates were at the three-point line.
Drew goes over a handful of his plays – only pick-and-rolls in this film session – before leaving the J.D. Morgan Center for practice in Pauley Pavilion. On the way out, Drew said his computer isn’t letting him watch some of these clips away from Ludwig’s office in the men’s basketball suite. Ludwig said he’ll find a way to get it to work.
If coach Ben Howland is the team’s professor of basketball, Ludwig is each Bruin’s individual tutor. Ludwig is the team’s director of scouting and player development. He oversees the logging of game film and also provides Howland scouting reports on every opponent.
Ludwig gives personalized lessons, both on UCLA and its opposition, and equips his players with the tools to study away from the practice court. The Bruins may be student-athletes, but they’ll leave UCLA having studied the sport way more than anything they were taught in a lecture hall.
Video scouting is especially key for UCLA before it heads across the city to face USC on Sunday, since faulty reconnaissance did the Bruins in the first time the two met.
The Trojans had fired their coach just 16 days before the game on Jan. 30, and UCLA had only four games on film to scout from since the coaching change.
UCLA looked stunned as USC interim coach Bob Cantu gave big minutes to some guys who had barely played before and benched other Trojans who were previously contributing a lot. USC held a 15-point lead before winning the game, 75-71, in overtime, the start of a four-game winning streak that was snapped on Sunday.
“In the games before that, they were taking terrible shots, weren’t executing,” Ludwig said. “Against us, it all came together. They’ve been playing like that ever since.”
Howland demands a lot from his players and just as much from his staff. He exhaustively scouts the current opponent, never looking ahead, and devotes every minute of the week on his game plan to win that game.
Ludwig, at least, is allowed to break the one-game-at-a-time mentality. He compiles clips well in advance so that the instant a game ends, he’s ready to give Howland the scouting report for the next opponent.
“He’s just asking a million questions,” Ludwig said. “You’ve always got to be on it.”
Ludwig knows this well, having been around since before the Howland era started. Ludwig started as a student manager for Steve Lavin and continued after Howland was named replacement.
He graduated from UCLA in 2005 and quickly decided that an MBA or a law degree wasn’t what he wanted to pursue, so he stuck around as a hardworking team volunteer during the Bruins’ Final Four seasons. Former UCLA assistant coach Kerry Keating eventually left to take the coaching job at Santa Clara and took Ludwig with him. That was Ludwig’s first real coaching job. His second started in 2009 after Howland called about a job opening.
“There’s very few questions he could ask me that could catch me off guard,” Ludwig said of his boss.
Now, Ludwig has five additional tapes of USC’s games he has already pored over.
This time, the Bruins are prepared for a more patient Trojans squad, one that shares the ball a lot on offense. They’ll be keeping an eye on Eric Wise, who posted a double-double last time. USC will probably crowd the post defensively. That means Drew will have to know where his shooters are when he takes the ball to the basket, which is why Ludwig stopped to stress that point in the film session.
The Bruins are also in the middle of an eight-day layoff, a brief respite from the demanding Pac-12 schedule. Howland’s record shows how well his teams have scouted when given ample time.
Pac-12 conference games are usually played in Thursday-Saturday pairs. In the first game, when Howland has multiple days to hammer home every minute detail of his game plan for the one opponent, UCLA has won 80 percent (63-15) in Howland’s 10 seasons.
In the second game, with only a day in between to prepare, that winning percentage drops off to 55 percent (43-55).
While other teams (and this column) place an emphasis on advanced analytics of the game to scout the opposition, Howland doesn’t believe in numbers as much as his eyes.
“I put way more stock in the film and watching what people are doing,” Howland said.
Every good set of eyes needs another one behind it. That’s Ludwig, providing the Bruins with hindsight and foresight.