Louisville, Kentucky (WAVE) UofL assistant coach Sam Purcell begins practice by going over the scouting report. He goes over it with nine guys, all UofL students.
The guys look the part of division I basketball players, but Purcell is an assistant coach for the top five UofL women's team.
"I've used guys since I was down at Western in '95-'96," UofL head coach Jeff Walz said. "It's been going on for a long time."
Most of the guys played high school basketball, and now they give up their afternoons to practice, against the girls.
"You find out pretty quickly that they're just as smart as you on the basketball court," Brett Riedinger said.
Christian Schulte agrees, "They can hold their own, you're really surprised just how athletic they really are and just how fundamental, and they knock down shots."
T.J. Smith spends more time in the post, but is also impressed. "They're actually quicker and more athletic than I thought, but I guess I should have expected it, they're DI basketball players," he said.
For the UofL players, it's a matter of showing the guys what they're up against from day one."A couple of times guys have been embarrassed, and you can tell, it's all over their face when Shoni throws like a no look pass and they think they can pick it off and we score, or when someone shoots a three in their face," junior Sara Hammond said.
"I don't think that they're ready for it their first day, they just think that it's going to be easy, but we wake them up," junior Bria Smith added.
Matt Schafer played high school basketball at Cooper High School in northern Kentucky. "Even from playing high school men's basketball to playing with the women, it's definitely a lot faster"
The guys get a little gear for participating. A practice jersey, some shorts and maybe a pair of shoes, but that's it. Plus they have to maintain the same eligibility standards mandated by the NCAA for the players.
Coach Walz also doesn't take it easy on his volunteers. "He coaches us like he coaches the girls, he doesn't hold anything back," T.J. Smith said. Brett Riedinger takes it stride. "He demands excellence from everyone, so but yeah, he makes sure that we know what we're doing." Hammond says it can be unsettling for the guys at first. "I don't think they know what to expect from Coach Walz either, cause he's not afraid to yell at them either," she said.
A major advantage can be when the guys imitate opponents who might be bigger and stronger than players on the Cards roster. That was the case during preparation for the 2013 Sweet 16 matchup with 6'8" Brittney Griner and #1 Baylor. "Yes I had to imitate Brittney Griner, that was the best practice, I actually got to block, and I was happy to do that," former Male High School player Brice Moore said. Moore is 6'6". Hammond says competing against him got them ready to face the college basketball Player of the Year. "We shot jump shots over him and our coaches told him, get up close to him, have a hand in their face to give them kind of that reality of what it's going to be like when you play Brittney Griner," Hammond said.
In the end, the main focus for the guys, is making the girls the best players possible. "There are times when we tell them to go full out, block every shot you want, and then there are situations when we tell them, you aren't out here trying to be an all-american, we need you to help us, so if that's to get beat every once in awhile to build up some confidence, get beat," Walz said.
All-American guard Shoni Schimmel says Walz has let the guys go all out even more this season. "Coach Walz has been letting them loose a little bit more out on the court, they swat us and stuff like that, so they play a lot tougher," Schimmel said. "I think it's going to help us, especially because we have to prepare for anything, especially playing against UConn."
The guys also benefit from the exercise and the coaching. Six of the nine practice players are the same intramural team at UofL, the Clowns. They use some of UofL's plays and even some of the Cards opponents plays. The Clowns fell in the intramural championship game in 2013, but have designs on winning the title this spring.
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