Assistant To The Head Coach Gary Nottingham is highly qualified to be a head coach at a major college. He hasn't been given that opportunity yet, so in the meantime he is toiling in obscurity helping Bruce Weber and his staff prepare game plans for opponents. He claims he's a jack of all trades but master of none, but his contributions are essential to the Illini.
One of Nottingham's major responsibilities during the season is to study videotape for opponent tendencies.
"I do a video breakdown on every single opponent. A scout coach is worried about personnel and offensive sets. They're taking care of all the things the players need to know. Scout coaches might go back 5-6 games and look for every play. My thing is to mark the videotape for tendencies from their most recent 3-4 games. What do they do the most? I don't worry about personnel.
"We give the plays names in our terminology. We have all these breakdowns computerized. What you try to do is find tendencies for specific situations. For example, when they run that play they run it from the right side of the floor. They never run it to the left. Or, when this guy comes in they're gonna do this. Then we sit down and talk with the personnel coaches to cross-check everybody.
"So I look at four games for each of 35 opponents. Since I've been here, I've probably watched over a thousand games. And then I do our games to self-evaluate too. That's my biggest thing during the year. I'll be here every day and every night most of the time during the season.
"And then, because I see all this information, during the game I keep a possession chart. It is something we came up with when I came here. I chart every possession during the course of the game.
"Sometimes, we go into a time out and I will say something like, 'It's a 9-2 run, and we haven't thrown a ball into the post in 7 possessions. Our postmen didn't even touch the ball.' I think we lead the country in least post pass entries.
"We also keep five minute wars. We check out whether we won or lost each five minute segment. And I'll keep a chart of fastbreak points because my definition is sometimes different than the statisticians.
"If we sprint down the floor and then swing it one time and then get the ball in the paint, to me that's a fastbreak transition point because it came off the flow of the fastbreak. In a regular stat sheet, that's not a fastbreak point. So I chart transition points plus all our play list."
Nottingham's office has filing cabinets full of binders of plays the Illini have used different years under various circumstances.
"Coach and I came up with the idea of laminating play calls like late game situations as one example. We have plays for each situation, two for man, two for zone and one we call a combo when we're not sure what they'll come out in. They practice it and can adjust when the team comes out.
"We have length of the floor for 10 seconds or less and for 5 seconds or less, side out-of-bounds, zone-man combo, underneath the basket, and then we have all our press attack specials for late in the game when we think we're gonna be fouled.
"They're all things Coach practices. They're all things we've decided in meetings we will use, and I hand him the laminated sheets so he can practice them. It saves having to redraw it on the board.
"In some games like conference games, we will have our first choice and second choice predetermined before the game starts. So if it's a sideout, I just hand it to him because we've already talked about what we're gonna run. He takes it, lays it down, the guys see it the same way they see it everytime we practice it. Now all he has to do is talk and draw on that lamination.
"I don't know if anyone else does this. It's something we've created to speed up the process. I think it helps us in late game situations.
"Sometimes in late game situations, he'll draw up a play. He may see something during the course of the game. So he can choose to do that instead of the laminated play.
"And then I keep our play list. We keep them over the years. Each one is different. We'll go back and recheck them every now and then.
"I'm kind of an old school guy. I think you should run a play until they stop it. So if I see a play that we scored on every time, I will suggest that play when Coach asks. He may say, 'We've already run that play.' And I'll say, 'I know.'
"When we put everything in search mode, if they've run a play 12 times, we can put them up on the big screen and watch only those 12 plays over and over. That allows you to get a feel for what their best stuff is. Ohio State stays in zone the whole game. I'll put up 25 of their defensive possessions, and we'll watch them over and over until we think of ways of attacking it.
"I guess I'm like the game manager guy in terms of organization and getting everything ready. You're looking at ten hours of real time watching video per game to make a 20 minute edit to play 40 minutes of basketball."
While Nottingham does all the tape markings and computerization, managers collect and prepare the videotapes for him.
"Every game that is on TV we make a DVD of. We're hooked into Dish, we get the ESPN plan and we get Fox. If that sucker is on the air in America, we get a DVD copy of it. And then we have a working relationship with 2-3 other schools, and we trade off. Our managers put it all into the system for us.
"I don't do as much with video in the offseason. Coach may want to see some plays being run by another team. So in the spring, I may break down plays of the Utah Jazz or some other team."
Nottingham has plenty of other things to do in the offseason to help the program.
"Once the season is over, I oversee and manage all the camps. I am the director of the camps. I hire all the camp employees, all the camp staff. That's 1800 kids. The whole month of June is all camps.
"And then I set up the team camp, which is 70 teams. Coach is so good at our camps. He comes to our camps more than other coaches, so that makes it big. They know they're gonna see him and see the players.
"When you bring in all the managers, the players and all the staff for these camps, it's like a small business. It's small in the sense it's one month, but it's big business for that month. It's unbelieveable the amount of time it takes.
"The whole months of April and May are all camp preparation. And then in July, when they're out recruiting, that's my one down time. Then you come back in August and you're cleaning everything up and starting to do it all over again."
He finds time for his own continuing education. And he occasionally goes on the recruiting trail when others are unavailable.
"In the fall, I spend 4-5 days at an NBA camp every year, different ones every year, just to watch them practice. I've actually been on the road a few times when people have been sick or when Coach (Chris) Lowrey left. I am certified to recruit. I take the test every year, so if they wanted to put me on the road tomorrow, they could."
Nottingham gets minimal recognition for his hard work, but he performs a number of vital functions for Weber and the Illinois program. Fortunately, he appreciates working for Weber.
"Coach is a good boss. He understands you've got kids, you've got a life. As long as I get my work done, he allows me to watch my kids play and do other family things."
In part three, Nottingham talks about recruiting, both at the major college level and in the lower divisions. And part four discusses the nature of coaching and the difficulty advancing in ranks within the profession.