Women's hoops: Practice Guys

You won't see them in the media guide, and you won't see them on the court when it's game time in Memorial . But when it comes to preparing for the rigors of the SEC season which starts Sunday afternoon in Starkville, Andrew Hall and Michael Frenzel are part of the team. In the parlance of women's college basketball, they're "practice guys."

Once a novelty, "practice guys" -- male students who practice with the women's basketbal team -- have become a fixture among the elite basketball programs in the country. They bring additional height, speed, and athleticism to challenge the members of the team. In addition, on a team with a short roster like Vanderbilt's, with only nine recruited student athletes, the presence of the guys allows practice to run full speed for the duration of practice, without requiring all the players to be on the court all the time.

Nikki Kremer, Director of Basketball Operations at Vanderbilt, who was Coach Melanie Balcomb's point guard at Xavier from 1995 to 1999 says that Head Coach Melanie Balcomb first used practice guys in her senior year at Xavier. Since then, the guys have been a regular part of Coach Balcomb's practices.

Hall and Frenzel, who are both juniors majoring in economics, are the captains of the practice guys. They're the only two who attend practice every day. Prior to practice, Kremer emails them to let them know whether the other guys are needed, and they round them up. There's a core group of guys, but depending on practice times and class demands, not every guy is there every time.

Kremer serves as de factor coach for the guys. At this point of the season with game preparation a paramount component of practices, the guys serve as a scout team for the women. Each upcoming game is assigned to one of the assistant coaches to scout. After the assistant breaks down game film of the upcoming opponent, she diagrams the plays that the future opponent runs and gives the scouting report to Kremer.

Then when practice rolls around, it's up to the guys to duplicate those plays so that the women can practice against them. At the start of practice, Kremer or one of the assistants goes over the plays and shows them what they're supposed to do "And then we're expected to know it without them having to show us again," says Frenzel.

Being coached isn't new to these guys, since both Hall and Frenzel played varsity basketball in high school. And both of them are veterans at practicing with the women's team. Now a junior, Hall started his role as a practice guy in his freshman year. He liked it, came back last year, and recruited Frenzel and some other buddies to join him.

Besides being practice guys, Frenzel and Hall are also managers for the women's team. In their roles as managers, they get paid and also get additional perks -- like getting to travel with the team. They're responsible for videotaping the games and help the other managers do whatever is needed, like carrying balls and equipment or running the clock during practice. For the rest of the practice guys, however, the payment is in the intangibles -- the fun of playing basketball and the satisfaction of being a part of a winning team.

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Photo of Andrew Hall and Michael Frenzel (front) and the rest of the practice guys by Whitney D for VandyMania.

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