Scout team plays critical role in tournament run
After being showered in confetti following their Big Ten Tournament victory, the scene in the locker was a circus.
Sophomore guard Gary Harris had more than 15 people shoving voice recorders in his face. Junior forward Branden Dawson had four cameras locked in on every answer he was giving.
But off in the only calm, quiet corner of the locker room, Dan Chapman was checking his phone with no one distracting him. Colby Wollenman and Keenan Wetzel were conversing with each other, not dozens of media members. Trevor Bohnhoff couldn’t make the trip since teams were only allowed to travel with 15 players.
Compared to the rest of the team, the scout team members don’t turn the most heads while walking on campus, but Wollenman is just happy to be where he is.
“I’m lucky to be in the spot that I am,” he said. “I feel blessed.”
That lucky feeling is a two-way street, as the rest of the team is beyond thankful they have what redshirt freshman forward Kenny Kaminski calls “the best scout team in the nation.”
Head coach Tom Izzo dubbed them the “Iron Mountain Group” for being “tough, hard?nosed guys that are willing to work and do the work that nobody else wants to do,” just like those residing in Izzo’s hometown.
Izzo, a former walk-on basketball player himself, said the scout team played a crucial role in the Spartans’ dominating tournament run.
“The job they do in quick turnarounds is incredible,” Izzo said during Monday’s press conference. “I’ve always appreciated walk?ons since I was one, and I always appreciate their value since I started playing in the NCAA Tournament more than anything else.”
No turnaround was more sudden than the one they went through Thursday when No. 6 seed Iowa fell to No. 11 seed Northwestern.
Izzo admitted the Spartans were preparing all day for Iowa, but when the Wildcats walked off the court with the victory around 11 p.m., the game plan changed.
To this experienced scout team, the limited time was just a small obstacle to overcome.
“We definitely had five or six different meeting times where we watched film and (did) walk-throughs,” Chapman said of the quick prep. “Pretty much any free time you have, you’re down there watching film.”
Whether it was watching film, walking through plays on a makeshift court layout in the hotel conference room or talking with coaches, the scout team sacrificed hours of sleep over the weekend - far more than the rest of the team.
The night before Saturday’s game against Wisconsin, the team got back to the hotel around 11 p.m., but the “Iron Mountain Group” didn’t get to bed until after 1 a.m. - later than the rest of the squad.
“We’ll watch film, they’ll all go back to their rooms and we’ll stick around for a half hour to an hour to learn Michigan’s plays or Wisconsin’s plays,” Wollenman said.