Mechanicsburg head coach Mike Gaffey, before the time of cellphones and social media, remembers finding the nearest payphone in Philadelphia and calling his dad, Bill, who was then the head boys basketball coach at Susquehanna Township.
It was during the postseason, and Mike, the Palmyra head coach at the time, needed the signal to prepare a scouting report for Bill on the Indians’ next matchup.
The family tradition still continues, now between Mike and his son, Scott, Ephrata’s current head coach. After Mechanicsburg’s 56-52 first-round upset of North Hills in Friday’s PIAA Class 5A tournament, and once Mike stepped on the bus for a three-hour trip back east on the turnpike, Scott had clips and film ready for Mike to watch on Exeter, the Wildcats’ opponent in a second-round game scheduled for 7:30 p.m. Tuesday at Manheim Township High School.
“I would say the nice part with Scott is he helps me be two people during that 72-hour span when you’re trying to get ready for the next game,” Mike said. “And that way, when you get back, instead of having to get your wits about you and try and figure out what’s next, the table’s already set and the dinner’s already served, so to speak.”
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Scott has been with Mechanicsburg every step of the way through its playoff run. As Ephrata’s coach, he had seen Mechanicsburg’s District 3 quarterfinal and semifinal opponents, Warwick and Manheim Central, up close.
Exeter, the District 3 champion, is also a familiar foe. But the Gaffeys keep a similar scouting routine regardless of opponent. Scott, who spent time at St. Bonaventure University learning under head coach Mark Schmidt at the collegiate level, has helped his dad since Mike’s eight-year stint at Bishop McDevitt.
“During the regular season, it doesn’t happen with Ephrata still playing,” Scott said. “But once our season was over, I was able to dive back in and start helping (Mechanicsburg) again.”
Mechanicsburg’s detailed scouting report — a two-to-three-page report that Mike keeps on the Wildcat bench during games — starts with clips and film. The coaches use Hudl as their main video source, but also contact coaches and programs across Pennsylvania for any film they’d be willing to share.
“Right now, the way it’s been working, is most coaches will just share whatever with whomever because they’re going to need a favor some time down the road, too,” Mike said. “So it’s almost at the point now where any team can get any tape that they want.”
Mike and Scott have specific games from the opponents they’d like to see. In preparation for North Hills, Mike wanted film on the Indians’ most recent set of games and the games that they lost, honing in on the team’s recent in-game trends, and what troubled it the most in the setbacks.
“It helps you be able to decide your matchups, too,” Scott said. “Obviously, not one guy can be on the same guy throughout the entire game with some switching, but in that, you kind of have an idea. Then that way, when the players get the report, you want them to look over everything a little bit but then they can kind of focus on the guy that they’re going to guard.”
Mechanicsburg’s scout team — composed of junior varsity players — is responsible for mimicking the opposition’s style, game plan and tendencies. Mike estimates Mechanicsburg had 40 to 50 clips prepared ahead of Tuesday’s game, and each of those clips took about 10 minutes to break down and decipher with the scout team.
After some study, the scout team executes the competition’s offensive and defensive game plans in practice. The Wildcats go as far as calling out the opponent’s plays heard over the film and match specific players’ tendencies, such as dribbling and shooting habits.
“Our JV players, and we have 10 of them that have been fantastic that dress varsity for us, have probably learned over 100 set plays and offenses and inbound plays in the last month, and have been fantastic with it,” Mike said. “And then we give each guy a name, sometimes the name of the star player or the number of the star player … and they sort of have fun with it.”
Everything demonstrated in practice lives on the scouting report at Mike’s side during games. In addition to each player’s tendencies, Scott compiles points per game averages, 3-pointers made, free-throw percentages and more to attach to the sheet. That way, if any in-game adjustments are required — like whom to foul in the final minute of a tight game — Mike can glance at the report and tell his players.
The report also includes a keys to success section, with four or five bullet points.
“Also, sometimes when teams play a lot of players, you just need to double check on a guy like, ‘Hey, is he a guy that shoots, or is he a guy that we can help off of in the post?’” Mike said. “Or, again, just the tendencies. Does he drive? Is he a left-handed driver or does he drive to his right? How is he on defense? Is he a guy that we can attack? Most of the time, this time of year, by the time you get to the playoffs, everyone has everything pretty good. But it’s always good to have that as a reference point.”
Outside of the Xs and Os, Mike and Scott are thankful to work together on scouting reports. It carries on the Gaffey family tradition and continues to extend their love and passion for basketball.
“For me, anybody would want to help their son, and anybody would want to help their father,” Mike said. “And it even goes beyond that because the general, grandpa (Bill) Gaffey, sits at home and watches these games on a live stream. And we tell him the same stories in terms of preparation, and he loves it.”
“I learned everything about basketball from my dad and my grandpa,” Scott said.
Christian Eby is a sports reporter for The Sentinel and cumberlink.com. You can contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter at: @eby_sports