When Greg Paulus played at Duke, Kevin Cullen was tasked with mopping his sweat off the floor as one of the team’s managers. But Cullen’s job also required working extensively on Duke’s film preparation because the team did not have a full-time video coordinator prior to his graduation in 2007.
Now Paulus returns to Cameron Indoor Stadium in his second season as video coordinator for Ohio State, and Cullen has held that same role with Duke since 2008. Their jobs are to outscout the other team, but this time it has personal ties.
“We’ve still got some preparation before I can get into reflection. It’ll be a really good test,” Paulus said of his return to Duke. “[Cullen] is really good at what he does, and he’s an even better person.”
The video and scouting departments work differently at each school, but it is grueling everywhere. At Duke, Cullen runs the operation from a computer-filled room in the team’s practice facility, the Krzyzewski Center for Athletic Excellence. There he can cut the film from games or practices—with a joystick at his desk, he can angle cameras inside both the K Center and Cameron Indoor Stadium for filming. He works with the current managers who aid him in the process.
“I didn’t get very good grades in school because I was here doing film. It’s a tradeoff. I loved every minute of it,” he said. “I suppose I could have been out philandering and drinking and all those other things that people at Duke do, but I chose to be here watching film at 2 a.m.”
The Blue Devils’ three assistant coaches—Chris Collins, Steve Wojciechowski and Jeff Capel—rotate as the lead scout for each game, working with Cullen. Ohio State is Collins’ turn in the rotation, which meant that as soon as the Battle 4 Atlantis tournament in the Bahamas finished, he was working with Cullen for Wednesday’s action.
And that preparation begins immediately—once the game and the press conferences are done, eight members of the staff assemble to rewatch the game in its entirety. Even after Sunday’s finale in the Bahamas finished near midnight, head coach Mike Krzyzewski assembled his small council: Capel, Collins, Cullen, special assistant Nate James, basketball operations assistant Casey Stevenson, director of basketball operations Pat Thompson and Wojciechowski.
“Coach K is going to have the remote. He’s going to watch the game anyways,” Cullen said. “There’s a lot of head coaches that after a game are going to go to sleep and come in at noon the next day and leave a video coordinator up working until 3 a.m…. But when you’ve got everybody invested and up at 3 a.m. working with you, it’s really easy to do what you do.”
After watching the previous game’s footage, the group then defers to the lead scout for the next game—in this case Collins—who gives the group a primer on the next team with footage he has already worked on with Cullen. Krzyzewski does not watch footage of the teams except for the immediate opponent, Cullen said, so the postgame session is his first in-depth look at that next squad.
“The assistant coaches drive most of the scouting,” Cullen said. “You may as well have the voices you trust and the voices you want to listen to who are on your staff be present with you while you’re trying to formulate your opinions.”
Another one of those top-notch coaches is Ohio State’s Thad Matta, who hired Paulus last year after he spent a year as an assistant coach at Navy. Even though Paulus worked extensively in film preparation in his role with the Midshipmen, the role of a video coordinator is quite different. NCAA rules limit teams from having more than four total coaches, so other personnel, such as video coordinators, are not allowed to work directly with the players on the court during both practices and games.
“I think it does [give me a different perspective]. It’s an opportunity to learn the game, watch our team, analyze and get insights,” Paulus said.
Paulus credited his four years at Duke with Krzyzewski, from 2005-2009, with teaching him a great deal, but he also said that working with Matta has been influential. The scouting process works differently in Columbus, Ohio—Cullen noted that while the assistants divide the games at Duke, the Ohio State assistants prepare together for each game, all taking a different aspect of the opposing team.
That does not mean one way is right or wrong, though Krzyzewski has made his system the American way after coaching the U.S. Olympic basketball teams to gold in 2008 and 2012. Cullen served as the video coordinator for the 2012 team, traveling to London, and said the scouting process worked similarly there as he worked with both Collins and Wojciechowski, who served as two of Krzyzewski’s assistants.
“Coach K has done a really good job at bringing the Duke culture to the Olympic team,” Cullen said. “[Collins, Wojciechowski and myself] do scouting the same way we do here at Duke.”
And as Paulus gears up to return to his former home court to try and beat Duke for a second straight season, there is only one guarantee for him and Cullen: after the game, which starts at 9:30 p.m., it’s on to the next one.
“We’ll all be there until two, three in the morning, whatever it is. The later the game, the later we’re watching stuff,” Cullen said. “Coach [Krzyzewski] will go home at 5 a.m. He’ll watch more film.”