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Purcell Keeps It (on) Reels

Oct. 1, 2009

by Kristy Rivero

ATLANTA –If Erica Thompson needs help with the follow thru on her jump shot, or if Tiffany Blackmon wants to see if an opponent always goes to her right, or if coach MaChelle Joseph has to know what kind of defense Penn State runs, they all go to the same place and talk to one man.

Sam Purcell handles every piece of video coming into and out of the Georgia Tech basketball program. Purcell makes sure every Tech game is filmed and every women’s basketball television game in the country is recorded. His assistant, Will Phipps, does the same for the men’s program.

As a former coach, Purcell brings a unique perspective to his job. He was an assistant for the women’s team at the University of Tulsa and was on the staff that lead the Golden Hurricane to their first Conference USA regular season and tournament titles. Before that he worked as a student assistant at Auburn University where Joseph was an assistant. That connection helped him get the job at Tech.

“It makes things easier communications wise, for sure,” says Purcell. “I like to think I help the coaches become better coaches.”

And like a coach, his work starts well before game time. A day before the game he’s at his computer, pulling up video of the opponent and breaking down those games into highlights players can watch. Players can see tendencies of the opponent or what kind of defense they run. Do they like to shoot three-pointers, or do they favor an inside game? Purcell creates manageable segments for players to watch.

“Coaches will watch hours and hours of film, but with players, it’s so hard with their schedule,” Purcell said. “We don’t want to give them everything, we want to give them what they’re best at. It’s 10-15 minutes of film max because after that all of it starts looking the same.”

On game day, he keeps stats and then the whole process starts over. Purcell estimates he works 80-100 hours a week during the season. Add travel on top of that and he said it makes for a very long year: “My summer has just ended. October 15th comes around and people know they’re not going to talk to me again because I’m locked in a video room.”

Despite the long hours, technology has made his job much easier. Not long ago, exchanging film with an opponent meant putting game tape in a VCR, hooking it up to several other VCRs and trying to record copies. With computers and DVD burners, a process that used to take several hours now takes minutes. Digital recorders allow multiple games to be taken into a computer. It allows coaches to see every game an opponent has played, not necessarily just the most recent ones. This is particularly useful when the NCAA Tournament rolls around, when the opponent is usually not very well known, and the turnaround time is short.

“Last year, we found out we were playing Iowa and you don’t get many days to prepare. So the team is at the selection show party and I was at the office,” Purcell said. “I saw who our opponent was going to be, pulled up an Excel spreadsheet and saw I had 3 or 4 of their games recorded. So I did some work and had video for coaches to breakdown by the time the party was over.”

This season he’ll be working out of a video room in Tech’s brand new basketball practice facility. A nice upgrade over his previous space, which Purcell described as, “a closet with no air-conditioning.” He also produces the MaChelle Joseph coach’s show, taped at an in-house studio, that is seen on the web.

With all this work, Purcell says he still feels like a coach. He says he misses his coaching title a little bit, but is rewarded by this role he has in the program.

“That’s the good thing about video. I can teach in a way where I’m showing,” he said. “I might not be on the court saying `do this or that’ but I can say `look, this is what the coaches are talking about and this is how you can get better’. I still feel like a part of it.”

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