MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — James Long used to eat up the drama of Selection Sunday, hanging on each NCAA tournament unveiling before scurrying to make his picks.
“I was the kid who would fill out 10 brackets,” he said.
This week presented him a new appreciation for the survive-and-advance pressure of March Madness: It’s his first year as video coordinator for West Virginia’s basketball team.
“It’s a lot more stressful,” said Long, who shifted into information-gathering mode Sunday night the moment 12th-seeded Murray State surfaced as the Mountaineers’ first-round opponent.
Across the ensuing hours, Long downloaded video of the Racers’ recent games from the databases many college teams utilize. Then he began editing clip reels of Murray State’s baskets, the baskets scored against them, and plays that created fouls — the first step in assembling a scouting report.
Head coach Bob Huggins and his assistants digest the video and evaluate reports that Long produces regarding situational tendencies of opponents. All this is condensed for WVU players to download via their phones or iPads.
A year ago Long was on the receiving end of those video clips, when he was a senior walk-on guard. Now he’s entering the NCAA tournament for the first time as a paid staffer, with a deeper understanding of the commitment it takes to keep an elite program elite.
“I knew our staff worked hard, but I didn’t know how hard they worked,” he said. “It really is incredible. It’s all you think about when you’re on this side of things.”
While Huggins described the video duties as “a thankless job,” Long was giddy for the opportunity that arose last summer when the retirement of assistant Billy Hahn led to staff shuffling. Long is reluctant to discuss jumpstarting his own coaching career or where his long-term ambitions lie.
“I’m just trying to be good at this job right now,” he said. “I’m not thinking about anything else down the line.”
Long gives an assist to an older staffer down the hall. Josh Eilert, the director of basketball operations, patiently spent the previous 10 years coordinating video for Huggins at Kansas State and West Virginia.
“When I first got the job he told me, ‘I’ll be here if you need me, so don’t hesitate to ask.’ But there were so many questions I had for Josh, that I felt bad,” Long said. “He would literally stop what he was doing to help me. He’s a tremendous person, and he helped me understand what the assistants like and what Huggs likes.”
Huggins reportedly favors DVDs over streaming video, ripping through stacks of them as he sizes up opponents.
“He sees everything, because he’s always working hard and watching film,” Long said. “There’s a reason he’s one of the best coaches to ever do it. When you watch him break down the game, it’s incredible.”
Of course Long has a sense for what his former teammates like, too, having been a part of Press Virginia for three years.
“James is familiar with how we play,” guard Beetle Bolden said. “We were already good friends and it’s made our relationship better having him as one of the go-to coaches. He brings positivity into your ear when things are looking down for you.”
Murray State (26-5) won the Ohio Valley Conference regular-season and clinched an NCAA bid with a dominant tournament showing. The most recent games become the most scrutinized.
“You don’t look at what happened in November and December — you generally go over the last five games,” Huggins said. “The teams in the tournament are playing for conference championships, so they’re not hiding anything. They’re putting their best out there.
“You figure out what they run the most and how they get their best players shots.”
While players must remain wholly focused on playing the Racers in Friday’s opener, Long has begun early preparation for potential second-round matchups against Wichita State or Marshall. He learned about working ahead during the Advocare Invitational in November and the Big 12 tournament last weekend.
“It’s a very time-consuming job,” Huggins said. “James is in here after games until 3 o’clock in the morning so he can get stuff ready for practice the next day.”