Feeling nervous before basketball tryouts is completely normal. Some of those nerves typically stem from fear of the unknown. When you don’t know what’s going to happen at a basketball tryout, it can be difficult to feel confident and prepared. But have no fear—we’re here to help. We reached out to STACK Expert basketball coaches who’ve conducted hundreds of tryouts and who can tell you what to expect and how to make yourself stand out.
Here’s everything to expect at a basketball tryout, with advice on what you can do to help yourself make the cut.
Attitude Is Everything at Basketball Tryouts
Before we get to the specifics of what to expect, let’s address the single most important thing coaches are looking for—a great attitude. Attitude is an all-encompassing term for how you control the things within your own power. How hard do you work? How do you carry yourself? What does your body language say about you? How tough are you? How carefully do you listen?
These qualities are known as “intangibles,” but they can absolutely be the difference between making or missing the cut. Steve Brodzinski, Recruiting Director at BeTheBeast Recruiting and former NCAA D-I and D-II basketball coach, says, “Even if you have a bad day and aren’t playing well, you are always in control of intangible qualities like your attitude and energy level. Coaches are looking for coachable players who make great eye contact, hustle, have good body language and pay close attention.”
Throughout the tryout, remember to set yourself apart with your intangibles—regardless of how you play. Hustle, grit, effort, communication and a great attitude can take you farther than you think.
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Show your Skills
The beginning of the tryout will likely consist of several drills designed to test your offensive skills, starting with simple warm-up drills, including right- and left-handed layups. While you’re getting warmed up, coaches will be watching closely to see if you’ve mastered these fundamentals.
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From there, expect to perform basic stationary and full-court ball handling and passing drills. Coaches will judge how well you perform these fundamental skills and take notes on your abilities. It’s important to show how well you can perform these skills at game speed, meaning you can move through them quickly but under control.
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After these basic drills, expect to move into more advanced offensive drills. Coaches will assess your shooting ability in various situations: set shot, catch-and-shoot and dribble-and-shoot. They’ll pay close attention to your technique and the consistency of your shot. You’ll also be asked to perform team passing drills, where coaches will look at how well you pass and how well you catch on the move.
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Pay close attention to the coaches when they explain the drills, showing that you’re attentive and coachable. Remember to keep your intangible qualities high, even if you miss a couple of shots or make a mistake. The worst thing you can do is sulk and lose your focus.
Defend Until the End
Scorers get more of the glory, but coaches absolutely love players who can buckle down on defense. “It’s important you show you can—and will—play defense. Coaches always need defenders,” says Danny Wilkerson, who coaches middle school basketball.
In a typical basketball tryout, you’ll be expected to perform several defensive drills. Coaches will assess your defensive fundamentals such as stance, posture and foot speed, as well as skills like defensive slides, close-outs and rotations. You’ll be graded on your ability to play one-on-one defense, team defense and zone defense. A huge part of defense consists of hustle and effort; and looking lackadaisical during defensive drills won’t bode well for you when cuts are made. Focus on your fundamentals, play hard and play focused to show the coaches you’re willing to put in 100-percent effort on defense each and every play.
You’ll probably also perform more team-oriented drills during this time. The coaches want to see how you perform in typical basketball situations, both on offense and defense, including one-on-one, two-on-two, three-on-two fast breaks and two-on-two fast breaks. Expect to perform the “5-Man Weave” drill, since it tests your conditioning, passing and offense—plus your attention to detail and listening skills.
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Once the skills and drills section of the tryout concludes, expect to participate in some full-court 5-on-5 basketball games.
This is where you put everything together. The coaches watch to see how you play in a full-speed game environment. They judge every aspect of your game, including your ability to get open with and without the ball, your on- and off-the-ball defense, your ability to score and your ability to make the right pass in a given situation. Coaches will also assess your “Basketball IQ,” which refers to the mental side of the game.
“Your basketball IQ includes things like spacing, rotations, communications, decision making and overall feel for the game,” Brodzinski says.
In addition to defense, rebounding is another area where you can set yourself apart from the crowd. No matter what position you play, if you rebound aggressively, the coaches will notice. “Rebounding is a key factor. Crash the boards with a vengeance. Coaches are always looking for good rebounders,” Wilkerson says.
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In the games, try to showcase your strengths. If you’re more of a slasher, you want to be consistently moving off the ball and trying to get open—not waiting in the corner for a catch-and-shoot 3-pointer. Play to your strengths and show that you can use all of your skills effectively.
Tryouts are about one thing and one thing only—proving to coaches you can add value to the team. Whether you do it with scoring, defense, rebounding, passing or attitude, there are many ways to leave a positive impression with the coaches.
“Go hard, be coachable, have a good attitude, play your game, defend and rebound. Make the coach say, ‘I can’t cut this kid. He makes the team better,'”Wilkerson says.