Relationships. Hard Work. Relationships. Sacrifice. Relationships. Organization. Relationships. Trust. Relationships.
The above are just some of the key phrases stressed in July as TPG Sports Group hosted their annual session of Pro Scout School. Headed by former NBA executive and scout Pete Philo who was most recently with the Pacers, the school is designed to educate attendees on scouting and front office operations and to allow them to start building relationships by connecting them with various basketball personnel from the NBA and beyond.
When asked why he started Pro Scout School, Philo responded, “As a scout I was often asked three things: ‘What does a scout do? What do you really look for? And how do I get into scouting?’ I realized there was nothing out there and that I could bring this to people and help them along in the process.”
Over the course of two plus days of intensive lectures, Q&As, and networking and relationship building, attendees left Pro Scout School with an answer to the above questions, but more importantly, their own connections (relationships) to begin making a career in basketball happen.
Relationships were mentioned prominently throughout the course of the school. Not just in terms of who you know, but more in terms of how you know them. Almost anyone can turn on the TV, or go to a game, and over a period of time develop a sense of how to scout players. But all you are going to see is what they do on the court. The host of speakers stressed repeatedly that to be truly successful you need to look deeper.
Components of scouting include:
1. Basketball and Measurables: Identifying if a player can play or not is obviously a key. But you have to take into account situations and scenarios as well. What is the competition level? How are his teammates? And you can’t make a snap judgment or only see a player once. You also want accurate takes on height, weight and length, among other measurables. Often in media guides and programs an inch or two might be added to a player’s height and the scout is the first check on that accuracy.
2. Medical: What is the player’s medical background? Are there issues you need to be aware of? What about his family medical history? These are all important factors in putting together a full picture of a prospective player.
3. Background Check and Interviews: You need to do your work on the player. What is his family life like? What kind of guy is he off the court? Where is his head at? Attitude is as important as ability. No one wants a locker room problem.
4. Analytics and Emerging Technology: Two of the newer, but no less important, facets of scouting are translating the player’s stats. For example, Tony Ronzone of the Dallas Mavericks pointed out: “Assists in Europe are counted different than in the United States. In the US a guy can make a pass and the other player can take eight dribbles, make a move and score and that is an assist. In Europe the pass needs to more directly lead to a basket.” It is important to keep this in mind when looking at statistical comparisons of players and to have that lens in mind. In addition with the popularity of Moneyball, everyone thinks there is an answer to building the perfect team in a formula somewhere. In reality, it is another valuable piece of the puzzle, but not the final answer.
How do relationships apply to the above? You need to have good, solid, trusting relationships with the people you are getting the information from. A good scout needs to be able to sort through a lot of information to get to the good information. Sometimes a throwaway comment about a player’s work ethic is more valuable than a monologue about how he moves his feet on defense.
Who you build the relationships with is also important. Coaches are obviously one group you want to know and trust. But other team personnel are just as important. You can garner good information from anyone from the General Manager to the Equipment Manager. You’re looking to understand everything possible about these players. How do they treat people? Are they engaged in all activities? How is their day-to-day attitude? A scout also needs to build relationships with agents, families, and friends. Again, your goal is to put together as full a picture of the player as possible, both on and off the court.
Now that you have an idea about who you need to talk to and what some of the things you are looking for are, the next natural question is: What kind of scout do you want to be? Pro Scout School did a great job breaking down the different types of scouts in a rather unique way. Day 1 of the School combined lectures and QA sessions with several scouts, coaches and executives from the NBA, NBA Development League and overseas leagues, as well as experts in the field of independent skills testing. Day 2 dove a bit deeper into selected topics around Talent Evaluation, Advance Scouting and Analytics.
Not only did these experienced individuals give you the nuts and bolts technical answers, but they injected their own personalities and life experiences as well. Often times it is easy to get lost in how exciting a career in basketball might be and to forget that, like most jobs, there are some downsides as well. As you read about the varying types of scouts below, you’ll also come to understand some of the challenges that come along with each type as well.
- College Scouts: These are the scouts 99% of people generally associate with scouting. It varies from team to team how they assign coverage areas, but most are assigned a region. There is a lot of travel involved in this role and a lot of background work on players is required.
- International Scouts: These scouts cover the entire globe. As basketball has become a global game, most teams employ scouts on every continent except Antarctica. These scouts have one of the more involved jobs as they have a lot of background and medical information to gather and not all of it is readily accessible. In addition, overseas travel can often be an adventure in and of itself. Building relationships with many different people is key to the success of these scouts, as they need to gather as much information as possible.
- Pro Personnel Scouts: These scouts focus on the NBA and the D-League. They are generally heavily involved in preparing for trades and free agency, as their focus is on players already in or around the NBA. These scouts are at NBA arenas hours before every game watching players work out who may not see minutes in the actual game. They are also in the arenas for hours after the game, waiting until after everyone finishes their media and community obligations, to have conversations and gather information. Building relationships with fellow scouts, coaches and front office personnel is important for this job in order to get the information necessary.
- Analytics Department: As analytics have become a more vital part of the team building process, most teams have grown their Analytics Departments. These folks are generally responsible for preparing analysis and reports for General Managers on anything asked. There is a high degree of technical skill involved, both mathematically and in computer programming. These team members rarely travel and aren’t generally involved in the “traditional” types of scouting mentioned above.
- Advanced Scouts: Do you like watching basketball? Do you like focusing on it so much that everything else in life becomes background noise during basketball season? Do you like diagrams and playcalls? If so, Advance Scouting might be for you. An Advanced Scout is part of the coaching staff and his role is to listen to a playcall come from the bench, diagram what happened on the floor, and then match it to a time for the Video Scouts. You are often focused on the offensive end of the floor, so that when the Warriors run Loop Post, you are prepared to capture the actions.
Stephen Giles of the Cleveland Cavaliers presented on this topic and was very frank and open about the demands of the job. This role involves travel almost every single day of the regular season, and if your team is successful enough, the postseason as well. Giles commented “Other than the All-Star Break, which is thankfully a full week now, I wasn’t home for more than two consecutive days from October to June. And I usually work and file my reports until 1:00 or 2:00 AM and then I’m up early and on a flight to the next city.” Advanced Scouts are a special breed who live and die for basketball.
- Video Team: The Video Team is generally also a part of the coaching staff. They work with the Advanced Scout to gather his information and pair it with the actual tape. They also prepare breakdowns for the coaches on anything asked for. It could be players, specific sets, and time and situation scenarios. Requests can come from anyone from the coaching staff to even the front office side. Video Scouts work long hours, often breaking down video and slicing it into short clips almost 24/7. There isn’t much travel involved, but the job involves a high level of technical skill with not only video editing equipment but being able to push the final product to the coaches, players and front office personnel’s preferred devices.
TPG did a great job of having personable speakers who made some technical concepts (even for hardcore basketball people) very relatable. Each speaker made sure to inject his personality into the presentation, which helped all the attendees to understand that these are real people. They all started with a passion for basketball. Some of them played at a high level and some didn’t. The days of having to be a former player to get a job in basketball are over. But having a passion for basketball and being a hard worker isn’t enough. You need something that will make you stand out amongst your peers. Even with the growth in the game, there are still only 30 NBA franchises. Spots are limited and the applicant base is massive. Having a passion and being a hard worker isn’t enough. You have to bring something to a team that they might not already have. Pro Scout School drove that home repeatedly. You need to find a niche and run with it. And, of course, build relationships.
The NBA is a 365 day a year job. Every team is desperate for any competitive advantage they can get. If there is someone who can dribble a ball in the far reaches of Mongolia, you can bet NBA teams know about him and have a scout on the way. But as much fun as a career as a scout may be it is important to know that it will likely come with a lot of travel and sacrifice. You’ll have to miss birthdays, weddings, graduations, and holidays. In addition, it isn’t a high paying lifestyle. You’ll work long hours no matter the role you play and often not for a lot of money. The good thing is, you don’t have enough free time to spend money anyway. Philo said, “You have to have an understanding inner circle of family and friends. And you have to be ready for anything at any time.” Without a good support system in place, you will likely fail at having a job in basketball.
When asked about the life a scout Philo said, “You have to manage your time well. And balancing your life between basketball and non-basketball is very important.” And as to how to get in the business and mistakes people make: “Be a great listener. Don’t tell scouts or the GM how to do their job. You want to be liked. And you have to be open to learning.”
TPG Sports Group did a terrific job throughout the entire Pro Scout School of stressing relationships, but watching it play out in person was far more valuable. As a new speaker would enter the room, it was amazing to see the big smiles on the faces of their friends and colleagues in the basketball world. Sitting in the room you got a sense of the fraternity of basketball and just how important the relationship piece is. Words written and spoken are one thing. Seeing relationships in action is a whole other thing.
Keynote Speaker Rich Sheubrooks, a former executive with Nike and several NBA teams, gave a rousing speech to close Pro Scout School. His theme was on giving back, paying it forward and “sending the elevator back down.” All of the presenters are busy people who made time to spend a day or two, in the middle of NBA Summer League, to share their learnings, thoughts, and expertise. More importantly, they all made time for the attendees to build relationships with them, and just as importantly, with their fellow attendees. Time and again the point was made that you never know if the person sitting next to you will be running their own team someday. The connections made over two plus days were as invaluable as the information presented.
NBA scouting may seem like a fun and glamorous job, but Pete Philo and his team at TPG Sports Group did a great job of presenting it for what it really is at Pro Scout School. Never once did anyone say it wasn’t fun, but they were candid and open about the challenges involved as well. Being so frank was important in adding a layer of legitimacy and realism that you can’t get unless you are there in person.
If your goal is to work for an NBA team, especially as a scout, you would be aided by making the investment in attending Pro Scout School. Philo says for the future of the school, “We want to keep growing and making it better. As the game evolves, scouts need to evolve and educate in what is happening in the game. Feedback from participants helps the school grow as well and helps us add more of what they are looking for.” It was obvious from the time spent as the school that his vision rings true. Most important of all, the importance of relationships and the promise to help attendees begin building their own connections was delivered on tenfold.
For more information on Pro Scout School can be found on their website. You can also find more information on the company’s other offerings like Sports Agent School (the sister to Pro Scout School to help those looking to be agents), Sports Tank (an opportunity for sports-based startups to pitch their company to investors) and the Extra Mile Beach Retreat (an exclusive leadership retreat with Jerry West and Rich Sheubrooks).
Proprietary information from TPG Sports Group and Pro Scout School was used with permission in creation of this article. The author would like to thank Pete Philo and Charlie Wend from TPG Sports Group for their time and assistance during the process.