Its been years since I stopped playing pro ball and considered the fact that the commitment of scouting is just more than making basketball 100% of your life. Its an ever consuming situation. A lot of people will likely never give you such an in depth account. The real guys out there; I wont name, names; they will give it to you straight, but its one of THE if not the loneliest job in the basketball community ever.
I get asked by many people that are trying to break into the game on how it really is and till now I have held back on my version till now.
First off, there are 4 types of scouting that really are worthwhile and that really pay out good. Its always good to know this. Secondarily, which ever one you’d consider to go for; knowing the game alone is never enough, watching continuously, learning, evolving is a part of the process and if you cannot come to terms with this reality you better kiss the chances of ever doing this type of work goodbye.
So here we go:
The notion of how scouting came to be and how it has evolved from ever since the game has been played stems from the college ranks. The age old question of “will a player’s skill set translate well from the college level to the pros?” is always asked at this level of scouting.
I for one was lucky to undergo my development in this area very thoroughly and had the luck to be along side great guys. I wont name names too much but by far the biggest name was Bob Ferry.
Travelling to games and being on-site, talking with prospects when I could, talking with fans, other scouts was a great learning experience. Watching games on tape and later online to uncover that one guy that could potentially impact a pro team was the end goal that I was after. One trick of the trade I can reveal is that the time I used to spend on-site and watching the coaching staff interact with the player and how players would react on the bench, during timeouts, while heading back to the locker-room or while warming up was by far the most enlightening part of the job. You can watch game tape or online as much as you want to but body language can only be seen best with the naked eye and as much as I am an analytics guy NOW, back when I used to scout college games, even though it was for a very limited time, I got to learn fast what body language signs to look for.
One other point that needs attention is that watching games alone will never cut it. I was tremendously lucky to learn from more experienced scouts that were open and teaching me that networking off the court was critical. Networking not in the conventional sense though. Ever so often coaches would be called up to be asked about recruits and if you are there to catch a bit of the conversation to get your own scouting up to par. In this sense I had all the luck in the world while I would make sure to talk with the coaches after the games they’d play.
With college scouting reputation and staying true to your format of reporting is an element that you end up uncovering in due time. NCAA games are fast paced and you have little to no time to report so if you do not have a fast shorthand to note down things you’ll fall hard.
One example I love to go back to is the time I went to scout Linas Kleiza (2002-03, Missouri) I got picked to scout him due to the fact that I had affinity with his profile from Europe. I watched 4 consecutive games and the more I saw him each game he had evolved from the scrawny kid that had played U18 National team with Lithuania to a solid forward playing college ball. He had become so efficient playing off the ball and much more effective on defense that it stunned me by far. But the actual difference with him was his attitude. He was so shy when younger I never had imagined that he would be such an extrovert. He had become a solid cheerleading guy for his teammates the jump for him to the college scene had changed his personality.
A lot of scouts draw conclusive evidence from what they read off stats sheets and they potentially mis-read or overlook the big picture of how a player can evolve. I always used to do added homework after I would finish watching a game and that’s what would always give me the upper hand.
College scouts are invaluable and this is the space that one really learns the ins and outs of the craft and its vital to bare in mind that at this level development like players develop is not an exact science, not one bit!
Out of all the types, of scouting by far the most controversial of them all. Pro scouts are the combination of college scouts and the guys that look at pro talent at the same time. They commonly provide inside information on NBA/G-League level talent that helps out front office personnel in decision making. GMs and Presidents of basketball operations usually rely on the insight but pro scouts don’t go all the way to the executive level of a franchise to report ever.
As a pro scout I have been involved in a few poaches in my day, back when it still was the D-league and two-way contracts were just emerging. I have also seen my fair share of young guys that have tried to find a new teams in a new city and have tried to encourage them to do exactly that to seek their shot at revitalizing their career.
Pro scouts are the exact opposite of what advance scouts are. As a pro scout I cared less about strategy and plays on the court. I simply used to track down players off the court and tried to change their minds or even help them make their minds up at times to go for specific contracts that would work in the favor of the franchise I used to work for. I used to live for the free agency period and how I could potentially see my list of guys end up in the best way I could get them to.
One of my major KPIs was however very unusual now when I look at it in hindsight, damn well piling up the development-league team with my own players so if they’d be called upon my name would be in the mix.
The least glamorous of them all, yet the version of scouting that is the most hard working of them all (this is my own subjective view so please do not take it to heart). As an advance scout, I used to get flown out to numerous games prior to coaching staff beginning their prep work to watch opponents and dissect literally every single play and version of it. I had to be so comprehensive in my reporting that it would literally take me hours on end to hand in the optimal type of paperwork. My work would than find its way to the assistant coach in charge of utilizing the work I did to prep for opponents. Ideally I used to save the assistant coach time as my tendency reports, video workups I compiled from our video analysts and added write-ups were so handy that I was able to catch most plays called out by the opposition. Again it should go without saying that being on-site and being able to catch the plays called as an advance scout was the world of difference no doubt. It can piss off your opponent but that is what this type of scouting is about and I have to say that it used to pay out pretty well too. Overall its acting as a spy for your own team and being able to make use of the acumen you gather as a tactician that impacts your own organization. Life as a advance scout means you are constantly moving. You are diligent and so detail orientated that understanding plays and dissecting them becomes second nature. If watching +150 games sounds interesting to you (IN PERSON) and trying to figure out the framework or dynamics of plays that are called out, you get the essence of how this job works and good luck to you for it.
Currently running Advance Pro Basketball I often feel that my life on the road is really no different than an international scout. A major difference is that as a consultant I get to pick what teams I work with or need my assistance overall.
Just like advance scouts this type of scouting means travel for extended periods, not seeing family, friends… not having any personal life all for the love of the game. You’d not be confined to NBA but international basketball and depending on the situation you can find yourself one day in Africa and the next in South America.
If you really hit the lottery big time you get to scout some good top level FIBA prospects at international competition but usually it’s the grind of low level U16 or U18 games that you get stuck with. There also is the added factor of knowing the difference between the US way of scouting AAU games, college games and how the international game works. Many potential inquiries I get these days asking me about how to become a scout usually overlook the fact that they think they know the ins and outs (DIFFERENCES IN RULES) of how the game is played on either side of the Atlantic but fall short. Like advance scouts there really is no glamour involved in what you do and its such a grind that it can take a physical toll out on you. One thing I have recognized is that usually former pro ballers that were any good playing internationally opt for this type of job and they do a damn good job as they have been through the grind of playing and living the type of life style that goes along with this sort of job.
Compiling reports and knowing how to watch players on-site as well as being able to give feedback when called upon is vital. It takes a good number of years to be able to really be any good. In recent years there have been a number of companies that have gone into this space with hopes of being able to provide a full scale service to not just NBA teams but international teams however it should be noted that rather than working for a service being a part of a team and a franchise is always a better option and it allows you to hone in on developing your craft and being able to clearly get the nuances of the job locked down.
After having read all the above, its all up to you to decide on how to go with a possible scouting job. The great thing with scouting is that you get your hands dirty fast and can make a nice living of it. The ideal case however is that it’s the life for singles. If you are in a relationship or are married, its highly likely you are going to piss of your significant other off. If you have kids they will likely end up resenting you at one point or another. While this is the case from a personal stand point of a scout predominantly. Each case is separate and can be different. Again I am giving my subjective view so please take this into account.
From a professional stance, a scout is vital for any team. The know how, the duties and the involvement is amazing and you are an unsung hero that can make or break a season. You wont ever be in the spotlight but you will definitely be the person that moves the spotlight on to the right kind of people and get recognition for it once everything is said and done.
The best of luck to you all…