Updated: Aug 5, 2021
With the College basketball season now underway, I would like to touch on why NBA Front Office and Scouting Department members are making their ways to college campuses to identify and see targeted prospects for the 2020 NBA Draft. And while seeing players in person is a key factor in the decision-making process. Most Front Office members will say the most important aspect of scouting would be the gathering of intel.
When I say intel, I mean any & everything related to a player's personal life. His upbringing, family background (Parents & Sibling), relationships with current coaches, former coaches as well as current teammates and former teammates. Is he competitive, what motivates him (fame, money, success, fear of poverty), how does he treat people, what kind of student is he? You name it and they want to know about it.
"We will build our scouting department around the idea that the currency in the draft is information". Give us make-up information. It's not going to check a box on a scouting report." Everyone’s life is really complicated and involved and there are myriad influences, background factors, transformative experiences, and challenges and times when they respond the right way to adversity and times when they respond the wrong way. And you have to dig and figure out what makes this person tick and how he’s going to respond in pro ball.” How does he treat people when no one's looking? What do his friends say about him? What do his enemies say about him?" Theo Epstein – The Cubs Way by Tom Verducci pg 83-84
The first time I heard the term Intel was during my time with the Canton Charge as we prepared for the first draft in the franchise history. The GM of the team gave me a list of names to gather Intel on, I remember looking at him completely puzzled. I asked him how was I supposed to get this Intel he wanted so bad? He said figure it out and told me I had to the end of the week. I was still confused about what kind of information he wanted and where I should even start to get it. So I reached out to the VP of Basketball Operations and the Scouting Director for the Cavs to get some insight. When I told them what I had been tasked to do, they both laughed and said: "he didn't give you any instruction?"
So they gave me the rundown who the primary people I should reach out to first and some basic questions I should ask. After that, I was on my way to gather some Intel. What I noticed during the process, was the more I didn't try to ask generic questions the more people opened up naturally. When I came back at the end of the week, I had pages of notes on all the players on my list. I spoke with College Coaches, Parents, HS & AAU Coaches, Teammates, Current Girlfriends, Ex-Girlfriends, Teachers and Pastors, you name it I tracked them down and talked with them.
When I presented my Intel to the GM he asked: "how did you get all of this information?" I responded, I just talked to them. We had normal conversations and the info just flowed out naturally during the talks. He then told me "you might have a gift to connect with people, I can't do what you did" He then mentioned a time when we were out to lunch at a burger joint and we noticed these three older ladies dressed in Fairy Costumes. He said "why are they dressed like that" as he walked away to get Ketchup. When he came back, I was sitting at the Faires table talking with them. When I came back he said, "what were you doing?" I told I walked over and asked them about their costumes, they told me they visited a local children's hospital every week to help cheer up the kids. He was so blown away that I just walked over and started talking with them.
Here are a few sample questions and answers from a couple of players I did intel reports on last year during the NBA Draft process for Between the Lines Sports.
Father of Prospect
"I asked him if they thought about testing the waters last year after such a great season? He stated that it is his son’s decision and he tries his best to stay out of the way. He said if he asks for his opinion, he will give it but if not he, just tries to be a supportive and loving father."
Former AAU Coach
"I asked the source, how well the player handles adversity on and off the basketball court? He stated on the court he will attack whatever it is head-on, “I’d always want to go to battle with him.” Off the court he tends to shut down or shut people out, he always comes back around but it has to be when he is ready."
Grad Assistant - Athletic Department
"Source told me that she had smoked weed with the player, his girlfriend and several other players on the team. She then told me that there was a rumor that the player and his girlfriend both used heavier drugs other than weed. I asked had she witnessed firsthand and she said no but two different players on the basketball team told her on separate occasions that they had witnessed it."
College Assistant Coach
"I asked the source how tough is the player, he seems pretty even keel does he get angry or talk trash? He said he is a tough kid, not someone that is going to start a scuffle or altercation but not going to back down either."
My notes on a G-League Allstar
I watched his body language very closely and I noticed that he is not very supportive of his teammates, if he’s not playing well. The two games I watched in person, the game they lost he had a double/double and he was upbeat and smiling. However, during the game, they won he had a poor shooting night and it was written all over his face how displeased he was. He didn't want to hi-5 or encourage his teammates at all. I believe he was one of the most talented post players I saw this past season but I think his poor attitude is the reason why he hasn't latched on with an NBA team yet.
An intel report can sway a decision-maker to either believe in a prospect or be turned off from him completely.
With the Father's comment, you can learn that the prospect doesn't have an overbearing parent that needs to be involved in every aspect of the son's future.
With the AAU coach's comment, you get the feeling that on the court the prospect will thrive but off the court, he may need a strong support system around him. The team can then decide if the player is good enough to put the necessary procedures in place for him to thrive in their system.
With the Grad Assistant's comment, you can see that there could be a potential drug problem and more often than not more research needs to be done to find out the truth. Or in some cases, any mention of drugs can send an NBA team running the other way.
With the College Assistant Coach's comment, you can see that the player has some quiet toughness to him and those players hold value because they are mentally tough and considered lost maintenance.
With my comment, can see that the player doesn't give off the vibe of a good teammate and appears to be selfish overall. With a guy coming from the G-League you need guys that can understand and know their role. Which most of the time is a cheerleader and encourager for his team.
“It’s hard to get talent but it’s even harder to get talent with character. Because we get seduced and we want to win and we just say let’s grab that guy. When it comes down to the moment of adversity, some people are not there. Sometimes you have to bet on talent knowing that character is not there. But if you can get both of those things…I saw it the most when we lost Game 7 here last year. Because we did exit interviews, the next day and you look at somebody 12 hours after you lose Game 7 when you're up 3-1. You find out more about people more in those moments than tonight. Tonight everything is great we won a championship. You find out when you lose who people are…That’s when you know you have a Team and you can win with a team like that. And if you lose, you lose with guys like that. Those are the kind of guys you want.” Bob Myer – General Manager Golden State Warriors after winning their 2nd Championship – NBA TV
You may be asking why is it so important to gather Intel, I just want to know if he can play. Can he put the ball in the hole, can he defend, can he rebound? That's all I care about! If you think this way you are in the minority, all the NBA Front office members I talk are concerned with the character of the player. The reason is, that if he has the right character then typically he will fit into whatever culture they are trying to build within the organization. If he has the wrong character he could be a huge detriment to the team as a whole and could take years to rebuild it. And by that time you could be out of a job.
The way I believe you build a great culture is you build it off of the relationships, that's relationships from the top to the bottom. To me, it's the same way you gather intel, you build rapport with someone, you find out what you have in common. You figure out if your goals line up, which is a big part of the rapport. In the heat of the moment, most things are lost in translation because he may not understand where you are coming from or vice versa. But if you build that bond and have that understanding there is less likelihood for someone to take something personal because you both understand what the goal is. Also, once you have to build a bond you have the ability to tell someone the truth about their play or decision making.
“We want players with character, we want players who are invested in their teammates, we want players who understand what it means to play for this organization, we want players we trust can respond to adversity, we want players that other players like being. We want guys who care about winning and prioritize it.” Theo Epstein – The Cubs Way by Tom Verducci pg 79
The thing about Character and Intel is the organization has to do it within itself before it can every go out and dig into players' backgrounds. If the infrastructure of an organization is toxic, they will typically hire toxic people who will do Half-Ass jobs when gathering intel on players and those players when then turn into toxics members of the team which will lead to a toxic team environment overall. The same way you here the praises about a great organization "It starts from the top" or "it starts with the leadership" those same statements reign true within bad organizations. And the truth is it may not be everybody but it'll be enough people to sway the culture pendulum in the wrong direction.
I know in most cases we don't have the bandwidth to do deep dives into the people we hire or the people we work with or for. But if you are ever in the position to do so, do your best to find out as much as possible about them, in the end, it will make a world of difference!
In closing, I would like to leave you with a couple of quotes I've learned along the way.
"You can tell a lot about a person based on the way they treat people who appear to be beneath them." i.e. waiter/waitress, intern, cleaning staff, etc.
"Culture eats strategy for breakfast" Peter Drucker
Until next time.....