Sunday, July 18, 2004
Scouts at college coaches' service
By Dustin Dow
Enquirer staff writer
After 10 dawn-to-dusk days, college basketball's July evaluation period reached its midpoint today. Coaches, who have crisscrossed the country in search of blue-chip recruits, now rest four days before finishing the month with 10 more furious days.
But sitting shoulder to shoulder this summer in crowded gyms amid the likes of Cincinnati's Dan Peters, Xavier's Sean Miller and Kentucky's Tubby Smith are people who have been watching games all spring and who already have done much of the advance scouting.
They are the behind-the-scenes operators who know who tomorrow's stars will be, and their job is to point coaches in the right direction.
AN INSIDE LOOK FROM RECRUITING GURUS|
All-Star Report, $250 annual subscription available to coaches only. Hoopmasters.com,
$59 annually, available to fans.
"I went to North Carolina and worked as a waiter. With all the rivalries that existed in my state, it was intriguing how these players ended up at various schools. There is no pedigree or prep course to make you a good evaluator. If I have any talent for that, it's on-the-job training. In 1981, Michael Jordan was a high school senior. I rated him the No. 1 player in the country. Everyone else picked Patrick Ewing, and people told me, 'You're just doing that because he's a North Carolina guy.' Well, I'm glad I made that decision. A few years passed, and it was still just a fans' service. I got a call from J.B. Wright, an assistant at Indiana. They needed a big guy, and they asked me if I would consider doing a special project. They wanted me to list every player in America that I thought could play in the Big Ten who was 6-8 or taller. So I did it, and I got a very nice letter back from Bob Knight. I said to myself, 'If I can please that SOB, I can do a scouting service.' "
Future Stars, $400 annual subscription available to coaches only. Hoopmasters.com,
$59 annually, available to fans.
"Scouting services are very much underrated. They save schools much more money than they cost. If there is a problem with cost, it really is on what you are purchasing. The scouting services are godsends from the standpoint of savings and effort. Any scouting service tied to the ails of recruiting has an AAU team tied to it. ... There is no such thing as a scouting service online. Those are recruiting news systems. That's not the same. A scouting service is an evaluation service that provides a ranking and contact information on players. It gives you hands-on information and tells you, 'I've seen the players from the events.' A recruiting service may have rankings, but they are really about covering the news of recruiting."
$460 annual subscription available to fans and coaches. Formerly Hoop Scoop Magazine.
"The biggest problem I ran into for years was the post office. You had to deliver first-class. Twenty years ago, we went to events and watched stuff all summer and could write about it in August. Now, it's instantaneous. You've got to write about stuff every day. ... Before the Internet in the early 90s, 900-numbers were big. I'd put a phone message on for 99 cents per day. People want that information, and I'm amazed at how much they'll pay for it. Most people in our business are underpriced. ... A lot of people out there say, 'You have the best job going.' At the same time, they don't realize how much time and effort goes into it. I've been to Houston seven times, and I've never seen the city. You eat at strange times. It can be midnight and you haven't eaten all day. You do that three days in a row until the tournament's over. Then everybody wants to call you and find out about the tournament."
$99 annual subscription for fans and coaches. Also runs a scouting service for coaches only.
"I'd be nowhere without my Palm Pilot. You need a little bit of organization and a lot of desire. If you're going to write about this stuff on a national level, it's your obligation to see as many kids as possible. ... We want to set the bar for recruiting coverage. We don't have a Final Four or national championship to play for. All we can do is strive to be the best as the industry leader. There's not going to be a trophy that shows up. ... July is the biggest month in the industry. The single greatest driving force in college basketball is the players. The second biggest is information. With us, you've got a source that talks about players and recruiting information. Information is everything. When you have information about players, you'll be in more demand."
They've scoured gyms across the nation, the goal being to see and evaluate as many high school players as possible.
Meet college basketball's scouts, who have seen your favorite team's top recruit countless times, and who know if he can hit a jumper with a hand in his face and if he slacks off on defensive transitions.
And in this Internet age, traditional scouting services - which are sold exclusively to coaches - are no longer the only sources of information.
There is a new breed of scout, one who realizes the value of the Internet and aggressively peddles his product not just to coaches, but also to fans.
Internet raises profile
The scouting madness began quietly in 1957 with Dave Bones' Cage Scope, the first publication to list evaluations of recruitable high school players.
Three men spurred the real growth of the industry, however, by establishing reliable scouting services at the same time college basketball went mainstream on ESPN in the late 1970s.
Van Coleman, Bob Gibbons and Tom Konchalski each ventured into this business out of a love for basketball, and they turned it into a lifestyle.
"The godfather of this business is Bob Gibbons," said Bearcats recruiting coordinator Andy Kennedy. "He's been doing it the longest and the strongest. People trust him and know his information is valuable."
And the scouts' early work, now combined with the Internet, has spawned an industry college coaches use daily and sometimes obsessively.
"There's not an assistant coach in college basketball that doesn't check the Internet every day," said Oklahoma coach Kelvin Sampson. "Of course, it also hurts us. Sometimes, you try to keep things private, but you can't with recruiting and the Internet. They report everything. Who's visiting where, how it went."
Services have distinctions
Indeed, the Internet has changed the equation. Men such as Dave Telep of TheInsiders.com and Clark Francis of Hoopscooponline.com have made their names and profits by dispensing daily online information for coaches and fans.
The drawback - or some would say, the enticement - of the business is that basketball is their lives year-round.
"It's created such an incredible demand," Telep said. "I feel the pressure to produce recruiting stories every day. On Christmas Day, you're safe."
The old guard of scouting, Coleman and Gibbons in particular, are just getting into online delivery and are somewhat jaded by the direction of the electronic business.
They see a distinction between their scouting services and those that are called recruiting services.
Typically, a scouting service costs between $200 and $800 annually and provides coaches with evaluations of players as well as contact information, including home phone numbers. The service normally is available to coaches only - no fans or media are permitted to purchase subscriptions.
The online recruiting services, available to fans at a cost of $50-$200 per year, provide recruiting news, such as which schools are in the running for a certain prospect.
"I don't have much respect for them," said Gibbons, who has been scouting players since 1978 and operates the Bob Gibbons All-Star Report. "They bother kids so much, asking them where they're going to college, it forces a lot of kids to commit to get them out of their hair."
Coleman, who publishes Future Stars magazine, agrees, and argues that there is still a need for the traditional scouting services.
"I don't consider myself in the same category as the Internet sites," he said. "Those are recruiting information sites. For maybe the top 50 programs, that's adequate. But for the mid-majors, you've got to have a true scouting service."
Almost like another assistant
But Gibbons and Coleman are also adapting to the new reality. They've joined the profitable Internet recruiting revolution by starting Hoopmasters.com, which competes with better-established sites also available to fans, such as TheInsiders.com and Rivals.com.
And while scouting and recruiting might not be the same, coaches who are seeking as much information as possible often see no difference.
Xavier's Miller is in a position to trust the few scouting services he uses more than ever, simply because of timing.
Miller was named Xavier's head coach July 8, the first day of the evaluation period, after Thad Matta left for Ohio State.
Because of the transition, Miller has been forced to hire a staff, recruit and meet with current Xavier players' families all in a matter of 10 days.
"The way the NCAA recruiting calendar is set up, it forces all college coaches to deal with scouting services," Miller said. "But they really help you, and if you ignore that part of it, you could really miss the boat."
Along with Telep, one of Xavier's key scouting contacts is Prepspotlight.com scout John Stovall and his partner, Vince Baldwin, who specialize in scouting talent in the Midwest.
"Coaches want someone who knows what they're looking at," Stovall said. "We're almost like another member of the staff."
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