Tuesday was the first day of practice this season when we had NBA Scouts in attendance. These guys travel the country and observe hundreds of college practices and games meticulously analyzing players anywhere on the NBA draft radar. Due to the talented players on our roster over the last few years we have been blessed to attract numerous scouts to our campus. In fact, last year a scout from every NBA team came to Thompson Boling Arena to evaluate our players.
Before practice I stood with these scouts and did way more listening then talking as they discussed different places they had been, kids they had seen and schools they were headed to next. The basketball junkie I am could have sat there all day…it was awesome! The entire time they spoke though I had a burning desire to ask just one simple question I’ve always wanted to ask. “What do you guys look for from players when you attend these practices?” When I played and since I have been here coaches have always told players that scouts value your character, attitude and intangibles as much as anything. Well, every time I heard that as a player I doubted it. Surely they want to see your talents in action when they attend practice right? I always thought that when a coach told us how important a good attitude was they were just utilizing a motivational tactic to get our best players to listen and in some instances change. However, what I learned yesterday taught me otherwise. (Oh, and let’s not get this confused, no scout EVER came to watch me practice unless you consider my little brother who was a Cub Scout.)
After hearing one of the scouts tell a story about a kid that he just saw who showed up late to practice at a different school with him in attendance I finally had my chance to ask the question, “If you had to focus on evaluating one or two things about our players while you’re here today what would they be?” Once the question was asked the flood gates were open and the answers came flying in.
Please note that when helping the majority of these scouts plan their trips to Knoxville none of them wanted to come to a day where practice consisted mostly of scrimmaging. They all wanted to attend a practice in which there would be a lot of instruction and competitive drill work.
The first scout immediately responded with “I want to see how they listen.” He went on to talk about how in order to improve and become successful at the next level guys need to be coachable. The NBA game is very detailed. Due to a vigorous 82 game schedule and traveling throughout the country, practice time is limited. Thus, players need to show they are willing to listen to their coaches and teammates.
This response got the second scout to chime in with his answer of “the players’ interaction with his teammates and coaches and body language is what I want to see too.” The scout went on about how important it is to get a feel for what kind of teammate each player is. Do his teammates like him? Is the player accountable for his mistakes or does he blame others? How does the player respond to adversity? Coaches of all sports at all levels try to make practice harder than a game so that when the lights come on during the season the game seems easier. Therefore, this scout was really analyzing how our players acted. Did adversity fuel their fire to succeed or did it make them sulk and ask “why me?”
The next scout agreed with those previous responses but said that he was also here to see which players got to the gym early to get ready for practice, went hard in every drill even if they felt like Coach Pearl wasn’t watching them and who stayed in the gym afterwards to get shots. In many of the places he goes to he said he wasn’t evaluating future NBA All-Stars because those guys everybody already knows what they are all about. He was traveling the country evaluating college players that would most likely end up being NBA role players. He said those guys have to be willing to put in the extra work and be hungry to get better so that they can remain in the league because every year scouts are being paid to find better, younger players to help their franchise succeed.
The scout who got the short end of the stick by having to go last was not short with his answer. He passionately said he tries to get a feel for a kids basketball IQ and more importantly find out if they love the game. Similarly to the first scout, he talked about how multi-faceted NBA game planning is, thus making a players’ ability to understand the timing and spacing of their own team’s game plan vital. In addition he said that if you watch college kids that can’t execute a game plan with 3, 4 or 5 days to prepare, how can we expect them to help us defend the Heat on one night and then Magic on the next night? This last scout went on to summarize all of the previous things the rest of his colleagues look for with his comments about a players’ love for the game. Unfortunately he talked about numerous guys that seem as though they just play the game because God blessed them with some ability or great size. For most players, that won’t cut it in the NBA. It’s just like anything else a person does, in order to be successful you need to be passionate and have a deep love for what you do. He went on to say, “How does a kid expect a team to spend $5 million dollars on him if he doesn’t love basketball?”
I understand that a player’s skill level, athletic ability and size grabs the attention of NBA personnel. Let’s face it, there are many people out there that love basketball (they play at local rec center), are great listeners (to the latest fantasy football reports) and work hard (as teachers, sales reps and around their houses) but that doesn’t mean they have a chance at making the NBA. All of the information I heard from the scouts was very informative. I couldn’t write down everything they were saying fast enough. Hearing firsthand about the importance of coachability, being a good teammate, work ethic, basketball IQ and love for the game gave credence to the message our coaching staff emphasizes to our players on a daily basis. The players at this level are talented and some of the best athletes in the world. However, it was great hearing that NBA scouts also believe it’s often the intangibles that make a good player with these special talents great.