Many guys have dreams of breaking into the NBA but don’t quite know where to start. Organizations in the National Basketball Association often march to the beat of their own drum, making it very difficult for a recent college grad to break into this extremely competitive industry.
For those who wish to have a future in NBA scouting, player personnel or basketball operations, TPG Sports Group is proud to announce the first annual “Pro Scout School” to be held in Las Vegas, Nevada on July 14 and 15. This event gives NBA hopefuls the chance to connect and learn from some of the leagues most successful basketball executives, scouts, agents and general managers while submitting their own personal scouting reports to be evaluated by the professional scouts themselves.
The list of panelists include event MC Fran Fraschilla of ESPN, Phoenix Suns GM Ryan McDonough, Utah Jazz Assistant GM Justin Zanik, Los Angeles Clippers VP of Basketball Operations Gary Sacks, Portland Trailblazers Assistant GM Bill Branch, Dallas Mavericks Director of Player Personnel Tony Ronzone, and former NBA GM Jim Stack to name a few.
I caught up with TPG President and Director of International Scouting for the Indiana Pacers, Pete Philo, to talk about Pro Scout School, how he broke into the NBA and evaluating talent.
*** *** ***
Dime: Pro Scout School is a one of a kind event. How did you and the guys at TPG come up with the idea for it?
Pete Philo: Years ago I came across a scout school for Major League Baseball and I inquired a little around our industry and found out that there was nothing like it in our industry. And I thought it was a pretty neat concept that Major League Baseball does. So that, with the combination of my travels, it’s the most common question I get from either fans or basketball people, coaches, evaluators, video people. It seems like they all have the same questions. “How did you become a scout,” “How do I become a scout,” or “How can I get into scouting?” And I know how difficult that answer is, so I wanted to create something that made sense from learning how to scout because it’s different, it’s completely different. As well as create a platform where people can connect and build relationships because that’s how you get into our industry.
Dime: With a star-studded panel of NBA executives, what should people trying to break into the NBA expect from this event?
PP: Well number one, they should expect to learn. It’s funny, I did an interview the other day with USA Today and we got talking about a certain situation with international basketball. I got a call from three different assistant general managers last week and it was weird because they were all within a day of each other and they all were trying to register (for Pro Scout School). And I told them — well first of all, NBA scouts and executives are coming as our industry guests. I want as many people as possible to come, but I said, “Why don’t you come and be on the panel?” and they all said the same thing: “We want to learn.” They said, “We want to steal. We want to see what’s out there and see how different teams are doing different things.” And I thought that was a great week of calls because you’re talking about people that have made it already; people that are in the industry at an assistant general manager level and they’re continuing to want to learn. You can imagine how much stuff there is to learn in terms of scouting.
Dime: On the event itinerary, you’ve challenged the event participants to create scouting reports during NBA Summer League competition to then be evaluated by current NBA scouts. How beneficial do you think this experience can be for someone trying to break into the league?
PP: Well I think that it’s extremely beneficial because one: you’re going to learn. People are going to learn. They’re (scouting reports) going to be evaluated and they may learn something that they wouldn’t have learned by just going (to Summer League) to evaluate by themselves. It’s almost like being graded on a test. Secondly, you can imagine if you’re lucky enough to get in front of a general manager for an interview or have an in somewhere with maybe a director or someone looking to bring in a scout or bring in an intern, you have the ability to say, “I attended scout school.” I would think that it would put you at an advantage and a step ahead. And two you can say, “I’ve realized that I have a lot to learn and I also realized once I had my scouting report evaluated that it’s helped me. It’s helped me become a better scout and now I look at the game differently. And now I know what to watch versus what I thought that I needed to watch.”
Dime: Speaking of breaking into the league, how did you first break into the NBA with the Dallas Mavericks?
PP: I developed a relationship basically with Donnie Nelson. I was playing basketball at the time overseas and in my summers, I would spend a few weeks in Dallas working out with some of the Mavs guys and some of the Americans playing abroad. A lot of those guys were playing pick-up ball at the Mavs practice facility. So I’d go in there an play pickup and any chance I had, I’d go knock on Donnie’s door and ask him for five minutes and that led to many minutes of conversation. And really what that did was built a trust between he and I, and he was able to trust me with some things and get to know me as a person. And then I was lucky. I took advantage of that time and I trusted him and he gave me some good guidance and I was able to get in once I stopped playing.
Dime: Aside from Donnie, have their been any older executives that mentored you through the process as you landed a role in the NBA?
PP: Sure. Donnie being number one. (He) obviously he gave me my first opportunity and I’ll always advise him throughout my time in the NBA. Tom Shine, who is not in the NBA, but did the NBA deal when Reebok had the NBA. Tom Shine was the Senior VP of Reebok and now works with XIX Entertainment as the Senior VP. Tom did the Peyton Manning deal, the NFL deal, the NBA deal, the NHL deal, the MLB deal. Tom was a big, big man in the sports industry and I was lucky that when I first got on with Reebok, Tom and I hit it off and I asked him early on if he minded if I called him from time to time and just asked him advice as I navigated through this crazy industry and he was more than willing to give me his time. Donnie and Tom (were great mentors). Kevin McHale, once I left Dallas and got on with Minnesota. Kevin was great to me. David Kahn was also very helpful to me. Once you’ve arrived, it doesn’t mean you stop asking advice. I think it’s an easy mistake people make and I continue to ask. Even right now, I’m one of the luckiest guys in the world to have Larry Bird and Kevin Prichard as my general Manager and president. As much time as I spend with them, I learn every time that I’m with them so I’m lucky.
Dime: When you moved on to the Timberwolves, you played a key role in landing many international guys. What was it that made those guys stand out to you when scouting them overseas?
PP: You know, that’s a great question because that has everything to do with Scout School and what we’re about. Really, you’ve got to find out what translates. There’s some guys who are fantastic college players that don’t make it in the NBA and there are guys that are average to below average college players that make it in the NBA. People sometimes wonder why, but at the end of the day it’s (based on) the things that translate. Keep in mind, our sport in the NBA is a different sport than college or the international game because of the rules. There are different rules that make it a completely different sport and that’s hard for most people to understand because it’s basketball but it is a different sport. There’s different (defensive) rotations (in the NBA) and different skill-sets that translate. What I noticed (with those guys) were basically things that translated and I felt comfortable with what translated.
Dime: You also directed the EuroCamp for nine years. What was your favorite memory of those nine years?
PP: There’s so many. For the players, it was always great to see a player play really well that maybe needed to play well. Maybe his value was down a little bit or maybe people didn’t know of him and he played well. The other thing that was really interesting for players to me was having the different boarders. You know, sometimes Turkish guys never meet a Swedish guy. A Danish kid may never meet a Serbian guy. For them to either be roommates for a week or play on the same team and you see them develop a friendship — that goes on for life. Now when I’m scouting, I see certain guys playing on certain teams in Spain, Italy, Turkey, Greece, whatever, and they may have been teammates at the EuroCamp or they were in the same camp and they remember each other. It’s just a lot of good memories. A couple things that stand out: we’ve done a couple of mock drafts during the EuroCamp that were really fun. We pretend that we’re a different NBA team and go through a mock draft and that’s always fun because everyone’s lying. So it’s more for a laugh than it is for anything. But I don’t know, I have so many.
Dime: On top of your role with the Pacers, you served as the Director of Scouting for Team China. How did that role aid in your evaluation of players for the Pacers?
PP: The way it helped was for information. You know that’s a big part of scouting and that’s another scout school nugget. Information has a lot to do with scouting. I was able to get information on all of the Chinese guys that I’m working with every day and coaching. And when you’re at dinner and traveling and coaching these guys for three years, you know who they are. You know them inside and out and that’s a great benefit. The other thing is relationships in China. I probably have a hundred friends in China right now that I could call and ask for some information or exchange some information with and that’s very helpful for the Pacers and what we’re trying to do.
Dime: Lastly, many consider the 2014 Draft class to be one of the strongest we’ve seen in a while. Obviously you can’t comment on any players, but what are your overall thoughts on the entire draft class as a whole?
PP: What I would say is this: sometimes the easiest way to judge a draft class is on how many All-Stars are in it, how many starters are in it and how many rotation guys are in it. Then, you can start to measure it. But really you can’t judge a draft class until three years from now; it’s impossible. You can try to predict and that’s our job, but I don’t believe in all of these draft grades. It’s really three years from now and you’ll know what kind of draft you had. But you know, from the outside looking in, it seems to be a pretty good draft and we’re all pretty excited about it.
What do you think?
Follow Matt on Twitter at @DimeMatt.
Follow Dime on Twitter at @DimeMag.
Become a fan of Dime Magazine on Facebook HERE.