It can feel scary to start scouting.
I get it.
The first steps in anything are often the most difficult ones.
You feel anxious. You don’t know what to do.
Today I want to help you with your first steps in basketball scouting.
If you’ve already started, great! You’ll find value in this article, too.
I’ll begin by telling you about the beginning of my journey, and sharing some of the most important things I learned early on.
What I did to start scouting basketball
I grew up near Philadelphia as a big sports fan — especially baseball and basketball.
Patrick Ewing was my favorite player when I was a kid.
I was never a particularly good player – in part because my whole body was the size of Patrick Ewing’s leg – but I loved being around the game and thinking about how good teams were built.
I rabidly attended college basketball games as a Villanova student, traveling all over the country for away and tournament games. The team advanced to the Final Four my senior year.
After I graduated, I knew I wanted to be around the game somehow, but I didn’t know what it might look like. My involvement at this point topped out at the hardcore fan level. I didn’t have any real playing, coaching, or managerial experience.
In search of direction, I took online basketball classes in scouting and video editing at online school Sports Management Worldwide, and attended their annual NBA Summer League conference. (A couple years later, I spoke at the conference.)
Being around the passionate people at Summer League and hearing from industry insiders gave me a clearer picture of what opportunities might be out there, such as the different types of basketball scouts, and what it would take to get a basketball job.
I remember thinking…
Everyone here looking for a job is incredibly passionate. They all talk about how hard they’re willing to work. If everyone is selling themselves the same way, I’m going to need to come up with something different and unique if I’m going to stand out.
I knew I had technology and analytical skills, having studied Computer Science at Villanova and worked at a major software company. I started considering ways I could apply those skills to basketball. Meanwhile I studied the books I could find on basketball analytics. (I couldn’t find much of anything on scouting.)
A door opens…
In 2011, I reconnected with Frank Burlison, a longtime high school and college basketball scout, who taught the scouting class I took at SMWW.
Frank had recently been laid off from his job of many years at the Long Beach Press Telegram. I used my technology and developing entrepreneurial skills to help him start his own online basketball scouting service, Burlison on Basketball.
That service has gone on to be highly successful over the last few years, as Frank works with many of the top colleges and NBA teams.
Months later, there was a big high school basketball game in Las Vegas, where I lived at the time, between Shabazz Muhammad’s Bishop Gorman team and a Findlay Prep team led by Anthony Bennett.
Frank wasn’t able to make it there due to a prior commitment.
I offered to cover the event on his behalf. It was an important event and he was otherwise going to get nothing out of it. He agreed.
I filed a report on his website for him. That report got a bunch of attention online because it was a major event a lot of people cared about, and I was publishing it on a website with credibility.
This first success led me to search for more opportunities scouting basketball.
I found high school basketball events in my city that other scouts weren’t covering.
Though I was no scouting veteran at the time, no one else was writing about these players or events, so I became the de facto expert on them.
After a couple months, PremierBall, a national scouting service whose subscribers include Kentucky, Kansas, Duke, and UConn, hired me as their National Scout and Managing Editor.
Working with PremierBall afforded me the opportunity to travel the United States covering high school basketball, build relationships with college coaches, and study under a veteran scout who could show me the ropes.
Connecting with the college coaches gave me a great learning opportunity. I learned how they scouted, studied players, and thought strategically about recruiting and team-building.
Takeaways from how I started scouting basketball
I’ll highlight some of the important lessons I learned from when I started.
1. Passion and hard work aren’t enough. You need to find a way to stand out.
Passion and hard work are necessary, but not sufficient.
You need them, but they’re not enough all on their own.
They buy you a ticket into the building, but there are 20,000 other people in the building and they’re all wearing shirts with the words “Passionate” and “Hard Worker” written on them.
If you want to stand out, you must find unique ways to add value.
2. Look for ways to apply your current skills and opportunities to basketball.
I was able to create an opportunity for myself by using my technology skills to build relationships with Frank (and several other scouts whom I didn’t mention above).
If your skills involve something like technology or mathematics, it will be more obvious what types of things you can do.
Even if your expertise lies in a different area, you can find things to do to make other people’s lives easier.
It’s one of the reasons I think the high school level is a great place to start scouting. There aren’t nearly enough people doing it for there to be a reliable database of every player nationally.
You don’t need experience or permission from someone to go to a gym and take notes on your own.
The only things separating you from being one of the most reliable voices on high school players in your area are some basketball knowledge (that you can acquire) and many hours in gyms watching players.
3. Learning from a variety of smart people and bouncing ideas off them goes a long way.
I feel incredibly fortunate to have had people like Frank Burlison, Christian Popoola, and other scouts and coaches to guide me at the beginning of my journey in basketball.
Build relationships with people who can help you accelerate your learning process by pointing you in the right direction and correcting your mistakes. They can help you build a successful mindset and figure out how to set useful basketball scouting goals.
It’s going to be scary sometimes, but do it anyway. Most people in basketball are nice and helpful!
You can find people on Twitter, via their websites, and in person. Many of them will be happy to answer a few questions for someone (you) who shows initiative, especially if you’ve identified some way you can use your skills or knowledge to make their lives easier.
Learning indirectly is an option as well. Books exist! Lots of books about basketball coaching and fundamentals to grow your knowledge and understand the game better.
(And you can read the free basketball scouting guide I wrote called The Basketball Scout’s Cheat Sheet.)
4. Doing something is better than doing nothing.
Especially when you’re starting out, there are so many ways for you to practice and get better at scouting basketball.
Show up at local high school or college games with a notebook. Sit there and take notes about what you see.
You don’t need a professional scouting template. A $1.29 notebook and a cheap pen work fine.
Read about the game.
Basketball coaching books can help you grow your basketball X’s and O’s and fundamentals knowledge. They allow you to put different skills and attributes like athleticism in proper context when scouting basketball. It becomes easier to evaluate a player’s real potential.
Two books I recommend starting with: Coaching Basketball Successfully by Morgan and Joe Wootten and Stuff Good Players Should Know: Intelligent Basketball from A to Z by Dick DeVenzio.
There’s more intelligent basketball analysis and resources online now than ever before. Many of them are free. Take advantage of them!
How YOU start scouting basketball
You’re going to be passionate and hard-working like the other 20,000 shirt-wearers in the building.
But you’re going to direct a lot of your passion and hard work toward taking meaningful action to study, practice, and get better at doing important things.
It’s important to take constructive action toward getting better and building basketball scouting habits that support you.
Find ways to make yourself useful and add value.
That’s all for today.