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The Best College Venues for NBA Teams to Scout Games
by: Jonathan Givony - President
January 15, 2014
NBA scouts and executives spend an excessive amount of time on the road evaluating college and international prospects before the Draft every year. While statistics and video services (such as Synergy Sports Technology) have become a much bigger part of the scouting process over the past few years, most NBA front office members still feel compelled to watch prospects in person at least a couple of times each season.

While every NBA team goes out and scouts draft prospects in droves, college programs vary widely in the way they receive them, based on a variety of factors. We decided to reach out to one or two members of every NBA front office to ask about their experiences on the road since they began working in the league, and received a large amount of varied feedback in the process.

Relationships Matter

Every scout was quick to mention that the reception they receive at any given school can vary widely based on a number of variables. The basketball industry is a small community in nature, with plenty of overlap between the professional and collegiate levels, so previous relationships between staffs can drastically affect the way a person is received. For that reason, some college programs showed up on both the good and the bad lists.

Having a college's former star player on a NBA team's roster can drastically improve their relationship for example. “They want to keep that relationship with the player going so they make sure to reach out to us frequently to check in on how he's doing,” one Director of Scouting explained. “They love when we come to visit because it makes it look like we have a pipeline with them.”

School policies evolve as well, so a warm, friendly environment one year (and a courtside seat and table on press row) can turn into an upper deck seat behind the student section in the nosebleeds the next.

Why Should Colleges Accommodate NBA Teams?

Producing NBA players is a big deal for college basketball programs and coaching staffs, at least based on the way they advertise the success of their alumni at the pro level. Virtually every school devotes promiment space in their media guides and official websites to touting the success of their former players at the NBA level, with many even offering weekly updates on their exploits.



It's not difficult to understand why. One of the main reasons young men and women attend college is to enhance their chances of securing professional employment opportunities as adults. Elite colleges regularly open up their campuses to Fortune 500 companies to attend job fairs and recruit their best students. Talented basketball athletes are no different. The best ones can attend whichever college they please, and one of the strongest selling points a coaching staff can make is to point towards their track record of getting their players to the NBA.

“We will develop you into a pro,” is a common recruiting message. “We will provide you with the exposure, competition level and facilities you need to reach your maximum potential.”

College coaches need to have a good relationship with multiple NBA organizations if they want to provide up to date, accurate information to their players about their standing in the eyes of teams as the season comes to a close.

“I get 30-40 calls per week in the lead-up to the NBA Draft Early-Entry deadline,” one Assistant GM told us. “Especially with all the confusion the NCAA caused by moving back their date for when kids have to declare by. I could spend all day on the phone with coaches of prospects who are on the fence, but the ones who I will call back first and I'll devote the most time to are the ones who I have the strongest relationship with. If a player is OK just getting feedback from a few NBA teams, then it's fine not to worry what we think about your school. But if a coach wants to give his kid an accurate snapshot of how he's viewed by the NBA, then he needs to talk to all 30 teams and preferably multiple people on each staff. I guarantee you that the schools that take care of NBA people at their games get much better information than the ones that don't.”

Somewhere along the way, a disconnect can occur between colleges and the NBA. College basketball is big business these days, with tickets in major markets often costing just as much as professional sporting events. NBA scouts say they have a difficult time occasionally securing seats that would allow them to do their job adequately, despite being more than happy to pay for their tickets if asked to.

“You'd think schools would want their players to be evaluated by NBA people,” one executive told us. “It's just not as important to some colleges as it is to others. It doesn't affect the way I evaluate their players, but it certainly doesn't help prospects for their college to make my job more difficult. But as always, you find ways to adapt.”

“If you go to a school that makes things difficult for NBA people, it could cost you getting seen a few times,” one GM told us. “Hopefully for the player that doesn't happen in his best games, because that would be a shame for him, and for us.”

Who are the most “NBA friendly” colleges in the NCAA from different scouts' perspective? We conducted a survey to find out.

Best Venues

Tied for first in our survey of scouts and executives were Florida, Florida State, UConn, Kentucky and Duke. All received a good amount of praise from across the NBA for their treatment of scouts and executives throughout the years.

UConn has apparently had a long tradition of being extremely welcoming of NBA teams, starting with Jim Calhoun who years ago elected to place them as close to the court as possible so he could point them out to his players and any recruits that happened to be in attendance for any additional motivation he needed to dispense. “Calhoun made us feel like he wanted us in practice and basically on the floor for games, and his staff would always make sure we're taken care of,” one longtime Scout explained over the phone. “Kevin Ollie has continued that policy, and it's served them well throughout the years. Look how many NBA players they've had come through Storrs.” Plenty of others echoed similar thoughts.

Scouts say that Florida's placement on the floor, right behind the scorer's table, gives them an excellent view of the happenings on the court, despite the significant noise from the “Rowdy Reptiles” section right above them. In the words of one NBA Director of Scouting: “once you get over the fact that the bleachers directly above you aren't going to collapse from how crazy the kids are, you realize it's an amazing place to watch a big game, in part due to how tough they always are at home.”

NBA Scouts' placement at the O'Connell Center in Gainesville, Florida


In the ACC, Mike Krzyzewski and Leonard Hamilton both get very high marks from NBA teams for the way they've been treated. “It's cramped, and you wouldn't want to be a 7-footer dealing with that little leg room, but you can't argue with the seat they give you at Cameron Indoor. You're front and center,” one NBA general manager told us. A fellow Director of Player Personnel agreed. “You can throw a fishing line right onto the court if you wanted to. Duke takes care of us really well.”

As two of the few people in the college ranks who have coached both in the NCAA and NBA, Leonard Hamilton and Stan Jones at Florida State surely realize the importance of welcoming scouts and executives. “They go out of their way,” one executive explained. “They sit you right on the baseline with a table, and they give you great food as well. Their SID is terrific to deal with.”

“That's my favorite venue in college basketball,” a GM explained to us. “It's a conference that has traditionally been loaded with prospects, so there are lots of guys you need to see, and that's a perfect place to do it because of the personnel they have. They always have NBA-sized players with athleticism. They defend. On top of that, they treat you really well. Great seats, right on the floor, and Coach Hamilton is one of the best to deal with in terms of information on his players or other guys in the conference, getting into practice, whatever I need.”

Kentucky received mentions from virtually every NBA person we talked to, mostly positive, but occasionally negative. “Calipari wants us at his games and practices. He embraces it. That's part of what their program is,” one assistant GM told us. “But it all depends on your title. I would never send one of my scouts there because he'd be up on the balcony. Sometimes we need to embellish their title a little bit to make sure they can actually see the game. It's understandable considering the demand. They can't accommodate 150 NBA scouts and they'd have that if they didn't have their policy in place. We can designate two people from our staff [typically GM and Assistant GM] at the beginning of every year to sit courtside at any game. The rest get sent up to a place where you'd be better off watching on TV.”

Another executive concurs. “Who you are matters more at Kentucky than probably anywhere else in the country. But that's part of their deal. They want decision makers. They know which wheels to grease. If you're a GM then you are on the baseline, which is great. If you're a regular scout it's not a great seat to watch a game, up on the balcony. On the flip side, they are one of the most accommodating schools in the country in terms of the way they interact with us. They go out of their way to help you. They obviously want you there, especially in practice. They are phenomenal with the way they manage their relationships with NBA teams.”

The next most frequently mentioned schools were Kansas (“they put you in the stands, but always low and in a front row, so you never have an obstructed view. They give you access to the press room. They could sell those seats for a lot of money but they take care of us.”), Michigan (“always a great seat”) and Arizona (“they charge $128 for a ticket, which is more than twice what most schools do, but they put you in a great seat, so none of us have a problem with that. We might have an issue with our budget if we had to pay $128 every time we watched a game, though.”)

Also receiving numerous “votes” and plenty of enthusiastic responses were: San Diego State, Colorado, Michigan State, Clemson, Cal-Berkley.

Mentioned more than once: Syracuse, New Mexico, Arizona State, Xavier, Creighton, Alabama, Baylor, Boston College, Ohio State.

One vote: Depaul, Marquette, Rutgers, Indiana, Wisconsin, Washington, Tennessee, Providence, Miami, Iowa State, Stanford, Missouri, Vanderbilt.

Important to note that the “smaller schools” who are off the beaten track or only produce NBA players once every few years at most almost always do a great job with accommodating scouts and executives, according to what they told us. For the purpose of this article we elected to focus most heavily on the colleges that get the biggest amount of traffic from NBA teams, to the point that they may have multiple scouts at each game, every season essentially. To save time and improve the level of competition, NBA talent evaluators like watching prospects match up with other pro prospects, which is why they tend to congregate at many of the same games.

Least Favorite Venues

Executives were quick to say that they find it difficult to complain too much about one school or another, because their experiences vary so widely from game to game depending on who the opponent is, the time of year, who makes the request (an intern or the person attending), and how far in advance their ticket request was made.

“If you make your request a month in advance, then pretty much every school will accommodate you in one way or another. You won't always have a great seat, but part of that has to do with the layout of their arena. Sometimes coaches will surprise you and close practice to scouts after a tough loss, which hurts from a scheduling standpoint if they only let you know last minute. You can't always make your schedule a month in advance. Injuries happen. Things come up at home. Sometimes your team needs you to be around. Travel issues occur. I hate contacting SIDs at the last minute, but occasionally it happens. That's when you really see who the saints are.”

A handful of NBA teams say that they buy two to four courtside season tickets at a school that is in their city or in close proximity, because “you hate having to reach out to a school constantly during the season,” an Assistant GM explained. “It's also nice to know you have a backup plan if other things backfire on you.”

Tied for the most votes in the “least accommodating college program” were UCLA and Oklahoma State. UCLA placed a large amount of NBA executives, including General Managers, in the upper deck for their home game against Arizona last weekend, which generated the large amount of negative responses which prompted this article. This has been an ongoing theme with the storied college program for years apparently, to the point that many NBA scouts mentioned they avoid attending their home games altogether.

“There's no point in going to UCLA, because they've made it quite clear that we're not welcome there, even before Steve Alford got there” one executive complained. “As much as we all love LA, and need to see the prospects on their roster in their home environment, it's not worth the time, money and aggravation of being seated in the upper deck where you simply can't see anything that's going on on the floor. You're better off watching the game on TV.”

Other scouts said that their experiences at UCLA varied. “Sometimes they'll put you behind the basket, all the way at the top of the lower bowl, which is no fun, but at least they didn't stick me in the upper deck like they did in the past.”

“It's totally hit or miss with them,” another scout explained. One time you'll get a halfway decent seat, and other times it will be awful. I wish they would tell us in advance where the seat is going to be so we can try and make other arrangements.”

That complaint (not knowing where the seating will be) comes up relatively frequently in discussions with scouts. “One of the biggest things some schools do that is problematic and seemingly unnecessary is that they tell you they'll give you (or sell you) a scouting ticket, but then they refuse to tell you where it's going to be ('we don't know yet'). Often times these are the places that don't give very good seats (based on past season experience or grapevine scuttlebutt) but they won't tell you for sure until the day before the game, so the person in charge of getting the tickets for your staff (usually an intern) has to go online and buy a seat they know will be good instead of risking being stuck with a bad seat for your GM the day before the game. Even if the school ends up coming through with a good seat (rare in these scenarios) you've probably already spent the money on a better seat on Stubhub.”

Oklahoma State also got quite a few mentions as being not particularly accommodating, with certain scouts going out of their way to mention negative experiences.

“That's a bad seat,” a Director of Scouting informed. “They put you upstairs on the baseline, which in their case is way up. They don't have a lot of media seating. The lower level is very small. You have to use relationships with the coaching staff. That's a rough one in my experience.”

“That's a ‘do not visit venue for me,” a Director of Player Personnel told us. “I just don't go back to places where I have one or two bad experiences. Especially if it's as out of the way as they are. If I have to go somewhere like that I'll just use Stubhub and pay an arm and a leg. That's not ideal, especially when you are on the eighth game of a nine day trip, and you can barely remember what city you're in, but sometimes you have no choice. If I have a relationship with the visiting team's coaching staff then I might try and use that if I need to. I hate asking for favors, but sometimes that's just what you have to do.”

N.C. State was mentioned by multiple executives as being a place they try to avoid if possible, due to the poor quality of the seats they provide. “They are among the worst. High up in the ‘end zone.' If it was up to me I wouldn't go. But sometimes you can't avoid them because of their proximity to North Carolina and Duke. You go to an afternoon game at Cameron and then hit Raleigh in the evening. It should be a perfect scouting day. But they don't really want to accommodate us.”

North Carolina also got mixed reviews, with most scouts saying that it varies drastically from team to team. “It all depends on your relationship with them,” one executive said. “Roy Williams takes care of the people he likes,” another texted. “Their seats at games are average, and they put you high up in the stands for practices. That makes it difficult to hear the interactions between players and coaches.”

Other executives say they haven't had any issues. “It's a huge building so those can be hit or miss. Usually they put you in the lower bowl, middle height, but in the corner. That's about average in most places these days. Not good, but not terrible.”

Also receiving votes for poor experiences: Wisconsin, Ohio State, Seton Hall, Stanford, Colorado State, Cincinnati, Texas, Missouri, Pittsburgh, Illinois, Ole Miss.

By far the least attractive venue for NBA scouts to evaluate talent is, surprisingly enough, the NCAA Tournament.

“We do our NCAA Tournament schedule off TV,” a Director of Player Personnel explained. “The NCAA doesn't want us at those games, and they stick us in the worst seats possible to make sure we don't get seen. The only way I would send one of our guys to a Tournament game is if we have a great relationship with one of the coaching staffs so they can leave us a ticket, or if the game is being played at a local venue for the scout, so we can buy a good seat on Stubhub at the last minute. ”

The most popular venue? New York City would be a good place to start. “There's nothing like watching a great college game at the Garden. That's the best place to scout a game” one executive opined. “They take care of us really well at MSG in terms of seating. The people at the Barclays Center get it too. Players understand the exposure these games provide and I've seen some great performances in New York. We fight over who gets to go to those internally. Usually the most high-up guys win out.”

For comparison's sake, scouts and executives mentioned how much of a pleasure teams in Europe usually are to deal with when it comes to accommodating their ticket requests. “Very rarely will you have to pay for a seat” one veteran executive told us. “I think Real Madrid or Vitoria were the only ones I saw that made us pay, and that's fine because they give you a great seat. Most teams in Europe are incredibly helpful once you figure out the right person to talk to. I've had very few bad experiences, which is really important to us considering the way we travel over there. Again, it's all a matter of relationships, but in most places around Europe they welcome us with open arms, which is much appreciated.”

We will follow up in the future with NBA scouts and executives we communicate with to see how things are evolving in time, and will report back with any findings.
 


Feedback for this article may be sent to jonathan@draftexpress.com .

 

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