Hoopmasters: Courting Success

Van Coleman is an online aggregator and distributor of statistics on high-school players, and creator of the online descicion-making tool Hoopmasters.com. (Baseline)

College basketballs championship tournament is known as March Madness, but things really get crazy in the business of amateur hoops in July.

Midsummer is peak season for the high-profile tournaments and camps where high-school stars show their stuff to college coaches. In one four-day stretch, Las Vegas alone will host three major events involving a total of more than 200 teams from across the country.

This is Van Colemans moment to shine, a chance to display his quickness and the new moves in his game. But Coleman isnt a player. Hes an online aggregator, analyst and distributor of information, or whats commonly known as a scout.

Speed matters in the scouting business because coaches have a limited amount of time to recruit players. NCAA rules limit recruiting to 40 days during the academic year and two brief windows during the summer—and showing interest early can help build a relationship.

"The first coach to call a player may be the guy that gets [the player] to sign with his program," says Coleman, a veteran of three decades on the road evaluating talent in high-school gyms.

Coleman and another well-known scout, Bob Gibbons, created a Web site called Hoopmasters.com that has become an online decision-making tool for coaches. The subscription site publishes information on top amateur players across the country, including physical measurements such as height, weight, and age; game statistics including scoring average and rebounds; and eligibility for college ball. They also send out e-mail updates to subscribers and will post daily Web bulletins from the camps and tournaments on player performance.

But Hoopmasters provides something more than speedy stats: It gives coaches the perspective of written evaluations of players skills and attitude. Like corporate recruits, amateur athletes cant be judged by their resumes alone. There is no scientific formula for rating young players because statistics lie about schoolboy players. Sometimes the tourney games dont even keep official records of scores and stats.

"I dont know that there can be a formula," says Larry McKay, director of the Big Time tournament in Las Vegas, sponsored by Reebok. "You are not dealing with something that is robotic in nature."

College coaches, like corporate recruiters, are trying to judge not just potential but the potential to fulfill potential—qualities like character and commitment. This requires coaches to see kids play in person and meet their high-school coaches and parents. And as with hungry job seekers, young players are often tempted to latch onto the first decent offer they receive.

Colemans value comes in quickly delivering reports that combine the basic stats on a player with critical, unstructured data—the qualitative analysis of how a player does what he does, based on the scouts experience watching tens of thousands of players in person over the years.

The same kind of unstructured data is critical in hiring workers, says Melissa Maffettone, a consultant and manager of the Fort Lauderdale, Fla., office of recruitment firm Robert Half International. "We need to judge candidates against other qualified people," she says. "To make that judgment call, we rely on both science and art. There is a technical part that involves their documented experience and a softer part that starts when you talk on the phone for the first time. The interview, the reference checks are critical. And you need a network of people who refer people to you."


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Corporate recruiters and large companies maintain their own databases of job candidates, including unstructured data such as interview notes. But character traits can be tough to describe, especially since employment law requires that all statements in a candidates file must be supportable by information in the file. Interviews can say only so much.

To record more detailed assessments, recruiters need their own scouts in the form of personal references. By building up a database of comments—such as "self starter," "works well with others" and more detailed critiques—recruiters can put together more informative candidate profiles that can be quickly searched when positions open up.

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