NBA Scouting Goes High Tech

LOS ANGELES, Oct. 17, 2000 — All winter long, college basketball arenas around the country are filled with screaming fans. But up in the bleachers, a few spectators burrow in with notebook and pencil, and get to work. They’re not concerned with the score; they’re looking at the stars.

These are professional scouts, and their job is to find not just the next superstar, but any player good enough to make a professional basketball roster. At next June’s draft, as professional teams select the players they think are the top new prospects, each player’s fate will hinge on the scouts’ observations and research.

Logic deems that the teams that do the best scouting will get better players, and eventually win more games. Each player represents a multimillion-dollar investment to the team, and yet the job of scouting new talent for the NBA until now has been a fairly conventional operation. The scout writes out an evaluation form for each player in longhand, and then sends it back to the team office. The scout records impressions of a player’s performance on a cassette recorder, and then someone has to decipher or transcribe the scout’s notes — a time-consuming and sometimes impossible task.
“It leaves a lot of room for error,”
said Rebecca Thompson product manager of Microsoft’s Mobile Devices Division.

Jonathan Schreiber, CEO of Infinite Mobility, thinks his team has a solution for professional sports scouting. Infinite Mobility, based in Los Angeles, is among the first of its kind: a company dedicated to finding comprehensive solutions for mobile employees. Infinite Mobility’s new product, Pocket Hoops, takes advantage of the Microsoft Windows-powered Pocket PC platform to do just that.

Instead of fumbling through a pile of forms, Schreiber said, scouts can enter stats and shot charts on the Pocket PC with Pocket Hoops– which can be as simple as touching the screen. Pocket Hoops not only replaces paper, pencil and tape recorder, but also the big bag they’re stuffed into.

“Pocket Hoops on Pocket PC takes two technological leaps,”
Schreiber said.
“It puts a computer in the scout’s hands, and allows for and promotes sharing of information through a client/server environment. No team was doing either of those.”
The Pocket Hoops and Pocket PC advantage give teams an easy way to sort, query, access, share, and fully utilize this valuable information.

The first professional team to use Pocket Hoops on Pocket PC will be the defending world champion Los Angeles Lakers.

“With Pocket Hoops on Pocket PC, the Los Angeles Lakers organization anticipates that we will be much more efficient in our scouting tactics because we can spend more time watching a game and less time inputting data,”
said Mitch Kupchak, general manager of the Lakers.
“We believe the Pocket Hoops advantage heightens our efficiency in continuing to successfully fill the Lakers roster with the best players available in the world.”

A scout’s job, as hectic as it is, could use an assist like this. Throughout the season, scouts will be logging thousands of air miles scouring the country for promising players.

The scout’s job might be easier if the search for the best players was limited to just the 300 Division I-A, upper-echelon schools. But hundreds of colleges play in lower divisions, and occasionally turn up a gem. And every year, players fresh out of high school join the professional ranks, as do players from other countries.

With Pocket Hoops, teams can keep up with a game that is becoming truly global. When a scout finds a new prospect, the name and information can easily be added to the database, and all authorized employees have access to that data at their fingertips.

If you’re a scout, Pocket Hoops won’t necessarily bring your team the next superstar. What it will do, Schreiber said, is
“make your life easier, make you more efficient, and help you share information. That will have positive effects on your organization. All this can do is help you manage your information and your life. It’s a great use of technology for enhancing efficiency and productivity.”

Microsoft technologies will play an important part in helping the Laker scouts keep track of all those players. Pocket Hoops is linked to a Microsoft SQL database, which Schreiber’s team chose because
“people know how to use it. It’s an industry standard.”

Thompson believes the Pocket PC platform is superior over other personal digital assistant (PDA) platforms because of its versatility. It provides customers with more options to meet specific needs than any other device. The Pocket PC offers additional advantages, she said, including its bright color, large-sized screen and Web-based HTML Pocket Internet Explorer Web browser.

Infinite Mobility calls itself the first mobile service provider (MSP) dedicated to working with mobile employees.
“I just knew that mobile computing was the future,”
Schreiber said. He started his company in 1997, and created Pocket Hoops in 1999.

He then presented the product to Jerry West, former head of operations of the Los Angeles Lakers, and other Laker officials. West told Schreiber,
“This will change scouting forever.”

Scouts for other sports, such as baseball, football and hockey, might benefit soon from the Pocket Hoops concept as well. Infinite Mobility’s core business revolves around the killer apps of mobile computing (PIM, email, etc.), but Schreiber also has some other cool applications in mind. He has been hired by a major record label to develop a product/service for their
“street team”
— the scouts that search the streets for new bands and musical acts.

“Conceptually it is very similar,”
he said,
“from the Microsoft Windows platform to the synchronized data transfer, the rep needs to record and share information, just like a scout.”

Look for Microsoft to continue to develop a range of mobile devices, too, Thompson said.
“We believe that the needs of mobile professionals vary, so we understand that not one device fits all. We’re planning some exciting offerings that we think will really address our customers’ needs.”

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