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NBA and WNBA scouting goes high tech

Bob Meadows, Special to NBA.com

Basketball talent flourishes around the globe. The NBA makes every effort to discover that talent, and a new app is helping the league achieve that goal.

NBA Global Scout is a mobile AI basketball training application the league launched last month in partnership with NEX Team Inc, the company behind HomeCourt. The free app offers opportunities for players of all skill levels to not only improve their games but also showcase their talent to be discovered for basketball events organized by the NBA and WNBA.

The app especially benefits players who might lack resources or not get much exposure because they live in regions where basketball isn’t as popular, said Alex Wu, founding team member and VP of Strategy and Partnerships of NEX Team.

“We believe talent is evenly distributed – we want opportunity to be evenly distributed as well,” said Wu. “If you’re a kid who loves basketball, but opportunities to develop your game aren’t available, we asked ‘How do we bridge that gap?’ That’s the audience we’re trying to reach.”

The NBA and HomeCourt worked together to develop the NBA Global Scout program. With only an iPhone or iPad, athletes can compete in drills inspired by the NBA Draft Combine. The app uses artificial intelligence to measure an athlete’s wingspan vertical leap and agility and evaluate shooting ability and overall skills. Over the long term, HomeCourt and the NBA will integrate other types of scouting content into the platform like game video, highlights, statistics and more.

The app helps the NBA’s longstanding effort to spread the game of basketball around the globe. The league has NBA Academies in five countries that provide year-round development for elite international prospects, a Jr. NBA program that reaches millions of children worldwide and annual Basketball Without Borders (BWB) camps around the world that have seen nearly 70 former campers drafted into the NBA or signed as free agents. Almost 25 percent of NBA players were born outside the United States.

The NBA Global Scout program was launched at the Basketball Without Borders Global Camp at NBA All-Star 2020. Oliver-Maxence Prosper, a Montreal native in his final year at the NBA Academy Latin America in Mexico City, was among the first to use the new “Virtual Draft Combine” product features.

“It was really fun,” said Prosper, 17. His metrics have been measured many times, but using his phone was simple – and accurate. “I was skeptical at first – how was it going to work, really. But it was easy to do and the numbers lined up with where I thought they should be. If you don’t have all the equipment to do your measurements, having your phone to do them is a good thing.”

Prosper, who will play basketball at Clemson University in the fall, continues to use the app in his private workouts. “It really helps with shooting,” he said. “It records you then shows the percent you made, your arc height and whether your shot is too flat, your release time. It’s a great way to know specifically what you need to improve.”

NBA Global Scout got its start at the 2019 NBA Combine. The NBA and NEX Team were close to officially announcing their partnership and the league invited Alex Wu and his colleagues to attend the Combine. While there, Wu and the others began wondering how technology could replicate the experience for a wider audience.

“Prospects go to the Combine to show scouts what they’re capable of. This is the same principle,” said Wu. “This shows the time you put in, the work ethic, the drive, all those intangibles. We know people are putting in the work. The app gives them credit for it.”

The NBA evaluates nearly 1,000 prospects each year for programs such as BWB and the academies, said Chris Ebersole, Elite Basketball Lead with the league. The NBA’s International Basketball Operations team spends a lot of time on the road and the app helps them be more efficient, which is especially important now that the coronavirus has curtailed international travel.

“We’re focused on discovering talent at a pretty young age and evaluating as many players are we can. It’s a resource-intensive process,” Ebersole said. “NBA Global Scout allows us to meet the players where they are – and where they are is on technology. Giving them the opportunity to showcase their skills without us having to see them in person is valuable because we can see athletes that we might not otherwise have heard of.”

Ebersole and his International Basketball Operations colleagues put themselves through the drills before NBA All-Star. During the BWB camp, they posted each camper’s metrics on a leaderboard that everyone could see. Out of the 40 male campers who participated, Prosper ranked No. 4 overall, including top five performances in the vertical jump, shuttle run and 300 dribble combo. “That really got them going,” Ebersole said. “To see them engage with the app, to compete and try to improve so they could reach the top of the leaderboard, that was a microcosm of what we expect.”

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Earlier this month, Nex Team Inc. and the NBA announced that Homecourt and all of its features will be free to the public through April to help the global basketball community stay connected and active in response to the coronavirus pandemic.

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