An Inside Look at the Life of an Advance Scout

Tuesday January 20, 2009 12:24 PM

Traveling Man

Rockets Advance Scout Pat Zipfel chronicles life on the road

Pat Zipfel
Rockets Advance Scout

Houston - When you’re on the road as much as I am, you inevitably cross paths with all different types of people.

I recently found myself on a flight to New York’s Kennedy airport. Sitting next to me was a young man named Tanner - a 5 th grader from Missouri. Tanner noticed me diagramming plays of the New York Knicks and his curiosity got the better of him. He smiled and told me he played guard for his school team and that when he grows up, he wants to play in the NBA.

He started asking about my life as an Advance NBA Scout. He wanted to see the scouting report Yao Ming reads and to view the report on the San Antonio Spurs, since he confessed that was his favorite team (hey, nobody’s perfect). To his credit, he did add that the Rockets were his 2 nd favorite team. He also wanted to know if Tracy McGrady was really a nice guy.

After Tanner finished looking over the Spurs plays, I asked him why he was on this flight. His eyes immediately lit up and he told me that he was headed to AFRICA! So while I was headed to New York to scout the Knicks, he and his family were simply switching planes so that they could continue their journey to Africa to adopt 4 year old Twins! Tanner was about to be a big brother for the first time! Apparently, it had been a two-year process and his family was finally going to take home twins from an orphanage in Africa.

It’s funny… Tanner initially thought I was pretty “cool” because of my job. But somewhere along our flight, I realized he and his family were the cool ones and that I was simply lucky to have occupied a seat next to him.

It’s little moments like that which help make my travels so worthwhile. But make no mistake - life as an advance scout in the NBA is a grind. Just check out this 48-hour schedule from last month:

December 1 st, 2008

4:15 AM Wake up Call- Pack and Get Dressed

445 AM- Leave House and Drive to Philadelphia Airport

6:00 AM- Check in at US AIR for Flight 1121

6:45 AM- Begin Boarding flight

7:30 AM- Flight takes off from Philadelphia

This leg of the trip- Sleep!

9:55 AM- Arrive in Denver- Leave Plane 1 and Go Find Gate for second flight

10:48 AM- Boarding begins for Flight 6185 to Oakland, CA

1:10 PM- Arrive in Oakland California

1:25 PM- Head to Ground transportation and Rental Car location

1:40 PM- Arrive at Thrifty and get rental car

2:00 PM- Leave Thrift and drive to Marriott Hotel, Downtown Oakland

230 PM- Check in to Marriott

240 PM- Head to downtown Oakland Starbucks with laptop- work on statistical preparation for the Warriors

4:45 PM- Walk back to Marriott…..Get dressed for game

5:30 PM- Drive to Oracle Arena- Home of the Golden State Warriors

6:05 PM- Arrive at game and go to Media entrance to pick up scouting credential

625 PM- Watch Warmups of players- Paying particular attention to the various NEW Warriors (especially Anthony Morrow who had 37 points in a recent game with Portland)

710 PM- Head back to Media Room for dinner

7:30 Game Begins- Golden State Warriors vs Miami Heat

10:00 Game goes into Overtime…..and the Heat pull out a victory.

1020 PM- Leave Oracle Arena …fight traffic

1055 PM- Arrive at Marriott Hotel

11:10 PM- Plug in laptop and enter plays the Warriors used that night

December 2nd, 2008

1:00 AM- Do Rolling call sheet with Time/Call for our video department and coaches

2:15 AM- Finish Golden State Scouting Report and send to coaches

230 AM- Unplug and pack computer….pack clothes and turn off the lights

4:15 AM- Wake Up Call #1

4:30 AM- Wake Up Call #2- Race around room to shower and get dressed- Yes, you can be showered, dressed and out of the room in less than 10 minutes!

440 AM- Jumping in rental car and driving away from Marriott

500 AM- Quickly stop and put gas in rental car to return it full

505 AM- Arrive at Thrifty Rental car and get on Shuttle bus to airport

525 AM- Check in electronically for 6 AM flight! (Carry on luggage ONLY)

Please note- I do NOT recommend travelers only have 35 minute window- particularly during the holiday months but since Oakland has “Clear”, I am fine

530- Go THRU “Clear” line at security

(Clear is a program that I am a member where they did a government background check and fingerprinted me and I am able to go to a special line and not have to wait in security like everyone else) It is not at every airport but at a number of NBA city airports and saves me MAJOR TIME. I would recommend it to anyone

600 AM- Board US AIR Flight 632 from Oakland to Phoenix..

615 AM- Asleep on the plane

855 AM- Arrive in Phoenix and depart plane and look for connecting flight gate

905 AM- Call Asst Video Coordinator Scott Simpson to confirm that the Golden State Scouting report was received.

920 Am- Board US AIR Flight 542 headed to Dallas Texas

1:15 PM- Arrive in Dallas Texas

1:25 PM- Wait outside at Hotel Courtesy shuttle area- Marriott DFW South

140 PM- Shuttle van picks me up

200 PM- Arrive at Front desk at Marriott DFW South

215 PM- Put carry on luggage in room and take a 10 minute walk to lunch spot.

230 PM- Lunch

3:00 PM- Walk back to Hotel and hook up laptop…time to begin work on Los Angeles Clippers

4:45 PM- Get dressed and take shuttle van to TRE station ( Dallas has an excellent public transportation system that takes you directly to American Airlines Arena) In an effort to not rent a car or use a taxi- this hotel is ideal.

5:45 PM Arrive at Victory Station stop for American Airlines Arena

6:00 PM Walk thru security and receive Scouting credential

6:15 PM- Find scouting seat…and watch warm ups- This will be one of the first games for Zach Randolph who was traded from the Knicks to the Clippers.

645 PM- Head back to media room for dinner

700 PM- Game Begins- Dallas Mavericks vs the Los Angeles Clippers

935 PM- Game ends and the train leaves exactly 20 minutes after the final buzzer- so, quickly run to train station with crowd and backpack.

10:15 PM Arrive at TRE stop for Hotel and call hotel courtesty shuttle to come pick up

1035 PM- Arrive back in room….hook up computer and begin drawing diagrams of plays the Clippers used tonight.

11:30 PM- Type out Rolling call sheet for video guys and coaches

1:15 AM- Work on Player reports using X O Playtools and sending to Scott Simpson- who coordinates much of the paperwork.

1:30 AM- Watch Synergy game of Atlanta- Who is the next opponent to work on

One last little tidbit before I go: Since I am at an NBA game almost every night, most of my dinners take place in the various media rooms in the NBA. Last year I saw over 150 NBA games in person and ate dinner at least 135 nights in the various media rooms. Here are a few of my favorites: (Keep in mind, that of COURSE we have the best food in the league but I am never in Houston and always on the road.)

And FYI- The Western Conference media room food is hands down superior to the Eastern Conference.

Some of my Favorite Media Rooms for Food

  1. Sacramento- The Kings lay out a pretty good spread every night! Even when the entrée is not my style- what makes this place great is that they always have an excellent pizza available.
  1. Los Angeles Lakers/Los Angeles Clippers- They have very good food at Staples Center but what makes this place one of the best is that they have the ONLY soft serve ice cream machine in the league and allow you to make your own sundae with toppings!…..No wonder I gain 15 pounds a season!
  1. Dallas Mavericks- Have excellent food and one of the best dessert tables in the league that is always loaded with brownies (a favorite)
  1. Chicago Bulls- The Bulls may have the best media room food in the Eastern conference. Interestingly, they are the only team in the league that puts out Peanut butter and jelly every night…just in case you don’t like either of their entrees!


January 6, 2009

It’s been called “the toughest job in the NBA.” It is intense, grueling and extremely difficult and completely behind the scenes. But for a basketball junkie like myself, it’s also one of the greatest gigs in the world.

I’m Pat Zipfel, advance NBA scout for the Houston Rockets. As the title implies, my job is to scout our club’s opponents prior to playing them, so that our coaches and players have as much information as possible about the enemy’s tendencies, strategies, strengths and weaknesses. The NBA is so competitive and the margin for error so small, that the slightest bit of “inside information” can often be the difference between victory and defeat. That’s why I do what I do.

My background: I’m a former NCAA small college head coach who’s passionate about the X and O’s of the game. You pretty much have to be; the game moves so quickly and there’s so much information to get each night from the opponent to help prepare our coaches and players. With the use of video and my in person scouting, I help prepare our team to know the other teams plays, calls and personnel and help our coaching staff.

So that’s me. Over the months to come, I’ll be sharing small glimpses into the unique, exhausting, yet rewarding life of an advance scout – both on and off the court.

For example: It’s not at all unusual for me to finish work at 2:30 AM while facing the prospect of a 4:30 AM wake-up call that morning just so I can be sure to catch my flight to the next city.

Every night another city and another game. Traveling alone. Imagine this- our players and coaches have not seen me since the last day of training camp! In fact, most of our players don’t even know who I am but somehow reports end up on their locker room chairs on game days. If they only knew the process it took to get that information! Flights, hotels, cab rides and some funny stories along the way.

The glamorous life of being an Advance NBA Scout? Waking up and not knowing what city you are in- and having to check the phone because all Marriott rooms look the same. Just the other day the woman in the seat next to me had to use the little white bag on both take off and landing!

So don’t for a moment let your self get fooled into thinking that this job is a vacation. There are no two ways about it – it’s hard work. Of course the flip side of that coin is that I’ve also already seen more than 70 NBA games in person so far this season, and it’s pretty tough to complain about a life that allows you to see the greatest athletes in the world plying their trade on a nightly basis – even if it is accompanied with a fair amount of sleep deprivation.

‘Til next time,