Pete Philo understands the world of basketball scouting better than anyone.
Known as one of the world’s best talent evaluators, Philo spent 14 years working as an NBA scout with the Dallas Mavericks, Minnesota Timberwolves and Indiana Pacers.
He also founded the adidas Eurocamp, an invite only showcase that brings together the best international NBA prospects. For those selected, the camp is an opportunity to show off in front of NBA scouts and European basketball clubs. Joe Ingles and Patty Mills are two of many Australians who attended the camp under Philo’s stewardship.
Simply put, Philo has done it all. He has serviced a number of positions within NBA front offices – Director of Scouting, Director of Player Personnel and Director of International Scouting just to name a few. He was a key figure in China’s 2012 Olympic campaign, routinely coaching and scouting against the Australian Boomers in FIBA basketball.
“I’ve been lucky,” Philo told The Pick and Roll. “I was in the NBA for 14 years as an executive. I ran the Eurocamp for 9 years over in Italy. That helped me a lot in building those real relationships with executives and NBA coaches.”
Philo stepped away from the NBA in 2016. He now focuses his efforts on growing the game of basketball through his company, TPG Sports Group.
With that mandate in mind, and Philo leading the way, TPG has recently launched Virtual Scout School, an online platform offering a basketball curriculum for those wanting a hoops education. This digital platform is Philo’s way of giving back to basketball, an opportunity to share a lifetime of lessons learnt in the industry.
“The game has been really good to me,” Philo admits. “I want to share as much as possible and give as many opportunities as possible for the next generation of coaches and scouts.”
Virtual Scout School is your modern day tech startup company, albeit targeted at basketball diehards. It’s an online education platform that offers previously unimaginable access to NBA scouts, coaches and information. Any computer can be transformed into a world class basketball environment with the click of a button.
In an exclusive interview, Philo spoke to The Pick and Roll about Virtual Scout School, life as a scout, how the NBA perceives Australian basketball and much more.
Origins of Virtual Scout School
The origins of Virtual Scout School lie in Las Vegas.
Begining in 2014, Philo and TPG have run an annual basketball networking conference called Pro Scout School. Taking place over Las Vegas Summer League, the conference is marketed as a one stop shop for those attempting to break into the basketball industry. Regardless of what aspect of professional basketball you are interested in – be it scouting, player personnel, coaching, basketball operations, management or even journalism – Pro Scout School has you covered.
“The event has got really popular,” Philo says. “We bring in as many high level basketball executives as we can.”
The school is underpinned by a promise of offering access to the biggest names in basketball. Kevin Pritchard, Fred Hoiberg, Ryan McDonough and Bobby Marks were just some of the distinguished speakers who presented at the 2017 event.
“We bring in every aspect of basketball that we possibly can at the highest level,” Philo notes. “And we give back as much solid content as we can.”
As the Las Vegas event grew in stature, so too did demand for content. Philo notes that he would get requests to access the materials online from all around the world. Every corner of the basketball universe wanted to harness the knowledge of Pro Scout School. With demand reaching fever pitch, the idea for Virtual Scout School was born.
“We got the idea from listening to the market and listening to our customers,” Philo notes.
What is Virtual Scout School?
Virtual Scout School is a 21st century educational platform tailored to basketball. For those who can’t make the live event in Las Vegas, the team at TPG strove to build out a virtual experience where basketball stakeholders could learn as much as possible about the game.
Philo acknowledges that there is now so much global interest around scouting and player development. As the collective intelligence level of the basketball community rises, he is adamant that a curiosity has developed within both professional basketball minds and fans alike. He even labels salary cap education and manoeuvring the “sexy” thing within NBA front office circles.
Philo also sees what we all do: the world is becoming smaller, with technology helping build relationships that transcend continental barriers.
“We all see the world shrinking,” Philo explains. “So what that means is there are more opportunities.
“People are crossing all the time from high school to college, college to professional, professional to international, international to the NBA.”
That is the beauty of what Virtual Scout School is attempting to create. The 12 month curriculum has been developed from an NBA point of view, but it offers skills that are applicable across every level of basketball. It offers the sharpest minds in basketball teaching the fundamental skills required to understand the game at every level.
“The more you know about basketball, the better,” Philo says. The platform is built around this simple yet always correct decree.
“I’m talking about everything,” Philo explains. “From agents to culture to talent evaluation to the salary cap. The more you know, the more well rounded you are and the more opportunities you may have in your career.”
This is why Philo and TPG have developed Virtual Scout School. They want to educate and help those striving for a career in basketball.
What about Australia?
In good news for every Australian, Virtual Scout School is available locally, with users able to access the platform’s full functionality from down under. For the extremely affordable price of $9.99 USD (approx. $12.90 AUD) a month, anyone can sign up and become a basketball expert.
When asked if there was one thing he wanted potential Australian customers to know, Philo reinforced ease of access and learning potential, two items that underpin Virtual Scout School.
“You can access it from your computer at home,” Philo notes. “If you really care about getting better and knowing everything about the game, not just an out of bounds play or not just an offensive set that you can find anywhere online. You can’t find this information we are sharing.
“This is years and years of experience from a lot of high level NBA executives that have put this together.”
The platform includes a conversation system, which will allow Australian customers to engage with users all across the globe. There is also the option to participate in video chats with experts in particular topics, along with quizzes at the end of each month to test what you have learnt.
“You will make yourself more well rounded,” Philo says. “You will be able to speak the game a little easier.
“You will get better. You will learn and who knows, there may be opportunities that come out of it. It’s all about learning and meeting new people.”
Philo explains that there is already people posting messages and introducing themselves online, reinforcing his belief that this is just another opportunity for everyone to get closer and learn more about the game.
For those wanting to break into the NBA, Virtual Scout School is an innovative forum that can be used to build a professional network within the industry, something that is incredibly vital.
“The basketball market is so small” Philo adds.
“Let’s just take the NBA for example. Unfortunately, you can’t get in the NBA, on the basketball operations side, by your ability alone. You don’t just apply for these jobs. If you really want to break in, you have to develop the relationships with people.
“Friends hire friends in this industry. Whether it’s right or wrong, I don’t always agree with it, but I understand it. The biggest reason is because of trust. It’s a sensitive information business, and you want to be around guys you know and trust.
“A lot of times, people get hired as friends and they learn on the job. Within a year, they are kind of up to speed. It’s like on the job training. That’s why it’s so important.”
Philo has leveraged his wealth of experiences as an NBA scout when creating the platform. Building a network is crucial, although it is just one in a long list of lessons available to users of Virtual Scout School.
“It’s a combination of everything,” Philo says. “I love sharing all of the experiences that I’ve learnt. It’s impossible to just get it and execute it. It takes time to experience it.”
Life as a scout
For young scouts out there, Philo has one piece of advice above all.
“I often tell young scouts to be careful of being so matter of fact early in their career. People want to prove themselves and prove they can evaluate talent so they say ‘the guy can play’ or ‘he’ll never play, he’s going to be a bust.’
“I often say just pump the breaks a little bit. Slowly evaluate and your eye will get better every single year.
“My first year of evaluating talent, I sucked. I thought I was good but I was terrible. Donny Nelson from the Dallas Mavericks told me I was terrible. Thank goodness he let me keep my job. I improved every year. By the last couple of years, I would say year 13 and 14, I felt that I was really good. But again, my eye improved every year.”
Philo acknowledges that, as the years went on, the job got easier and he could identify talent quicker. Although an industry wide shift to positionless basketball this decade has complicated matters.
“When the game started changing to positionless basketball, it made it more difficult for me to scout. Because now you have to plug guys into more versatile, multi positional roles. Where years ago, a one was a one, a two was a two, a four was a four.”
Philo was working in Minnesota when the Timberwolves drafted Kevin Love. At the time, he explains the entire NBA was looking for a high IQ, shooting four. The guy that could really stretch the floor at the four position. In less than a decade, the prototypical NBA big man has changed so much
“Now, everyone is looking for the Draymond Green type,” Philo says. “ They guy that can shoot it, drive it, pass it and make a play from the four.
“He averages five and a half assists per game at the four position which is really rare. So people are looking for that now and it’s really hard to find. “
Finally, what about Australian basketball?
Philo admits to having a bias towards Australian basketball. He has been instrumental in advancing the careers of many Australians who have played professionally, and given his time in NBA front offices, he has thoroughly scouted the likes of Andrew Bogut, Dante Exum and Ben Simmons.
“Australian basketball players are tough and smart,” Philo explains. “All the guys have the reputation of being great guys, with great spirit. They are fun and genuine guys.
“I know several of them personally and you couldn’t ask for better guys. It seems like there is never an issue with an Aussie guy. It’s great. The culture is great there and the people are genuine and fun. There’s no agenda with Aussie guys. They are just good people.”