As noted in my previous interview, scouting is a critical component of any successful organization. Current Assistant Coach and Advanced Scout for the Detroit Pistons, Bill Pope, can certainly attest to that statement.
Pope joined the Pistons staff during the 2004-2005 year, as the teams video coordinator, a year after their NBA championship season against the Los Angeles Lakers. At the time, Pope was hired by Hall-of-Fame coach Larry Brown, which became the third time Pope had been hired by the legendary coach (San Antonio and Kansas University being the other two).
Since becoming an Assistant Coach and Advanced Scout, the Pistons have compiled a record of 216-115 (.653%), including three Eastern Conference Central division titles and three Eastern Conference title appearances. Even though the Pistons have had success over the last six seasons, the coaching staff has been in flux. Despite frequent head coaching changes – Larry Brown, Flip Saunders, Michael Curry, and now current head coach John Kuester – Pope has been able to stay on staff and remain an integral part of the organization.
Bill Pope didn't have an easy road to the NBA. He has had many stops along the way to get to the prestigious position he now holds. Some of his previous positions include, but are not limited to: Team Manager – Kansas; Equipment Manager – San Antonio Spurs; Assistant Coach – North Carolina A&T; Head Coach – Lincoln University; Assistant Coach – Youngstown State, etc.
Along his basketball journey that started in the mid 80's in college, Pope has been able to absorb the game and see prospects and teams from all levels.
Access Athletes was able to get an exclusive interview with the Assistant Coach/Advanced Scout to answer some questions about his life as an NBA scout, and how he goes about his professional duties.
Basic Scouting Questions
AA: At an early age, what influences did you have growing up that might have played a role in continuing a career as a coach and scout?
BP: As a 6th grader, I determined I wanted to be a coach. As a sophomore in high school, I was 4'11, and knew that I probably was not going to play at a higher level than high school. That same year (1980), I watched the UCLA Bruins nearly beat Louisville for the National Championship with four freshmen and Larry Brown coaching them. [After] listening to him in the timeouts and watching him manage that game, I was certain I wanted to be a similar coach.
AA: I see that you worked with legendary coach Larry Brown back when he was at Kansas, with the San Antonio Spurs, and also in Detroit. How instrumental was he with the advancement of your career?
BP: Ironically, when I enrolled at Kansas University to study athletic training/physical therapy and education, my plan was to be a high school basketball coach. On the day I enrolled at KU, that same day, Larry Brown was named the Head Coach. I worked as a trainer for basketball and football my first 2 years and then became the head manager for the basketball team for 3 years. [It was] pretty good timing because in those 5 years we went to 5 NCAA tournaments, 2 Final Fours, and won the championship in 1988. After graduation, I got a GA [Graduate Assistant] job at Drake University in May. In July, Coach Brown was named head coach at Spurs. I went with him as equipment manager, summer camp director, and video assistant; however, I knew I wanted to coach. So, I went back to KU the next season to volunteer for Coach Roy Williams while going to graduate school. After 15 seasons in college coaching (including 6 as a head coach), I was in a pinch without a job and Coach Brown rescued me by offering me a position as video coordinator with the Pistons. In short, very influential. I think he is the best coach at any level and only regret that when I worked for him, I did not take better notes. As a student, I thought every coach was as good as him. Little did I know at that time… he is the best.
AA: In your opinion, what is the best aspect of being a pro scout?
BP: The best aspect is that every night I watch a game, it is a free coaching clinic for me. I get the opportunity to see 30 of the best coaches in basketball put together game plans and strategies that help them win, and sometimes lose games. [In] college coaching, there is just basketball – no recruiting, academic concerns or late night phone calls regarding player misbehavior.
AA: Tell us a little about how you go about advanced scouting. What is it in particular you look for when scouting opponents and their players?
BP: The most important aspect of my job that requires me to be scouting in person is securing the “calls” of the other teams. By being at the game, I get a better feel for players and teams that I may not be able to get off video. The coaches responsible for each team will watch a lot of tape in preparation.
AA: As a scout, how often do you travel away from Detroit? And, how often are you in contact with the other coaches on staff?
BP: Last season, I scouted 111 games away from Detroit. Of course our season ended sooner than in the past, when I would do 130+ [games] as we advanced in the playoffs. This season, I will do about 95 games not including playoffs.
I am in contact with the other coaches on staff via email and text on nearly a daily basis. When a coach is responsible for a certain team, then I will talk to them via phone a number of times before that game.
AA: For those who might want to pursue a career in scouting, what advice would you give them?
BP: Don’t. Just kidding… Go into the personnel side because the future of advance scouting is bleak, as more teams rely more on video for the basis of scouting and the economy forces teams to put less of a budget into it. Additionally, there are only 30 chances to do it in the NBA… not a lot of options.
International Scouting Questions
AA: In today's game, how important is international scouting considering the continuosly, growing amount of European/South American players?
BP: It is important that we always continue to turn over new areas to find players. Every team in the NBA has at least one full-time scout devoted to international scouting, along with other regional scouts that work on a part-time basis. As more international players continue to have success, it will continue to grow for sure.
AA: On the other hand, what is your take on the newest trend of skipping college (e.g. Brandon Jennings), or even in the case of Jeremy Tyler skipping his senior year of high school, and playing professionally for a year or two overseas?
BP: I think it is a very difficult journey and you must have a great support system to be successful. Let's be honest, the kids that are going over there are not qualifying to play at a U.S. college and are using it as an escape route. This makes it even more difficult. There are some younger players, who after playing in college, have had 4 years to mature before going overseas and playing. For example, Anthony Parker is a guy who went overseas and established himself before returning to the U.S. and starting on an NBA team, as is Piston Will Bynum.
AA: With more mid-level NBA players heading to Europe than ever before, do you think there will ever come a time when Europe will lure in a superstar because of the money/amenities aspect like in the case of Josh Childress?
BP: First, I would say the opportunities to lure a superstar are slim. I think the actual numbers of good NBA players that are there is not very high – Josh Childress was not a starter in the NBA, but still a good player. I would be surprised to see an NBA starter playing overseas instead of the NBA, in all honesty at this stage of the game.
AA: When it comes to comparing NBA and international players, what do you think is the most noted difference in their playing abilities?
BP: The skill level of international players seems to consistently be higher than their U.S. counterparts, especially from a shooting aspect. While there are some highly athletic individuals from the international game, that seems to be the biggest consistent advantage of U.S. players – the athleticism.
On behalf of Access Athletes, I would like to thank Bill Pope for taking time out of his busy schedule to participate in the interview. His professionalism and knowledge of the game are a rare commodity. I also want to wish Bill the best of luck this season with his scouting, and to the continued success of the Detroit Pistons organization.