Perfect Imperfection: Bronislaw Wawrzynczuk Discusses The Art of Scouting in Europe.

Prior to my trek down to the 2018 Portsmouth Invitational Tournament in Virginia, my good friend Dan (‘Murph’ for short) urged me to text a friend of his who was also in town. Described to me as the “Polish Connect” by Murph, I received a text with a contact that simply read Bronislaw.

After sending the unknown recipient a text introducing myself and how I received his contact, we were able to meet up and chat for a bit. Donning a white Eurpospects shirt, Bronislaw told me he was there on behalf of his scouting service, the aforementioned Eurospects.

One year later, after launching NoneandDone, I knew that I wanted to write about Bronislaw and his lane in the scouting world.

“The journey to get where I am at the moment is a combination of grind, knowledge, and luck in equal proportion,” Bronislaw says of his journey. “I always knew that this job [scouting] existed, and thought that it could be my dream job but I had never really done anything towards achieving it.”

Eurospects was founded in 2017. (photo credit: @eurospects)

For Bronislaw, things began to change a bit in July of 2015 while vacationing with some friends in Italy. “They enjoyed the summer time while I was spending entire days in the gym observing scouts, players, and just fully embracing the vibe of youth scouting events.”

“Whenever I could, I was hitting the road between my loaded work schedule and college schedule. After a year-and-a-half, I was able to get some connections in Europe and the NBA. [Then I] decided to take the next step and create my own brand: Eurospects.”

Once placing a strong emphasis as helping find a pipeline for European talent to play collegiality in the States, Eurospects has gone through a metamorphosis over the years, now with strong roots in the professional ranks both in Europe and America.

And that’s where things get interesting for Bronislaw.

“You can often hear that scouting is the business of making the least mistakes. No one is perfect in this job, and to some degree, it’s just anticipating the future and there’s so many obstacles down the road that you have no influence on. You simply can’t predict if someone has bad luck or made the wrong decision.”

“At the end of the day, basketball is not rocket science,” Bronislaw said. He stressed how important it is to compile data for future use, as it can help streamline the process once you begin to find your footing.

“If you have a large database, then you can often identify similarities and that could give you a solid idea for the ultimate level [of a players ability.]”

For casual basketball fans here in the States, every year there seems to be a can’t miss European prospect who is destined for greatness. And each year, around Draft time, said fan does research only to be underwhelmed when their team is linked to a guy in the lottery who averages 6.4 PPG, 3.5 APG, and 3.2 RPG.

Then that same guy, in this instance it’s Ricky Rubio, will go on to flirt with a decade long NBA career by the time he’s closing in on 30 years old.

Simply put, numbers don’t really hold as much weight overseas which might be tricky for some fans to grasp.

“America, in my eyes, is all about creating heroes, ridiculous stats and numbers,” Bronislaw said when discussing the cultural differences of basketball between the two continents. “That’s what you can sell. The game is more ISO heavy and spacing makes it a different game at times. There is a lot more up-and-down than relying on tactical concepts or teamwork.”

Dallas Mavericks star, Luka Doncic, played professionally in Spain starting at the age of 16 prior to heading to the NBA. (photo: zimbio.com)

Despite the different styles of play, there is something both cultures emphasize when trying to discover talent; the process begins early. In America, by the time a player hits 9th grade they’ve been all over the country in front of countless talent scouts, college coaches and media outlets. And it’s not very different in Europe. However, the difference is in America, young players are not allowed to seek representations or risk losing their amateur status thus negating any career in the NCAA.

That’s not the case in Europe.

“Some players also have agents very early, which is forbidden in the USA,” Bronislaw noted when discussing how up-and-coming European prospects gets scouted sometimes as early as 12 years old. “Often players are scouted by agents or their employees rather than team scouts.”

For American prospects, their main goal is likely to land in the NBA or the NBA G-League, which puts them in a position on the national stage. But for European players, and consultants such as Bronislaw and the Eurospects team, it’s important to know what translates.

And sometimes what translates may differ depending on the league you plan on sending reports to. Unlike the NBA, there isn’t one league that blankets all of Europe, but countless leagues ranging in size.

Be it International Leagues such as the EuroLeague and EuroCup or subregional leagues such as the Adriatic League or the Spanish ACB, there’s an abundance to cover. For instance, in Italy alone, they have upwards of seven different leagues.

And knowing what these leagues value is key for the Eurospects squad.

“It’s all about knowing the levels,” Bronislaw said when discussing the multiple leagues. “If you write a scouting report for a Polish 2nd Division team, you can write that I have excellent quickness and can create my own shot. But if you write that for a Bundesliga team, that would make you look silly. Besides having an eye for discovering talent and knowing what translates, you have got to be aware of how good of a skill or physical potential it requires to succeed at a given level.”

One key thing that anybody will tell you for those trying to get a foot in the door, it’s that networking and being available are two major requirements. Something Bronislaw knows very well.

“There are very few places [events] I don’t like attending. Usually, the better the level and networking makes the events noteworthy. We don’t really have time to see anything besides the gym, hotel, and airport so destination isn’t a big factor. I actually like camps a lot. It’s a different evaluation setting, which sometimes is refreshing and you have more time to connect with people. There is usually a practice and two scrimmages, rather than six games which forces you to sit from 9am to 10pm in one place.”

Ratiopharm Arena in Ulm, Germany (photo credit: osram.com)

And that’s the same exact grind that paid off for Bronislaw during a trip to visit some friends in the Czech Republic.

“It was a Friday, they all went to work. I had seen Prague many times before and the weather was bad and I didn’t feel like sight seeing so I went to the gym,” Bronislaw recalls of the trip.

“I approached a guy in a team uniform for Ratiopharm Ulm, which turned out to be the founder of the club and their General Manager. We talked, exchanged contact information and were in touch since then about players.”

“During our second meeting, he told me about a unique project he wanted to build. I came to visit again shortly after that, decided I wanted to be apart of that and we found an agreement.”

“I help to bring the most talented players from all over Europe to their Orange Academy and at the same time I have the opportunity to learn pro scouting on BBL [Basketball Bundesliga] and EuroCup level, which are very prestigious leagues in Europe.”

At 28 years old, Bronislaw has already achieved so much and seemingly has a bright future in the wild world of scouting basketball talents on the Global level.

Be it running his own scouting service with Eurospects, or providing his professional insight to help build a foundation that will benefit Ratiopharm Ulm for years to come, it’s safe to assume that Bronislaw has found his footing.

Not bad for a kid who decided to take an Italian vacation.

A New Normal: The Pro Basketball Combine Is Offering a New Path for NBA Hopefuls.

Credit: @ProBBallCombine

Alexander Graham Bell once said “When one door closes, another opens; but we often look so long and so regretfully upon the closed door that we do not see the one which has opened for us.” For many, especially those pursuing their dream of playing pro basketball, a door gets slammed shut should they not receive an invite to the NBA Draft Combine held every year in Chicago.

Rather than letting players dwell on their dreams possibly eluding them, Jake Kelfer took it upon himself to make sure that another door opened when he birthed the Pro Basketball Combine.

PBC founder Jake Kelfer (photo credit: hallpassnetwork.com)

The NBA Combine invites 80 players from the college and international ranks. Over the course of a few days, players are tested for skills such as speed and agility, to their jump shot being dissected, to interviewing with NBA executives, to being measured up, down and sideways to playing live games.

However, as the basketball world continues to rapidly expand and leagues being more-and-more profitable and sustainable, the need for talent similarly expands. Which is why Jake Kelfer, once an aspiring agent, saw an opportunity with the Pro Basketball Combine.

After graduating from USC in 2015, Kelfer landed with the Los Angeles Lakers on the corporate side in Kobe Bryant’s final season. After dipping his toes into the agency waters through helping with pro days and combines alike, in less than two years, with the expansion of the NBA G-League and their 2-Way contracts, Exhibit 10 contracts and the ever evolving international landscape, Kelfer crafted the concept for the PBC in January 2017.

“The PBC found it’s spot,” Kelfer said of the landscape in early 2017. “[It helped players] expedite their journey.”

Before the process can even kick off, Kelfer and his team track players and map out potential invitees for their event held in May.

“Twenty four guys,” Kelfer says of how many players the PBC will look to invite to their event. “And that’s based on the NBA pre-draft rules. You can only have six on the court at one time, 3-on-3 workout, [and we do] four groups of six over two days.”

Now more than ever, with the NBA continually reassessing their Draft rules, we see a drastic spike in players declaring for the draft on a yearly basis. As of late April, 233 players have entered their names into the 2019 NBA Draft pool.

With such a large range of players making their names available, Kelfer makes sure he has contingencies in place to deal with this madness.

“Every declaration that happens, we track it,” Kelfer tells me. “It’s so fluid, and we take it into consideration, but with us, we’re not going to fill-up half our spots with underclassmen testing the waters.”

While their focus is geared towards Seniors, the PBC have invited players who declared as underclassmen in years past such as UIC’s Dikembe Dixson and Louisville’s Deng Adel, both of whom were 2018 PBC participants.

Deng Adel, #32, played in 19 games with the Cleveland Cavaliers in ’18-19 (photo credit: Sportingnews.com)

“There’s a lot of factors that go into it, I think we do our best jobs tracking everything that we can track but there’s no one system that tells [you everything.] Because every year you have guys who stay in and guys that go back and you’re like ‘Really? I think you would’ve been incredible to say in, I’m very surprised.’

“Every year, except this year, there hasn’t been too many guys in the Top-30/40 who have gone back to school so that makes it very interesting. Whereas in the past, there’s been a couple of lottery picks each year go back [to school]; Miles Bridges and Robert Williams to name a couple.”

When the event gets underway, Kelfer and the PBC try to simulate an atmosphere that resembles that of the NBA combine while providing experiences players in the event may not have gotten while playing at their respective universities.

“We do a lot of the same things as the NBA combine. We have combine testing, we have an entire team interview component and then we have a lot of other things that the NBA combine doesn’t necessarily do; we’ll try new technology, we’ll do a photo shoot for the guys like the Rookie Paninni Shoot, something that, typically guys–unless they’re at the top–don’t necessarily get. And then we have a PBC Prospect Development Program for an educational component.”

PBC alum, Troy Caupain, earned a 2-way contract with the Orlando Magic thanks to the event (photo credit: orlandomagicdaily.com)

The event provides a platform for many of their hopefuls, and draws a good portion of the NBA front offices, their agents and a wave of social media attention. To assure they reach an ever broader audience, the event will send out measurements to international clubs thus expanding the scope of the teams benefiting from the event, allowing them to have a more immersive pool of intel to work off of when making personnel decisions.

“Overseas teams don’t typically travel for it, but there is a network that we have with overseas teams to help get data out there and share it with them.”

Once the event wraps, and players go on their way, the impact of the PBC can be seen as the deals eventually fall into place.

When asked to highlight some players who benefited the most from the PBC in it’s infant stages, Kelfer was quick to answer.

“One that might surprise you when I say it is Antonio Blakeney, who was a guy from the first year we did the event, he came out as a Sophomore, 17 points per game at LSU. Originally pegged as a draft pick, dropped, fell through the cracks at the NBA Combine and came to our event.

“One of the biggest things was-yeah, he was really good, we already knew that-but what was really interesting was that so many teams said that when they interviewed him at our event, their whole opinion about him had changed. And that wouldn’t have happened if he wasn’t at our event.”

Despite going undrafted in 2017, Blakeney would play for the Chicago Bulls in the Summer League, leading to him signing a 2-way deal with them for the 2017-18 season. By 2018-19, he would sign outright with the Bulls, playing in 57 games and averaging 7.3 PPG, 1.9 RPG and 1.7 APG in just over 14 minutes per game.

“Troy Caupain from Cincinnati, the Magic saw him at our event, loved him, immediately invited him to a workout the following day, ended up on their G-League team, this year they signed him to a 2-way deal and he’s been a great player for them.”

Antonio Blakeney is one of the many benefactors of the PBC (photo credit: nola.com)

“Last year we had a kid, Todd Withers, from a D2 school ended up playing with the Pistons on their G-League team. We had the smallest kid in college basketball, Junior Robinson, go to the Hawks for Summer League and is now scoring 18 a game in Spain at a high level.”

The list goes on. Be it the NBA, G-League or overseas, the PBC has helped provide a platform for players trying to further their basketball lives. For them, the process continues with their next stop in the road while for Jake Kelfer and the Pro Basketball Combine, things will eventually begin again at it’s original starting point.

“The big thing for me is to be innovative and find ways to grow it,” Kelfer said of his plans going forward. “As long as it’s providing a value for players, agents and teams then it’s a great deal. It comes down to that. As long as it keeps providing value and continues growing, we’ll keep thinking about doing it every year.”

In the meantime Kelfer and his crew will continue to provide a stage and shine a spotlight onto players who are searching for their opportunity to make it. The man who once had dreams of being an agent has taken a different path, but his impact on the lives of dozens of professional basketball players is evident.

And he’s just getting started.