PHOENIX – There was a time, not too long ago, when college coaches were able to only scout players at their respective high school games. Before recruiting sites existed, college coaches scouted solely based on high school games with hand-written notes of a players’ skill set.
Those days are long gone with the rise of recruiting companies and social media, which have forever changed the landscape of basketball recruiting and scouting. But while many of these new recruiting tools are focused on elite recruits, NXTPro Hoops is carving out space for underrated basketball prospects in Arizona.
Approaching one year since being founded in November of 2021, the recruiting service for college coaches is aimed to help coaches find lower-touted Division II and III prospects. Ethan Piechota, Arizona’s lead scout for NXTPro Hoops, has taken full advantage of scouting underrated high school basketball talent in the Valley.
“What I do is write player evaluations on high school players … so college coaches can view what I have to say behind a paywall,” said Piechota, who provides in-depth evaluations regularly. “I break down a kid’s strengths and weaknesses, which is the easy part, but what I also do is see where the kid fits at the next level best in terms of colleges and (what) his pro projection looks like down the road.”
Piechota, a former two-year varsity basketball player at St. John Bosco High School in California, views the experience and his work as a way to give back while shining a light on prospects who don’t have as many opportunities to showcase their talent as top-tier recruits.
“We want to give them a platform and spotlight to push out what they are doing in terms of high school basketball,” Piechota said. “When I started here, they told me they didn’t want me scouting Division I prospects because the fact of the matter is there aren’t that many in the area. We really want to focus on helping the D-II, D-III and JUCO kids find a home at the next level.”
Social media has impacted the recruiting world for the past decade. Instagram and Twitter are among the most popular applications athletes and recruiting services use to showcase highlights of recruits. Overtime, a sports media company, was founded in 2016 with a focus on short-form high school basketball content. Early highlights of LaMelo Ball and Zion Williamson were featured prominently on the company’s page in early 2017, boosting their overall stock among college scouts looking for the next can’t-miss talent.
“So much of recruiting in high school basketball comes with what happens with social media,” Piechota said. “College coaches are recruiting these kids straight off of social media just because it’s easier for them rather than make multiple trips out.”
In multiple instances, Piechota has fielded calls from a collegiate coach about a player moments after posting his evaluation on the company’s website.
Nate Aker, an intern at NXTPro Hoops, notes social media has led to positive exposure for recruiting content.
“Without social media and without these college coaches knowing what we are doing, I don’t think we would see as big an impact for these recruits,” said Aker, who is based in Oklahoma.
While many favor the idea that social media can help the future of basketball recruiting, there are still scouts opposed to social media’s takeover. Although it has been deemed helpful for many high school recruits, social media can cause problems for athletes. Prospects can appear as better players online than they are in reality thanks to clever editing.
Matt Babcock, a senior NBA Draft analyst for Basketballnews.com, is skeptical about how social media will change the landscape of basketball recruiting.
“Some players I see at the grassroots level seem to be more famous than good at basketball, which can create some unique problems,” Babcock said. “I talk about self-awareness quite a bit when discussing evaluating prospects. The overhyped players tend to think they’re better than they are, leading to unrealistic expectations and all sorts of problems regarding their development and ability to co-exist with other players, among other issues.”
Despite the success social media has given high school basketball prospects, Babcock and Aker still see value in scouting these players at their respective high schools.
“I prefer evaluating prospects in more structured basketball environments, leading me to say high school if I had to choose one,” Babcock said.
Added Aker: “I love watching these players in a high school setting because they are playing against players ranging from freshmen to seniors. For example, if you are a freshman competing with juniors and seniors that speaks a lot.”
While NXTPro Hoops travels to various high school games and AAU tournaments, they also host their basketball clinics during the year at different locations throughout the country.
Last year, NXTPro Hoops hosted eight AAU events during non-live periods. Division I coaches were not allowed to attend, however, Division II and III coaches were more than welcome. According to Piechota, there were roughly 140 college programs represented at the events.
On Sept. 26, Piechota hosted Arizona’s first NXTPro Hoops event at Bell Bank Park in Gilbert, which featured over 90 high school players and five college programs.
“It was an exposure event, we had kids from all over the state at this event and we had each kid play three showcase games, and everyone from the event received four evaluations on my end,” Piechota said.
After covering Arizona high school basketball for over six months now, Piechota believes the basketball talent in Arizona will soon be on the rise. Only two Arizona high school players made the cut in ESPN’s Top 100 basketball high school rankings. Gilbert Perry’s Cody Willaims is ranked No.14 in the country and AZ Compass Prep’s Tru Washington is further down the list at No. 86 among the class of 2023 prospects.
“The overall talent pool we have in Arizona is up there with any other state in the nation thanks to the emergence of prep schools,” Piechota said. “Arizona is a state on the come up, there were three first-round picks that played in Arizona high schools, we view Arizona as our gateway to the west.”