They’re behind the baseline at Cox Pavilion. They’re in the corner of the lower bowl of the Thomas &Mack Center.
They keep to themselves, not looking to attract attention. They’re taking copious notes, typing into tablets and laptops while bantering on their cellphones.
Who are these guys?
Not from the NBA. But from all over the world. From Italy. From Spain. From Israel. From Turkey. From the Philippines. From Japan. Pretty much anywhere professional basketball is played. They’re on the lookout for talent, and they have been coming to Las Vegas since the NBA Summer League began in 2004.
But unlike their NBA brethren who know that any offer made to a free agent competing in the summer league will be immediately accepted, the foreign scouts have a far more arduous task. For them, it’s more than whether a guy can pass, dribble or shoot. It’s about maturity, independence and assimilation. Throw in the fact foreign teams have quotas on the number of American players they can export, and the executives really have to do their due diligence on a player before making an offer.
“You can’t afford to make a mistake,” said Elad Hasin, the coach of Hapoel Holon, which plays in Israel’s First Division. “So when it comes to American players, you need to be very selective in choosing who you bring over.”
Alessandro Giuliani, the general manager of Enel Brindisi of the Italian League, said he worries as much about the personal aspects of a potential player as he does his skills.
“First, we want to see if a guy wants to come over to Italy,” he said. “We’re looking for someone who is hungry and wants to play. Second, we want to see if he can adjust on the court. It’s a different game in Europe than in the NBA. The (3-point) line is closer. The style of play is different. We only play once a week. There’s more practice involved than with an NBA team, because in the NBA, you’re playing three or four games a week and you’re traveling all the time.
“It’s a big adjustment for a player, so we have to see if they can handle that.”
There are also barriers an American player has to overcome. Language. Culture. Distance away from home. Many players go overseas and find it too overwhelming and return. Others embrace the opportunity and fall in love with basketball in a foreign country.
Ron Howard is 31. He has been chasing his NBA dream since 2006, after he finished his eligibility at Valparaiso.
And while he has been in training camp with three NBA teams (Milwaukee, New York and Indiana), he has never played in a regular-season game. The 6-foot-4-inch guard has played in Mexico, Venezuela, Israel, the Canary Islands and Australia. But he never stayed long at any of his foreign destinations, usually no more than a couple of months.
Howard has always had a landing spot in the NBA’s Development League with the Fort Wayne Mad Ants. All four times he returned from overseas, the Mad Ants gave him a uniform and playing time.
Howard helped the team to the 2014 D-League title, earning Most Valuable Player honors in the playoffs, and has been playing with the D-League Select team at the summer league.
“It’s a culture shock, to say the least, going overseas to play,” he said. “You don’t know anyone other than your teammates. You’re pretty much on your own.
“The teams do a decent job in helping the (American) players. But I think they can do a better job of letting you know where you are and helping you get comfortable.”
But the reality is it’s a business. There’s no time to be baby-sitting young adults, which is why maturity is a big factor in whether a foreign team invests in an American.
“We look for someone who is mature, independent and can handle being on his own,” Hasin said. “Character is important, maybe the most important thing. We look at, ‘Does he have a kid?’ or ‘Does he have a wife?’ You can get in trouble easily in Israel.”
Or anywhere in the world, for that matter. Howard said he never felt unsafe at any of his stops and never encountered the racism and xenophobia that has plagued soccer.
“I never worried about racism,” said Howard, who is from Chicago. “We have enough of that here (in the U.S.). Sometimes you didn’t get paid on time, or when you went to the grocery store and you didn’t speak the language, you might have trouble communicating what you want. But my experiences were pretty good for the most part. I would consider going back to Europe.”
The salaries for American players range from $60,00 to $200,000, though top U.S. players with experience can do even better. Virtually all players are also given a place to live and transportation. Giuliani said if a player watches his spending and stays within his means, he can do very well financially playing overseas. They also can play their way back to the NBA.
“It’s a high quality of basketball,” he said of the Italian League, where the season begins in late August and can run as long as June. “You can get back to the NBA if you play well. They watch what we do.”
Giuliani said once he determines whether a player is willing to commit, he can deal with the on-the-court side of things, such as if he will work on defense, if he takes possessions off, if he’s selfish with the ball or won’t do the little things, such as communicate with his teammates or is combative with referees.
“For us, it’s always more than just the basketball,” Giuliani said. “We look for players who can fit in with our style of play. That’s why we’re very selective in signing Americans. It’s a big investment for European clubs.”
The talent pool is even shallower for Hasin.
“We’re looking at the leftovers, what the NBA and the big European clubs don’t take,” he said. “We’re looking for system players who can fit in.”
And for the Ron Howards of the world, it’s still a chance to get paid to play, even if the check is a little late getting deposited.
“I’m going to continue to play until I can’t go anymore,” Howard said.
If it means going overseas, so be it. And if it doesn’t work out, Howard knows he’ll always have Fort Wayne.
Contact reporter Steve Carp at scarp@reviewjournal or 702-387-2913. Follow him on Twitter: @stevecarprj.