Chris McGrath/Getty Images
NEW YORK -- Trying to find someone truly interested in the first day of the Big East tournament -- beyond the pep bands, the small pockets of fans clustered in the lower bowl of Madison Square Garden, and (some of) the players themselves -- was not easy. At any given moment there were as many writers back in the press room, working on stories for the days ahead, as there were courtside. ESPN didn't even see fit to broadcast the action; it was available only via Webcast on the league's official site. Bubble-watchers and bracketologists paid no mind to Tuesday's games, for the simple reason that none of the eight teams involved -- Cincinnati, DePaul, Georgetown, St. John's, Notre Dame, Rutgers, Seton Hall or South Florida -- was even on the NCAA tournament bubble. And as much as those teams would all like to dream, none of them is capable of winning five games in five days to earn an automatic bid. Not with Pitt, UConn and Louisville waiting on the back end of the gauntlet.
There was one crew, however, that seemed to care very much about what was transpiring between DePaul and Cincinnati, in the game that tipped off at noon before a sparse crowd. They were two Italian Serie A scouts from Bologna who had flown to New York just to be in the stands. With the NBA having altered its pre-draft camp format this year, limiting the event to measurements of the top 20 prospects and eliminating the games, in which a number of Euro-bound players traditionally participate, the best place to see the most potential Italian leaguers in the fewest amount of days suddenly became the Big East tournament.
That's why Daniele Baiesi, the general manager of Angelico Biella, and Marco Martelli, an international scout for Fortitudo, were at the event for the first time, even though they had to do the trip on the cheap -- by crashing on the couch and floor of DraftExpress founder Jonathan Givony's apartment in Brooklyn. Givony, who does consulting for European teams, said the scouting strategy is simple: "You have to watch everybody, and be ready for who falls through." And so they were taking notes on everyone from Bearcats reserve forward Darnell Wilks to Blue Demons starting center Mac Koshwal.
Martelli said the 6-foot-10 Koshwal, who had 12 points, nine rebounds and five assists, only gets limited NBA attention but "would be perfect for Europe, because he's an undersized 5 who can play up front." He cited French-leaguer Chevy Troutman, a former Big East tournament star at Pitt, as an example of a player who was thriving abroad as an undersized four. Martelli's team currently employs two young Americans, ex-Mississippi State guard Jamont Gordon and ex-Maryland guard D.J. Strawberry, while Baiesi's club features ex-Terrapin forward James Gist, ex-Louisville guard Reece Gaines and former Iowa bruiser Greg Brunner. Both scouts use a video scouting service called Synergy and catch 10-15 college games per week on ESPN America, but seeing players live is invaluable, Baiesi says, because the pressure is immense to find rookies who can immediately fit in a European system, rather than implode in a foreign situation.
"If you go 10-72 here in the NBA, you're going to get attacked by the press but you're not going to risk your franchise, and you might even get the best player in the draft next year," Baiesi said. "If you go 10-20 in Italy and drop down to the second division, that's a huge economic drama -- because you're about to disappear, and half your sponsors are, too."
As Georgetown and St. John's began taking the floor for the second game, Martelli said that he'd seen the Hoyas once before, on TV -- when Greg Monroe outdueled Hasheem Thabeet on Dec. 29 in Storrs. Alas, neither of those players would ever be setting foot in Europe.
Georgetown guard Jessie Sapp, an unheralded senior who won't be drafted, is a different matter. "He's physical enough that he might be able to guard the two position," Martelli said. They began pulling out their player-evaluation grids for the Hoyas and Red Storm, the second of the 15 games they'd be seeing over five days. There were 11 minutes of warmups left before tip-off, and Baiesi stood up. "I need to go get a hot dog," he said, with some purpose. This had apparently been on his agenda. "I think he's seen movies set in New York," Givony said, laughing, "and people are always getting hot dogs on the street. So he felt like this was something he had to do."