Catching the Draft (cont.)
Posted: Thursday June 14, 2007 11:39AM; Updated: Friday June 15, 2007 5:04PM
When I met with the 34-year-old Smith -- who is 6-foot-5 with sandy-blond hair, a closely trimmed goatee, and a large tattoo of Michael Jordan's Jumpman logo on his left calf -- in Lake Buena Vista last month, he looked more the part of scout than Web geek. Seated across the table from him at a steakhouse a few miles from the predraft camp's location was a 6-11 Serbian-born scout and ex-Furman basketball player named Stevan Petrovic. They were discussing the possibility of Petrovic helping to expand the site's international coverage and player evaluations. Scattered elsewhere in the upscale restaurant were groups of NBA execs, including Jordan himself, who was dining in a side room with an entourage of Charlotte Bobcats personnel. At one point during the meal, a director of international scouting for an NBA team stopped by Smith's table to say hello.
Smith grew up in Orange County and played basketball at Irvine's Woodbridge High before attending San Francisco State and majoring in psychology. After college, he worked as a landscaper in the Bay Area before focusing full time on the Internet entrepreneurism. Prior to founding NBADraft.net in 2000, he ran the recruiting site basketballphenoms.com, which rated prep prospects and AAU teams.
Another venture called sportsphenoms.com involved purchasing the domain names of up-and-coming high-school hoopsters and established professional athletes with hopes of eventually developing Web sites for the players. More than 200 URLs were bought but very few panned out; after building, briefly, sites for Jalen Rose and Desmond Mason, Smith opted to abandon the business. The URLs still remained in Smith's possession and some -- like TerrellOwens.com, which the World Intellectual Property Organization ordered given to Owens in 2003 -- eventually ended up in the hands of their namesakes.
Smith had better luck with NBADraft.net, which developed into a major success. At present, Smith is focusing all of his efforts on the site, which he says averages 2.6 million page views per month and generates enough advertising revenue to keep him from having to hold another job. It is the Web's original draft site and the design has remained essentially the same since its launch. Visitors are greeted by what they're typically looking far -- the latest mock draft -- on the front page. Smith sees the site's role in the draft process, realistically, as "a guide for fans and NBA teams to simply see where players' stock is at."
There are NBA execs who would agree with that assessment. "I was in Treviso [Italy, at the Reebok Eurocamp] two years ago, and Don Nelson Jr. paid me a nice compliment," Smith said . "He told me, 'Your site is the Wall Street Journal of basketball.' We're trying to be the measuring stick."
An Unhealthy Passion
Givony, who usually sports a DraftExpress-logoed shirt while he covers events, does not run the risk of being mistaken for a washed-up NBA player or scout. He stands less than 6-feet with black hair and an olive complexion, and is among the youngest media members covering the draft. While the general demeanor of predraft camp's observers fell somewhere between jaded and grumpy, Givony seemed geeked about his opportunity to analyze the games. He also expressed actual excitement about attending a private, lunchtime workout on May 31 where the best player was going to be ex-Bull Marcus Fizer.
The path Givony followed to becoming a respected draftnik is even more unlikely than Smith's. Givony attended high school in Israel, a half hour south of the Dead Sea in a small town called Eimyahav, which he says is "in the middle of the desert." He was conscripted into the Israeli Army after graduation, but, as an American citizen, was able to get released from duty after six months to move to the U.S. While Stateside, he took a job as a door-to-door art salesman and held it until he opted to take the SAT and eventually enroll at Florida as 20-year-old freshman in 2003.
Givony's plan to start a draft site began with the registration of NBADraftZone.com in '03. That URL was quickly abandoned after the league's lawyers strongly encouraged Givony to consider using something that didn't include "NBA." (That policy, it seems, wasn't as hard-line when Smith launched three years earlier.) The Plan-B site was called DraftCity.com, where Givony had his scouting "breakthrough" the summer after his freshman year.
Leading up to the '04 draft, Givony was invited by unknown trainer David Thorpe to attend a workout of an unknown prospect named Kevin Martin from Western Carolina. Givony came away impressed, and was the first mock-drafter to put Martin -- who would eventually be selected by the Kings at No. 26 and blossom into a 20-point-per-game scorer -- into the first round. "Martin still goes down as our biggest find," said Givony. "No one went to watch him, and a lot of people didn't even have him getting drafted at all. Seeing him getting taken where he did gave me a lot of confidence."
Givony's momentum was halted, somewhat, when DraftCity was forced to shut down in June of 2005. Agent Joel Bell reportedly took legal action against the site -- which now merely hosts a message from then partner Prerak Shah stating Givony was terminated -- after questionable remarks were made about Bell's handling of early-entry prospect Kelenna Azubuike, who would go undrafted. Within a matter of days, Givony bought a new URL and launched a site with similar content. DraftExpress was born, and word of its existence spread quickly via independent news sites such as HoopsHype.com.
Over the course of the next two drafts, Givony weathered the DraftCity incident and built up a network of contacts in NBA and international scouting or player-personnel departments with whom he exchanges information. DraftExpress, which has expanded to include a statistical database as well as user-created mocks, averaged 1.5 million page views per month in '06 and is on pace to break 2 million per month in '07.
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