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Catching the Draft

How two gurus have found niche with NBA Draft sites

Posted: Thursday June 14, 2007 11:39AM; Updated: Friday June 15, 2007 5:04PM
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When commencement was held at the University of Florida's College of Journalism and Communications on May 5, Jonathan Givony was a no-show. The 24-year-old telecommunications management major awoke that morning in a hotel room in Athens, Greece, and had a graduation revelation -- Whoa, I'm supposed to be walking today -- but couldn't do anything about it. He was abroad on business at the Euroleague Final Four, whose title game between Panathinaikos and CSKA Moscow took place the following evening. Givony said his mother would have liked to see him at the ceremony a continent away in Gainesville, "but she understood this is the path I chose."

That path is owner of a Web site, DraftExpress.com, one of the leaders in the niche media market for year-round coverage and mocks of the NBA Draft. When Givony arrived at the NBA's Predraft Camp in Lake Buena Vista, Fla., in late May, he had yet to track down his UF diploma. "I should really find out where it is," he said, while giving off the impression this was not a high priority. Givony and his four-man team of young draftniks were busy enough at the time, writing nearly 10,000 words each day about the goings-on at camp.

Ten thousand words seems like overkill, but in reality the mock drafts and scouting reports compiled by Givony's crew and his top independent competitor, NBADraft.net's Aran Smith, will be devoured by a much wider audience than anyone's in the mainstream media -- except perhaps ESPN's Chad Ford, a draft expert who began his career outside the mainstream with Sportstalk.com, a site acquired by ESPN.com in 2001.

Many of the same major newspapers who covered the predraft camp will likely, over the course of the next two weeks, reference Givony and Smith's projections in print. By serving up year-round mocks of the next two NBA Drafts -- and thus serving as a launching point for talk of who's over or underrated -- it's not a stretch to say DraftExpress and NBADraft.net set the terms for much of the public discourse on the draft. It's also evident their readership extends beyond journalists and armchair draft enthusiasts.

Both DraftExpress and NBADraft.net are visited, at the very least for reference material, by a sizable number of NBA decision-makers. Not the old school GMs, necessarily, but definitely by their tech-savvy underlings and scouts. Said one Eastern Conference evaluator, "It's not like we're on the clock on draft night, scrambling, and then saying, 'Who does NBADraft.net say we should take?' That would be ridiculous. That would mean we aren't doing our jobs. But do I look at their mocks? For sure."

Agents concerned with their clients' draft stock tend to closely monitor the two sites' ratings, and representatives or trainers often invite Givony or Smith to private workouts in hopes of generating additional buzz. The prospects themselves read DraftExpress and NBADraft.net too; Givony said agent Justin Zanik recently informed him one of his clients, French forward Ali Traore, was literally crying because he had been dropped out of DraftExpress' second round.

American collegians are often just as obsessive -- even if none of them will admit it to the press prior to turning pro. "Anyone who says they don't look [at Internet mock drafts] is lying," said one potential first-rounder. "I would go on from time to time, but I know guys who were a lot worse. They'd check it after every few games and be like, 'Dang! My stock dropped.'"

It's also clear that despite the sites' extensive reach, much less is known about the people behind them. While some scouts at the draft camp knew that, say, Givony went to Florida, or Smith lived in the Bay Area, just as many would simply call them the "DraftExpress guy" or the NBADraft.net guy." Boston College's Jared Dudley, a good prospect who had been largely ignored by the sites before his stellar performance at the predraft camp, hinted at a general players' perception: "Once I heard [those sites] were just some guys ranking players in their basements, it lost credibility." he said. "I've looked at them, but I'd rather listen to a GM."

Neither DraftExpress nor NBADraft.net is produced in a basement, although they are both run out of apartments. And over the past few years, both sites have managed to make the jump from total outsiders to insiders who converse regularly with scouts. The NBA has given the sites further legitimacy by credentialing them for events such as the Portsmouth Invitational, the NBA Predraft Camp and the draft itself.


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