"Some guys see a kid one time and are quick to make a judgment," he says. "I never do that, because I didn't like it when people did it to me when I played. I'll see a kid two or three times, then watch some tape. Each time I see a guy, I'll update my report. If I make a negative judgment, I'll revisit it because I know that scouting isn't a perfect science.
"I want every one of these guys to prove me wrong. That's why in my write-up on Donald Hand, I put, 'Has been fighting against naysayers his whole life.' He might be the one guy who takes the long road around. In his case I don't think it will happen, but I want it to happen."
Such small-college stars as Tim Hardaway, Dan Majerle, Scottie Pippen and John Stockton trace their discovery to the Portsmouth Invitational, the four-day showcase to which scouts flock right after the Final Four. I have bootstrapping dreams of my own—hopes that I'll be seized with clairvoyance in this Virginia port city and finally prove my scouting bona fides.
Finch and I agree on one thing: No one comparable to Pippen or Stockton is at Portsmouth this year. Finch is content to look for what he calls "energy guys, guys who pour their hearts into it and crank up the intensity of the game." They can be signed as UFAs and brought to camp, during which one might play well enough to hook on as a 12th man. Sergio McClain, the Finch favorite, is one such candidate. Gyasi Cline-Heard of Penn State is another. "Even if they never get in a game," Finch says, "they'll be diving on the floor in practice, taking charges."
Scouts sit four deep on risers behind one baseline, then repair to the same hospitality room between games. There, over soda and barbecue, the herd mentality sets in. "It's very gossipy," Finch says. "There's a lot of smoke-blowing, especially as we get closer to the draft. That's why I always try to sit apart from the other scouts when I watch the games."
Rashad Phillips, the 5'9�" guard from Detroit who'll win the tournament's MVP award, provides an example of how prevailing opinion can stampede. "A lot of people say Phillips is a possible mid-first-rounder. I find that hard to believe. The kid's tiny. He's not a consistent enough shooter. Our staff doesn't think he's that great a defender. Everybody compares him with Iverson, but he doesn't have that killer instinct. Plus he's smaller than Iverson."
Finch emerges from the hospitality room to watch as Isiah Victor of Tennessee, while leading a two-on-one break, fails to give the ball up to an open teammate. Instead Victor sends McClain sprawling with a charge. "That's why your coach got fired!" one spectator yells, referring to former Volunteers coach Jerry Green, who has just resigned under pressure. This is the very state of affairs that's off-putting to Finch the purist: The fans watching know more basketball than the guys playing.
Yet I've come to understand what keeps Finch on the road. It's that larger search for the basketball artisan, or at least for someone with the aptitude to become one. Finch can no more suspend that quest than an Arthurian knight could call off his pursuit of the Holy Grail.
"Sometimes I question myself: Am I ruling guys out because the things I'm looking for are too specific?" Finch says. "But I have confidence in my first impression. When I go back to see a guy again, 95 percent of the time I've nailed him in that first report. I trust my instincts. I learned the game from very knowledgeable people."
I've learned much from Finch, and I regard Portsmouth as a kind of comprehensive exam. Just as I can now see that Donald Hand, who has been invited to the tournament, dribbles too "east/west" when he comes off a high screen, I can also tell that Phillips is reliably north/south; that Mississippi forward Rahim Lockhart is slow to the ball; that all the zone played by Temple guard Quincy Wadley leaves him lost in a man-to-man; and that Hand's 192 pounds and not-even-six-feet can't get much done against a 6'1", 225-pound bumper car like Kantrail Horton of Iowa State.