ILLINOIS COACH Bruce Weber remembers the first time he met Daniel Poneman, the 16-year-old editor of the popular Illinois prep basketball website illinoishsbasketball.com. "It was at an AAU tournament last spring," says Weber, "and up walks this kid with braces who gives me his business card and starts talking my ear off. He's like, 'Coach, have you seen my website?' 'Coach, you have to check out this player and that player.' I'm like, Who is this kid, and how do I get him to stop talking?"
Weber, like many college coaches around the country, soon learned to appreciate the teenager's incessant jabbering about high school hoops. Poneman's site is a clearinghouse of information on potential blue-chip recruits in the state, featuring player interviews, rankings and game recaps. For coaches at out-of-state schools or programs with small recruiting budgets, it's like having a set of eyes and ears in a talent-rich region. Local progams benefit too: In October, Illinois got a verbal commitment from Gurnee, Ill., guard Brandon Paul, a junior whose recruiting stock rose when Poneman began singing his praises. "He's got an incredible eye for talent," says Washington State assistant coach Ron Sanchez. "He's turned me on to five or six Illinois kids that were under the radar. And he'll even take my calls when he's on a date. I'm like, 'Man, let it go to voicemail!'"
A junior at Evanston Township High, Poneman—who doesn't charge for his services, although he is adding a pay portion to his site with detailed player evaluations—played freshman basketball before deciding he was better at scouting. He doesn't have his driver's license just yet, but what he lacks in wheels he makes up for in ingenuity. "I won't date a girl who doesn't have a car," he says, "because if we're on a date and a player commits, she has to drive me home so I can update the website."
Poneman's site is a must-read for the Illinois high school basketball community. "I think he's the most credible talent evaluator in the state—besides myself, of course," says Michael Ciepierski, a scout for Rivals.com. Cavan Walsh, a 16-year-old who helps Poneman with the site, says their youth is an advantage. "Some other scouts and websites will talk trash and say we're too young and inexperienced," he says. "But the fact is that we get the information the older guys can't. College coaches want to know about the players' personalities and attitudes, and we know that better than anyone else because players open up to us."
That can be valuable for coaches like Tavaras Hardy, a Northwestern assistant who was recently briefed by Poneman on the classes of 2009, '10 and '11. "It's important for us to get as much information about the character of the kids we're recruiting," Hardy says. "Kids tell Daniel things they would never tell a coach."
While Poneman is an Iowa and Northwestern basketball fan, he insists that he doesn't play favorites. "I help players get scholarships, and I wouldn't be helping them by only telling one or two schools about them," he says. What does the future hold for him? "If I stick with basketball," he says, "I want to be a general manager in the NBA. Anything less would be unacceptable."