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A good line is an occupational necessity for a basketball scout, whether he recruits on one of Kentucky's backwoods courts or at an Indiana state tournament. But a slick tongue is most essential in New York, where the competition is fast, tough and expensive.
"New York," Gotkin insists, "is the center of basketball. Sure, there's recruiting going on in Philly and in Indiana. That's small stuff. This is the big town."
There may be a touch of braggadocio in Gotkin's words, but there is also an element of truth. For four decades New York has been among the first two or three truly fertile sources for basketball players in the U.S. The densely populated city is blessed with numerous gyms. More high school talent is available than the major local colleges (NYU, St. John's, St. Francis, Hofstra, Seton Hall, Fordham, Manhattan, Iona and Columbia) can or are willing to accommodate. So many outstanding players are available that not even the most ambitious out-of-town college has the time or the facilities to pursue more than a handful.
This is where the free-lance scouts, Gotkin and his contemporaries, come in. Each scout makes it a personal project to know coaches and referees, and especially players, sometimes when they are barely out of grammar school.
John Lee of Yale (SI, Jan. 21), the Ivy League's leading scorer as a sophomore last year, is one player whom several scouts, including Gotkin, spotted in a junior high school gym long before he became a star. The following year Lee was a freshman at Erasmus, which had a good basketball team, even though his home was only a city block from a different high school. Three years later, when Lee, an honor student, decided upon Yale over North Carolina, Gotkin was disconsolate.
But another early prospect did not slip away from Gotkin and North Carolina. Len Rosenbluth, an All-America last year, first caught Gotkin's eye as a high school sophomore. Uncle Harry followed the boy carefully as a junior and senior, nursed him through prep school, and then delivered him in a neat, ready-to-use package to Frank McGuire.
Once a scout lines up a prospect, the procedure is relatively simple. Gotkin's system is typical: "Look, I just speak to a kid. I talk North Carolina to him. I arrange for the kid to see Carolina's campus at Chapel Hill. I see that he meets some players. Somebody takes him over to Raleigh to see North Carolina State's campus with the railroad running through it. That makes up the kid's mind. He sticks with us."
Not all the scouts at Flushing's postseason high school tournament were working for North Carolina. Aldo Leone, a tall, balding man who affects sunglasses and claims to be a cousin of Restaurant Owner Gene Leone, scouts for everyone. He tells young stars he is out for the kids, not the schools. Joe Mullaney, who played with Bob Cousy at Holy Cross and now coaches Providence (R.I.) College, was another interested spectator. A red-faced man named Owen Alper insisted repeatedly that he was scouting for both William and Mary and Richmond. Seton Hall University had the most aggressive representative—Fred (Spook) Stegmann. None of the scouts left the tournament empty-handed.
With all these colleges bumping heads and wallets in rather narrow confines, there is bound to be friction. Gotkin poses one theory: "There used to be only gentleman sportsmen in this scouting racket. Now there's a lot of bums around."
"Gotkin hates me," said one young recruiter named Howie Garfinkel, "and I hate him."