STILLWATER — What's this, Gallagher-Iba Arena's reputation soiled?
That's what some NBA scouts and executives — unnamed scouts and executives — would have you believe, according to a report posted on the draftnik website DraftExpress.com last week. In a story suggesting the best and worst college arenas for accommodating the evaluation of players, Gallagher-Iba ranked among the very worst.
The complaints centered around the seating arrangements, which NBA representatives said left them far above the floor with poor sight lines to the action. One director of player personnel went so far as to say “that's a ‘do not visit' venue for me.”
This is all news to Oklahoma State coach Travis Ford, who acknowledges that a problem previously existed, although unknown to him, and insists such issues have been addressed.
“We heard about it last year,” Ford said. “I didn't even realize it until some people said something. And I agreed with them. They don't need to be up there. They're trying to evaluate.
“But it's changed. We addressed it before the season started. So maybe these are people who came last year.”
Mike Noteware, OSU's associate director of media relations for men's basketball, said he reached out to DraftExpress president Jonathan Givony, who wrote the story, to ask just that: are the complaints new, or from previous seasons? According to Noteware, Givony said he wasn't sure.
One thing is for sure, NBA personnel haven't stayed away from Cowboys home games.
Noteware said they continue to show up at Gallagher-Iba, and are scheduled to visit frequently throughout the season with Marcus Smart, Markel Brown and Le'Bryan Nash all in their sights as likely pros.
For Saturday's 1 p.m. tipoff against West Virginia, five scouts have requested seats. A season-high of 21 were on hand for the early season clash with Memphis, and 13 scouts have given notice of plans to be in Stillwater for OSU's next premium matchup — Iowa State on Feb. 3.
The very thing that makes the usually adored GIA such a grand arena for players and fans — those for whom the game is played — is its intimacy.
Like many college (and pro) programs, OSU now sells seats along the length of one sideline, where tables previously existed to accommodate the media and NBA types. Initially, the media and pro personnel were moved high up on one end in the 300 section, behind the basket.
Since then, a makeshift table has been established on the front row of one student section for select media, while NBA scouts and executives are provided with premium seating.
Coach Scott Brooks and general manager Sam Presti of the Thunder have been seated courtside for games. Seats have also been provided in the lowest level, both behind and across from the bench. In addition, more than 25 premium tickets are made available for purchase to scouts in the lower bowl.
Presti and other NBA personnel people have also frequented Cowboys practices in recent seasons.
“You can ask Sam Presti or anyone associated with the Thunder how they're treated here,” said OSU athletic director Mike Holder. “And I think that would be reflective of how we try to treat every NBA franchise, not just the Thunder, although the Thunder is a bigger priority for us than any other NBA teams and scouts.
“But we're wanting our athletes to have every opportunity to be successful in college and after college, so we're going to do everything we can to accommodate those scouts.”
Could there be more than seating arrangements at play in the critiques?
One OSU source said that scouts regularly complain about the difficulty in getting to Stillwater and the lack of a pregame meal.
Ford said he appreciates the needs of evaluators, since it's the same for him when he's out looking for players.
“When I go recruit a kid, I like to get as close as possible because you want to see their athleticism, you want to see body language, you want to see a lot of different things. So I would agree that if they have to sit up high, it's not a great scenario.
“I understand that.”
Ford said that if he and his staff are alerted by scouts that they're coming, they make every attempt to situate them close to the action.
“Probably 80 percent of the time, we get better seating for anyone who calls and lets us know they're coming,” Ford said. “Now, if we don't know they're coming …”
The web story loosely linked both recruiting and NBA draft status to this evaluation dilemma. Players seek college homes where players are prepared for the next level. And evaluators need opportunities to properly do their job.
“If you go to a school that makes things difficult for NBA people, it could cost you getting seen a few times,” one GM told the website. “Hopefully for the player that doesn't happen in his best games, because that would be a shame for him, and for us.”
Yet there are plenty of opportunities for players to be seen and evaluated. In practice. In games, home and away.
“A lot of people say I do better on the road anyway,” Cowboys forward Le'Bryan Nash said. “The bigger the game, the more scouts are going to come. And the more they're going to evaluate the game. That's what NBA scouts look at, how you play in the big moments.”
By contrast, baseball scouts and executives don't seem to be so needy. They find players in outposts like Taloga and Binger and Commerce, combating the elements as well as dirt roads and splintering stands.
One Eastern Conference scout told The Oklahoman that the good ones in the NBA are on top of it, too.
“If a team wants to draft a kid,” he said, “they'll do their homework and draft them.”