"People have this image of scouts as a bunch of secretive guys
sitting high up in the bleachers at a game, looking for the next
Larry Bird," Piston scout Will Robinson says. "It's not like
that at all. The main reason we scout is to find out who not to
take. Ain't that right, Dickie?"
"That's true," replies New York Knick scout Dick McGuire as he
and Robinson exit the Knicks' Madison Square Garden offices and
cross 33rd Street. "There're really no geniuses or master brains
in our line of work. It's just a bunch of guys making educated
When it comes to scouting potential NBA players, few are more
educated about making those guesses than Robinson and McGuire.
Robinson, 84, has been a Piston bird dog for 21 years, working
his way up to assistant to the vice president of player
personnel. The first black to coach at the Division I level,
Robinson guided Illinois State from 1970 to '75, helping to
develop current Piston coach Doug Collins into the No. 1 draft
pick in '73.
McGuire, 69, has been traveling the country in search of talent
for 28 years, the last nine as director of scouting for the
Knicks. Before that "Tricky Dick" enjoyed a Hall of Fame career
as a flashy playmaking point guard for New York from 1949 to '57
and for Detroit from '57 to '60, and he later coached both
teams. Both scouts have had a part in bringing dozens of stars
to their teams, including such players as Joe Dumars and Mark
Jackson, Dennis Rodman and Anthony Mason, Allan Houston and John
Along the way the two longtime scouts have become more than
professional associates. They have also become close friends--and
even though they work for different teams, they don't worry
about revealing trade secrets. Robinson and McGuire, in fact,
travel together on almost all of their scouting trips, keeping
each other company for the seven months of the year they are on
the road and away from their families. So closely associated
have they become that they are now affectionately known around
the league as Salt and Pepper.
"It's a lonely life," McGuire says. "You're out on the road
sometimes four or five days a week. It helps to have someone to
eat with, somebody to fly with. Do you know how many times
you're in the airport and you get cancellations and all that
stuff? It's not fun by yourself. And I can send Willie to find
out what's wrong."
"We have a lot of fun together," Robinson says. "Dickie likes
the racetrack, so I go to the racetrack. He doesn't like to
talk about things with people, and I'll argue with people for
him. So we're compatible for that reason. But he gets on me
about about my driving. You know what he said to his son [Knick
scout Scott McGuire] about me? He said, 'If you go with him, be
damn sure he doesn't drive.' He said, 'If he drives, you walk.'"
SI reporter MARTY BURNS recently got together with Robinson and
McGuire for lunch at Toots Shor, the famed postgame watering
hole across the street from the Garden. Over sandwiches and soft
drinks, the two scouts talked about everything from
underclassmen who turn pro to which players have the best work
ethic. It was a chance for two old friends to roll up their
sleeves, talk about basketball and scouting, and assess the
league's talent--past, present and future.
ROBINSON: You know what the toughest thing about scouting is?
It's that it's not an exact science.
McGUIRE: That's right. There are so many factors that go into
it: Where you pick in the draft; who's available at the time;
who you've already got on your team.
ROBINSON: And how much a kid loves the game. How much will he be
willing to work at it?
McGUIRE: Take [Hakeem] Olajuwon, for example. When he was a
freshman in college [at Houston], he had no touch at all. He
became so much better. Now he's one of the best shooters in the
ROBINSON: He's so great he made a good player, David Robinson,
look bad in last year's playoffs. I think Robinson's a very good
player, but Hakeem was just too great.
McGUIRE: Yet I'll be honest. I never thought Olajuwon would be
the player he's become. Even as a senior he wasn't that great. I
thought he was a first-rounder, but I didn't think he'd dominate
like he has. For one thing, he was never a great shooter in
college. Just like Magic was never a great shooter in college.
Magic ended up being a phenomenal shooter, and Hakeem is now one
of the best-shooting centers in the history of the game.
ROBINSON: That has to do with how much desire the guy has to
improve. That's the luck part of it--that's what we don't know
when we're scouting them.
McGUIRE: Every now and then I'll kid Patrick Ewing about this.
I'll say, "Patrick, I never knew you were that great of a
shooter." And he'll say, "I always was a great shooter." But in
college maybe he had zone defenses around him, so he couldn't
take the ball outside. I mean, he couldn't put the ball on the
floor, what with a guy in front of him and a guy behind him all
the time, so we never got to see that too much. Even so, Patrick
worked at it, and now he's the best shooter on our team."
ROBINSON: Sometimes I think it's all a matter of hard work. If a
guy likes to play and has any athletic ability at all, he can
become a pretty good player. The only reason guys don't make it
is because they don't work at it hard enough. That's the truth.
McGUIRE (laughing): Hey, I like that, Willie.
ROBINSON: No, I mean it. At this level the guys you're talking
about are all pretty much good enough to play. But you've really
got to love the game in order to get better.
McGUIRE: I remember when I was young, I played every day. I
wouldn't want to cut the lawn. My father wanted me to cut the
lawn--even our small lawn--and I wouldn't want to do it. But I'd
play ball in the hot sun all day long.
ROBINSON: See, that's what it takes. That's what made you good.
McGUIRE: That's the toughest part about scouting. Trying to
measure a kid's heart. Especially now, with so many young kids
ROBINSON: That's the biggest change since we've been scouting.
McGUIRE: Sure. We used to only have to watch the seniors. Now we
have to watch everybody. You take a kid like Tim Duncan of Wake
Forest. We had to see him his freshman year, his sophomore year,
and now we'll see him again his junior year. Shoot, they're
coming out of high school now.
ROBINSON: I like that Tim Duncan a lot.
McGUIRE: He's just so athletic as far as blocking shots and not
knocking the ball out-of-bounds, then going after it and getting
it before another player can get to it. He's becoming a little
better shooter from outside, too, and he can put the ball on the
floor. He's going to be a star in our league. There's no way he
ROBINSON: He's going to be a superstar.
McGUIRE: He might be the first kid selected if he comes out early.
ROBINSON: The other player I like is that kid from Connecticut,
McGUIRE: Allen's good. I also like Kerry Kittles from Villanova.
ROBINSON: Those are three good ones.
McGUIRE: The kids to watch are the ones who start as freshmen.
Any kid that can't start as a freshman in college, I don't think
is going to be a big-time NBA prospect. I'm not saying that guys
can't move up and develop to where you like them later on, but
I'm saying that as a rule, most of the really good kids who come
into college--the Joe Smiths, the Rasheed Wallaces--they start as
ROBINSON: If they're any good, the coach will get them on the
McGUIRE: That's what I look for, anyway. Duncan, Allen and
Kittles are that type of player.
ROBINSON: Those are the top three: Allen, Duncan and Kittles, no
question. Unless someone else really developed this summer,
those are the guys who are going to be the top prospects for
next year's draft.
McGUIRE: Who knows, there might be a kid out there who has been
really working on his game in the off-season and is now going to
surpass those guys.
ROBINSON: That's right. Some kids develop late. Take a guy like,
say, Cherokee Parks. He was drafted by Dallas midway through the
first round this year. I don't think he's going to be that good,
but he might if he develops a few areas of his game.
McGUIRE: I think he went to the perfect team.
ROBINSON: I just don't think he's quick enough. But he may be
smart enough to overcome that lack of quickness, like Bird did.
McGUIRE: Going to Dallas, where you've got two great post-up
players in Jamal Mashburn and Jim Jackson, should be good for
him. They're going to post up those guys, so he'll be able to
drift out. He's an outside shooter and he can pass the ball, so
I think he's going to help them.
ROBINSON: He's going to grow a little bit more too.
McGUIRE: He'll get bigger and stronger. And he'll benefit from
the way they post up Mashburn and Jackson. Mashburn and Jackson
are going to be like [Mark] Aguirre or [Adrian] Dantley down
there. I think Dallas made two great picks. The other kid they
got, Loren Meyer from Iowa State, is a good prospect too. He
would be my sleeper.
ROBINSON: I agree, Dickie. I think he's going to be a sleeper. I
couldn't convince our people to take him. He's got a lot of
skills, and he has a good body, a big body.
McGUIRE: He can be a Bill Laimbeer type. He can go outside and
shoot the 10-footers, the 20-footers.
ROBINSON: Laimbeer. Now there's another guy who a lot of the
scouts missed. He came out of Notre Dame. He went to Europe for
one year. He came back to Cleveland, and he couldn't stick with
Cleveland's ball club. And we got him for next to nothing.
McGUIRE: I don't know how they missed on him in Cleveland. He
was a surprise.
ROBINSON: With some guys it's the opposite. The biggest
disappointment to me is the kid from Louisville, Pervis Ellison.
I just never figured that he would be as bad as he became.
McGUIRE: How about that kid from Ohio State, Brad Sellers?
ROBINSON: Yes, that's another guy. He led the Big Ten in
McGUIRE: I didn't think he could miss. You're talking about one
of the toughest leagues in the country, and he leads the league
in rebounding. And there was another kid from that team, Dennis
Hopson, a guard who scored a ton of points.
ROBINSON: He was great in college, and he couldn't throw the
ball in the ocean in the pros.
McGUIRE: Usually if you draft a guy like that and you bring him
to camp, after three days you can tell whether you made a good
pick or a bad pick.
ROBINSON: That's right. That's all it takes.
McGUIRE: Right away they either just look like they belong, or
else they don't look like they belong ... and in most cases they
don't. It's still an educated guess, that's all it is. You just
pick and hope you get lucky. We all know the same things to look
for--size, speed, ability to shoot--but there are no geniuses out
ROBINSON: It all comes down to luck.
McGUIRE: You don't get the good ones unless you pick high.
ROBINSON: There's a few exceptions to that, Dickie, like Rodman.
He wasn't picked until the second round, but he's the greatest
rebounder since Wilt Chamberlain.
McGUIRE: Well, his stock slipped because ...
ROBINSON: Because he didn't play well [at the predraft camp] in
McGUIRE: But a lot of scouts really liked him, then he didn't
play well there. So his stock went down.
ROBINSON: Right, but in Chicago what was not commonly known was
that Rodman had an asthmatic problem, and therefore, as you
said, he didn't play well there because he was sick. The extent
of his sickness was not generally known. Our scouting staff
happened to know, and our doctor concentrated on it more than
the other teams' doctors did, and he told us that this guy had a
very bad asthmatic situation. On the basis of that, we convinced
our powers that be that we ought to take a chance on him.
McGUIRE: And you were fortunate enough to have a second-round
ROBINSON: Right. Suppose we don't have a second-round pick?
That's where the luck comes in. And nobody was going to take him
in the first round anyway because of what they saw. He couldn't
shoot the ball. The only thing he could do was rebound, and we
just took a chance on him because we had a second-round pick
that we could throw away.
McGUIRE: That's right. You can take more chances in the second
round. It doesn't cost you as much if you're wrong. The way it
is today with money, $100,000 or whatever, what's the big deal?
ROBINSON: You might as well try, and hope you get lucky. Like
the Lakers did last year with Nick Van Exel.
McGUIRE: He's a good player, but if everybody's honest about it,
they'll say the Lakers got kind of lucky. There were a lot of
places Van Exel interviewed where he didn't come off that well.
Some people liked him, and some got turned off. L.A. got lucky
and got him, and he's turned out well so far, but if he was so
good, why wouldn't they take him in the first round? It's
getting lucky, and that's part of the game. [Laker executive
vice president of basketball operations] Jerry West has done a
great job, and Van Exel looks to be a great player, but let's
wait a few years and see how it all works out before judging it.
Y'know, Willie, of all the top rookies last year, I think you
got the best one in Grant Hill.
ROBINSON: He'll have to step up this year, though.
McGUIRE: He'll get better. He's got the character.
ROBINSON: He was the first guy of all of our players who was
there Monday [the first day after the lockout ended]. He was
McGUIRE: You mean to work out?
ROBINSON: Yep, the first guy. The lockout was lifted at 12 noon,
and he was there to practice. He was there to shoot around.
McGUIRE: That shows you what kind of kid he is.
ROBINSON: See, we informed everybody that they could come to
work out and that some of the coaches would be there and the
strength coach would be there. And he was the first one who
McGUIRE: I walk into our place Tuesday and [Charles] Oakley was
working out. Patrick won't be there because he's got sore knees.
They'll have five or six guys. I know Mason will be there. He
loves to play the game.
ROBINSON: See, that's what we've been talking about. That's the
part you can't figure out when you're scouting these players:
Who wants to work at it after they get the big money and the
McGUIRE: The other thing about Mason is, I've never seen him
sweat. He never sweats. Have you ever see him sweat? He's up,
up, up. He never gets tired.
ROBINSON: That's fantastic.
McGUIRE: It is.
ROBINSON: That's what makes him a great defensive player.
McGUIRE: Oh, yeah, he's as good in the fourth quarter as he is
in the first.
ROBINSON: Who would have thought he'd be an NBA player? See,
that's what scouting is all about. It's all about finding the
guys who love the game enough to really work at it. The
stars--the Grant Hills, the Anthony Masons--they love to play.
It's the other guys that'll drive you crazy.
McGUIRE: That's right, Will. Like you said before, it's not an
COLOR PHOTO: PHOTOGRAPHS BY BOB MARTIN LISTEN UP AS TWO OF THE NBA'S SAVVIEST SCOUTS, WILL ROBINSON (LEFT) AND DICK MCGUIRE, TALK ABOUT THE TRICKS OF THE TRADE
COLOR PHOTO: STEVE LIPOFSKY "Ellison is the biggest disappointment to me. I just never figured that he would be this bad."--Robinson [Pervis Ellison]
COLOR PHOTO: PHOTOGRAPHS BY BOB MARTIN [See caption above--Will Robinson]
COLOR PHOTO: JOHN W. MCDONOUGH "Olajuwon had no touch at all in college, and now he's one of the best shooters in the game."--McGuire [Hakeem Olajuwon]
COLOR PHOTO: PHOTOGRAPHS BY BOB MARTIN [See caption above--Dick McGuire]
COLOR PHOTO: PHOTOGRAPHS BY BOB MARTIN Between them, "Salt and Pepper" have nearly 50 years of seasoning in the hit-and-miss world of scouting. [Will Robinson; Dick McGuire]