From the Classified Vaults: Finding The Next Talent

Uncovering the vaults of the most covert recruiting process in the world.

The knock on the door was tentative, measured. It was as if the person knocking wasn’t sure why he was invited in the first place nor did he know whether or not he was welcome. No response. The knock repeated itself, met with even more silence, somehow increasingly daunting. The door slid open slowly, making a semblance of a sound. The visitor peeked through the opening before gathering enough courage to step into the room.

To the untrained eye, it was chaos. Files were littered around everywhere. Stacks of dossiers littered the room, names scribbled on them, various statistical outputs. The modestly furnished room, it had only a small couch, two chairs and a desk, appeared cluttered to the untrained eye. In reality, everything was in it’s rightful place. It was an organized chaos.

RC took a look at some of the files scattered around the room, a few were over a decade long. He let a brief smile crawl across his face when he saw the file for Emanuel “Manu” Ginobili. He remembered that year, 2002, like it was yesterday. Most of the profile, including the real date of birth was redacted, but he knew. He always knew.

The figure at the desk finally looked up, eyes as sharp as ever, capable of cutting through bullshit like a knife through butter or Russell Westbrook through a solidly constructed brick wall on a drive to the basket.

“I’ve found another one” the figure muttered quietly, extending a dossier to RC.

RC picked it up and looked through it. He studied every page carefully, making sure to leave no detail to chance. Quietly, he set the dossier down on the desk as he himself sat down in a chair across from his partner.

“He looks… different.”

“That’s the point. We never go after the same thing twice,” the figure leaned back and the neon glow from outside finally illuminated Coach Pop’s face. “Unless we want the rest of the league to catch on.”

“Will he perform?”

“Not right away,” Pop stroked his beard with the calmness of an evil genius about to lay out his diabolical plans to James Bond. Except in Pop’s case, the plan would go off without a hitch. “He’ll show flashes in the first few seasons, but we’ll build him up. Just like we did everyone else. Besides, we already have Kawhi.”

RC Buford nodded. He thought back to a year ago when Gregg first convinced him to trade a reliable and steady NBA point-guard for basically an unknown prospect who was now Final’s MVP. Coach Pop was rarely wrong. If he thought this kid had something, he definitely did.

“When are we going to see him?” RC asked.

“Now,” Pop got up and started to walk towards the door, signalling for RC to follow him. “I’ve already arranged for a ride.”

The gym was nearly empty with except for one man. The sound of the basketball hitting the parquet resonated through the open space and carried outside. It was booming, like a base in a Future song, although entirely more melodic. The sole figure was on one end, putting up shots punctuated by an occasional dunk — a masterful display of athleticism.

The ABL was an unknown battleground at this point, most would say it was due to a lack of intel, but in reality it was simple absence of faith. Nothing special could possibly be tucked away in these halls. Pop wanted the rest of the league to keep believing that.

As the lone shooter worked on his mechanics, he didn’t notice two strangers position themselves on the opposite side of the court and observe his every move. Every now and again he did something amazing and Pop simply nodded as RC’s eyes got wider. Perhaps this kid wasn’t special, perhaps he wasn’t Kawhi Leonard, but there was something there, a foundation of a player who could contribute in a pinch. Someone who went under the radar all this time. Another win. Another notch in the “how did the other 29 teams let this slip away” belt. It was a reputation winner.

After a few more minutes RC turned to Pop and simply nodded.

He woke up in the middle of the night as if nothing else was wrong. His throat was dry and called for a refreshing splash of water. As he reached for the glass on his bedside table his eyes settled on the mysterious figure seated in a chair across from his bed. He saw this in spy movies, but this wasn’t a movie. This was real. There was an intruder in his bedroom, staring him down. The man remained surprisingly calm.

“You don’t seem concerned,” the mysterious stranger said with a mechanical rasp, voice concealed by a voice modulator.

“Should I be?”

“Maybe,” was that a chuckle? “that’s entirely up to you.”

“Get to the point,” the main remained calm. He counted on the fact that his intruder did not know of his superb athleticism. He could close the gap between the two of them in mere seconds. His body shifted, muscles tensed — ready to pounce.

“I wouldn’t recommend that,” the stranger didn’t let even the slightest detail slip through. “I have something for you. Something to consider.”

The figure stretched its hand outward, holding out an envelope. Cautious, the man in bed quietly reached over and grabbed the letter. He went to open it, taking his eyes off the intruder for one second. When he looked up again, his nighttime visitor vanished.

The practice facility for the Austin Toros was crowded with players. The D-League tryouts brought everyone out of the woodwork. Players often overlooked in the initial scouting process felt like they had a chance. There was a hint of optimism in the air, something that wouldn’t last past the weekend. The D-League was the last vanguard between the best athletes on the planet and the hopefuls. It was a litmus test for the non-instant-star. And many failed. Overconfidence had a risk of its own.

One man seemed a lot less assured than the others, but he assessed his surroundings quickly, determining that he belonged, that he was better. He looked around finding a figure at center court dressed in Adidas joggers and a white polo, the international signifier of the “I am the coach” statement. He went straight for him.

“Hello,” the man said, unsure at first but gaining confidence with every word. “I am supposed to give this to you?”

The coach looked at the outstretched hand clutching an envelope. He recognized the handwriting and smiled. His hand grabbed the envelope and slid it into his own pocket with such precision and speed that no one realized it even happened. He looked his visitor in the eye.

“How are you feeling?” he asked.

“Unsure,” the man replied. “I am not entirely confident as to why…”

“Why you are here?” the coach interrupted, finishing the sentence for him. “You’ve been selected. Sent for. Vetted. You being here is a privilege many were denied before.”

“But why me?”

“No one knows,” the coach shrugged, breaking eye contact to look around the gym, carefully observing. A shooting form slightly off base there, a dribble a little too haphazard here. “No one else here was specifically selected, just you. Only one person knows… And he’s rarely wrong. It will all make sense one day. It always does with him.”

Coach Gregg Popovich observed Jonathon Simmons interact with the coach from a secret room on one of the gym. The windows were designed to look like part of the wall and no one could see in while Coach Pop could see out. He watched the exchange take place, Simmons pick up a basketball and head over to one of the baskets, practicing his shoot. The coach looked back at the wall and even though he couldn’t see Pop behind it, he nodded.

Coach Popovich looked around to ensure there was no one else around to witness what he was about to do next. He could have no word of this getting out to the outside world, lest the reputation he has spent years tirelessly cultivating be undone by a few twitches of his facial muscles. Once he was certain no one could see him, he smiled.