Q+A: Dan Poneman
A conversation with the prolific, 20-year-old scout.
by Rigo Gonzalez / @_enigmatic1
“So Jeremy was telling me you’re up at Alaska. Tell me about that, how did you end up there?”
Within two minutes of my phone conversation with Chicago high school basketball scout Daniel Poneman, I found myself feeling like I was the one being interviewed, but in a good way.
Poneman is constantly communicating with others. From high school basketball players to high school coaches, AAU coaches, college coaches, recruiters, other scouts, this that and a third. Via phone, tweet, in person, doesn’t matter.
The 20-year-old is a seasoned vet of the scouting game, where so much of your success hinders not only on your ability to see talent and recognize it, but your ability to network and get to know people in a positive way. He’s earned the respect of many coaches and their staff from across the nation and they value his opinion.
Most outside of Chicago first learned of Poneman when he was featured in this December 2007 Sports Illustrated article.
I hit him up last night, as mentioned above, via phone. Also, besides the SI article, before you read the interview do yourself a favor and check out this mini-doc Poneman was featured in, from Jay-Zs lifeandtimes.com, Ball so Hard. If you’re from Chicago and you love basketball and it doesn’t give you chills, you doing it wrong.
SLAM: For our readers who may not know who you are or what you do, can you give them some background?
Dan Poneman: Well, people ask me everyday—what is my job? What do I do? And I tell them I don’t really have a job description. I’m just Dan P. I like to say I’m the only person in the world with my job description, but I do a damn good job at it.
My job is to find the best basketball talent in Chicago and beyond and then do everything in my power to make sure everyone else in the world knows about them, and that they fulfill their potential in every way possible.
I started out when I was 14 years old. The area that I grew up in near Chicago, in Evanston, at the time for the area it was a particularly talented time period. So my freshman year, I played basketball for Evanston on the freshman team. And I discovered that there were websites and message boards about high school basketball, before that I had no idea people cared about high school basketball players.
So I start going on message boards, just writing my opinion, and I get well-known on the message boards for knowing a lot about ball. People started suggesting I start a website. So I start a website, illinoishsbasketball.com my freshman year, and the rest is history.
SLAM: Back when you were 15 to 16 years old, basically sacrificing your social life to stay on top of your website at the time, did you think it would pay off the way it has?
DP: Well, here’s the thing—since I’ve had success at a young age, every person I’ve talk to are always commending me for how hard I work and sacrificing my social life and sacrificing going to college and all these things, but in reality it was never a hard thing to do. It was never like, Damn, I can’t do these regular kid things because I have to do my job cause my job was the fuckin’ bomb.
Every weekend in high school, to have to choose, you know, instead of going to the same parties with the same kids and things like that, to go see Derrick Rose get a triple double for Simeon, it was easy. And then after the game, just the fact that if I wrote about it or made a video about it, that people would actually listen to what I have to say and that they cared about what I have to say, it was just so awesome like, an opportunity that I couldn’t wait to take advantage of over and over and over.
SLAM: You were one of the first to really praise Kentucky freshman Anthony Davis when he was a virtual unknown in high school. Does it give a sense of vindication, or does it just make you hungrier to discover the next unknown recruit that’s gonna make it big?
DP: It’s actually neither. It’s actually almost exactly the opposite. Whenever I talk to people, they give me credit for that but really, it’s almost an embarrassment to me because it’s not like it was that hard. I was in the right place at the right time.
I first saw Anthony when he was in the eighth grade. He was playing for Chicago Select, which is Sonny Parker, Jabari Parker’s dad’s AAU team. He was the sixth man on that team, he was like 5-11, mostly a shooter. Actually back then, I used to joke with his teammates that he would be better than all of them. Even though most of his teammates were big-time ranked guys, you could just see it in how long his arms were, and the way he was built that he was gonna grow.
I used to call him “Mini Evan Turner.” Evan Turner was like six feet at that age, shot up to 6-7 and he became Evan Turner. So I used to call Anthony “Mini ET,” and it was just joking around because he wasn’t as good as his teammates at the time. But then the next time I saw Anthony he was 6-10 and like I said, I was just in the right place at the right time.
I was at the first AAU tournament he had with Mean Streets. I watched the first half of his first game in the tournament, and after that my jaw hit the floor, I couldn’t believe it. This was the same Anthony that wore the goggles, 135 pounds and most thought was nothing, and now I mean it was clear, immediately that he was special. So then, you know, I caught the rest of his game and followed his games and made some videos, made some calls, and the rest was history.