In January, Pittsburgh Sports Now interviewed Steve Davis, Director of Development at The Scoring Factory, to gain professional insight on whether or not Western Pennsylvania is experiencing a rise in local basketball talent. Davis asserted that local talent is indeed on the rise, and much of the credit for this is owed to an increase in developmental organizations like The Scoring Factory.
Now, Pittsburgh Sports Now has spoken with Pete Strobl, owner and founder of The Scoring Factory, to learn about an ongoing career endeavor which will infuse Western Pennsylvania basketball with both knowledge and opportunity.
In the summer of 2016, Strobl received an unexpected call from Thorsten Leibenath – head coach of German basketball club ratiopharm ulm (per Strobl, ratiopharm ulm prefers its name to be spelled with all lowercase letters) – offering him an assistant coaching position with the team. Throughout his nine seasons of playing professional basketball in Europe, Pete established a positive reputation within the basketball community, and Leibenath had taken notice. After following Strobl’s work at The Scoring Factory, the ratiopharm ulm skipper knew Pete was his man.
The opportunity to coach at ratiopharm ulm was too good to pass up for Strobl; it presented a chance to further his coaching career, while simultaneously developing ties between Western Pennsylvania and Europe. But accepting the role meant that Pete would have to leave Pittsburgh, the city in which he founded The Scoring Factory in 2009.
“We’re building something special at The Scoring Factory, and after a lot of years of hard work, we’ve built The Scoring Factory up to the point where I was able to leave,” said Strobl. “We have a lot of very good, talented coaches; guys that have played at a high level previously, pros, guys that have coached in college, all that. So it made sense and I was able to come here. I spoke to some friends in the NBA before I came, and they said I would be the opposite of intelligent if I didn’t come over here to take advantage of this opportunity.”
Ratiopharm ulm competes in the German Bundesliga, where they set a league record for single season wins during Strobl’s first year with the club. As one of the top overall teams in all of Europe, ratiopharm ulm also competes in the Eurocup, a league comprised of the top clubs across the continent’s various leagues. Although neither league carries the prestige of the United States’ National Basketball Association, both feature a fair share of players with ties to the NBA. Luke Harangody, formerly of Notre Dame, and Toure’ Murry, formerly of Wichita State, are two of the names Strobl has coached at ratiopharm ulm with prior NBA experience. The volume of European stars migrating to the NBA is growing each year, and Pete receives the opportunity to see some of the league’s future contributors before they reach the United States. Just last season, ratiopharm ulm competed against Maxi Kleber and Daniel Theis in Bundesliga competition. Kleber is now with the Dallas Mavericks, while Theis plays for the Boston Celtics. The level of talent, and the quality of coaching, make Germany a tremendous environment for Strobl’s pursuit of basketball knowledge.
“Me, selfishly loving Pittsburgh, I wanted to invest in the future. I would like to be able to think that someday The Scoring Factory is going to have that huge kind of impact where we’re going to be able to turn Pittsburgh into a true hotbed of talent … There’s hotbeds of talent all around the world, and I like to think that slowly but surely we, collectively, can start to transform Pittsburgh into a basketball hotbed of talent. But that takes high-level teaching.”
“High-level teaching” will be integral in growing Western Pennsylvania’s youth basketball scene, and that’s why Strobl isn’t the only member of The Scoring Factory gaining overseas experience. Currently, four of Strobl’s colleagues from The Scoring Factory are in Germany performing what he calls a “coaching sabbatical” with the ratiopharm ulm organization, and many more figure to make the trip in upcoming seasons now that a network has been established.
“They have a chance to come over here and see what it’s like for our top team, see what it’s like for our second division team, see what it’s like with our youth structure,” he said. “There’s numerous lessons to be learned that we’re ‘borrowing’ to add to our academy to make sure that the kids in Pittsburgh are getting a true European curriculum, a true European feel, a true skills-heavy environment to make sure that someday they get to the level that we know that they can get to.
“We’re a couple years away from a lot more kids coming out of Pittsburgh and playing D-I and moving on, and I’m really excited to think what we’ll be able to do with that, and how to make sure the coaches are continuing their education just like the players need to do. The coaches continue their education by traveling the country, and now traveling the world, to see high-level basketball, high-level coaching, to see how people teach certain skills at a young age.”
One of The Scoring Factory’s coaches to perform a “coaching sabbatical” is Corey Dotchin, a man that Strobl believes will be an assistant in the NBA’s G-League or Europe in the near future. Dotchin, who currently serves as an assistant coach at Highlands High School, spent three months with ratiopharm ulm in 2017 developing his techniques for teaching skill development.
“He worked with our players; rebounds, passing, dribbling, video – the whole spectrum, so advanced scouting. He traveled with our second team, so he traveled to some pretty cool cities in Germany and got a chance to see other teams, other environments, what they play like, and came back just in time for the start of Highland’s season this year. And surely, he took a bunch of drills, he took a bunch of things he saw here in Europe, which he added to Highlands.”
Highlands won their section championship this season, and while Dotchin’s three months in Europe cannot take sole credit for the team’s success, his experience certainly benefited the Golden Rams. In addition to improving the team for which Dotchin coaches, Pete asserts that every team Highlands met on the court benefited from his experience, too.
“Every team that Highlands played this year got a small little taste, just from rubbing shoulders of somebody that spent time in Europe and implemented a certain number of drills, or tweaked their offensive philosophy, or changed the way they adjust their help-side.”
Such a disbursement and proliferation of knowledge within Western Pennsylvania basketball is for the greater good. Competition breeds success, and in order for the area’s basketball scene to truly grow, Strobl cannot fear the rise of those unaffiliated with The Scoring Factory.
“In a weird way, obviously I want The Scoring Factory to be amazing, but I think if we can raise the entire [talent] level in Pittsburgh, kids that don’t train with The Scoring Factory, coaches that aren’t even associated with The Scoring Factory, have a chance to benefit from this, because knowledge is power,” he said.
The knowledge Strobl attains in Germany is arriving at The Scoring Factory on a routine basis, coming from more than just the coaches who travel to Europe for first-hand experience. Thanks to the ever-evolving world of technology, Pete routinely interfaces with his coaches at The Scoring Factory, sharing knowledge as it is acquired.
“I see things and I can send a play to our coaches. I can send a drill to our coaches. I can communicate with our coaches instantaneously. The only thing that ever gives us a speed bump is a change in time – just the hour difference – but those guys get it when they wake up.
“This is something where we’re always talking, we’re always tweaking, we’re always thinking, we’re always challenging ourselves to be on the front edge of development. So I think those are things that are already starting to trickle down our coaching ladder, which means they’re trickling down to our kids.”
So what is Strobl seeing in Europe that will help players back home become more successful on the court?
“When you get over here, you see that they’re not doing rocket science; they’re just doing the right things, and they do it over, and over and over. They’re not reinventing it; they’re simply doing stuff that they were taught by American coaches back in the 1950’s, 1960’s, and they’ve held on to that. They’re very disciplined, they’re very strict, and they do it the right way: over, and over and over.”
It may sound clichéd, but Strobl recognizes a need for players back in the States to focus on the basics. He believes that Americans, especially youth basketball players, have become attracted to highlight dunks and other flashy feats of athleticism, while losing sight of how fundamental skills can define success.
“You have to make open shots,” Pete said. “You have to make a good pass. You have to play good defense. You have to understand help side. I think European kids, for the most part – it’s always tough when you generalize – for the most part those kids learn team basketball at a much younger age. They learn how to work on their skills at a much younger age.”
Recognizing the need to hone fundamental skills at a young age, Strobl is excited to see The Scoring Factory develop a youth program that can help boys and girls in the Pittsburgh area learn basketball the correct way from the beginning of their careers.
“Our youth academy … is just digging in, and just starting to build a foundation for what we think Pittsburgh can produce. For a long time, Pittsburgh has been known as a hotbed of football talent, but the reality is Pittsburgh’s just got a lot of really tough kids that work hard. I think if they’re taught the right things at the right age, in the manner to make sure they’re learning the game in a broader sense, then I think they can accomplish a lot.”
In general, the NBA, as well as the WNBA, serves as the ultimate goal for youth basketball players. However, many would argue that roster sizes in the NBA, and the overall level of talent, make it the most difficult league in which an athlete may break through. Considering the exclusive nature of the NBA, Strobl’s ties to European basketball have the potential to lead talented players from Western Pennsylvania to seek professional opportunities outside of the United States. In fact, Strobl already sees European coaches acknowledging his ties to Western Pennsylvania, starting with his relationship with former Schenley High School star, D.J. Kennedy.
“That already happens now, where my coach asks me about players that we’ve trained (at The Scoring Factory), players that I know, and all that,” Strobl said. “A guy that we trained that a lot of people know about is named D.J. Kennedy, who is a Pittsburgh guy, played at St. John’s, played in the NBA for a little bit – played all over the place. Last year, he played in Germany, and he was one of the top players in Germany last year. This year he’s in Turkey, but last year we actually faced him in the first round of the playoffs, and my coach was like, ‘Why didn’t you talk to him so we can sign him here?’
“Those are already things that are starting to happen now, and I think the next wave of talent – meaning that we didn’t meet these guys when they were 17 or 18; we met them when they were 7, 8, 9, 10 years old, which is where we’re starting to meet them in our youth academy – I think the next wave of talent is going to be so much further beyond where the guys are now that it’s inevitable that a lot of them are going to be playing super high-level European basketball.”
Strobl added, “In addition to that, there’s a lot of agents that want to be our friend now, because they know that I’m in a situation where we can potentially hire these guys to play for our team. For our team, they’ll make a lot of money, and it’s a good job for those guys to play professional basketball. More and more agents are sending their guys to Pittsburgh in the summer to train, to get better, to learn, to grow.”
With one year remaining on his contract at ratiopharm ulm, it is uncertain when Pete and his family will return to the United States. His wife, Sheryl, played professionally in Europe for many years and is content living overseas. The couple has four bilingual children who have acclimated well to living in Germany, as well. Knowing that his family supports him as he looks to further his career, while improving the quality of basketball development in Western Pennsylvania, leaves Pete feeling “lucky” to take his journey one step at a time.
“Pittsburgh is home. I love Pittsburgh. I love America. There’s friends, and family, and things, and places and buddies that I miss dearly, but this is something that I know is good. I don’t want to call it a sacrifice; that would be the wrong word. But I know that this is something that is good in the long term. My contract goes through next season. We’ll see what happens …”
“I’m in a good situation. I like it here, I’m happy here. They like me here. I’m not exactly in a situation where I need something to happen, which means that I can choose what I would like to happen. At some point in time I could see myself being an assistant in the NBA, or a head coach in Europe at some level and working my way up to hopefully being a head coach in the Euro League, which is the top level in Europe.”
Regardless of how long Pete Strobl remains in Europe, one thing is for sure: he will continue to keep Pittsburgh on his mind, and do whatever he can to ensure the sport’s growth in Western Pennsylvania.
“Pittsburgh’s going to start producing a lot of talent, and I miss being there – me, selfishly,” he said. “Personally, I miss being there for that. But it also makes sense for me to be here, because I’m meeting more agents, more teams, more GM’s, more scouts, and I’ll be able to help all of the kids that we train. And all of this stuff will be able to come full circle.”