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Every year, a handful of college and international basketball prospects are invited to the NBA Draft Combine, where their skills, fitness and physical measurements are evaluated by scouts. Prior to 2017, non-invitees missed a huge opportunity to market themselves for future playing opportunities.
Fortunately for these prospects, the Professional Basketball Combine (PBC) provides another opportunity to showcase themselves.
Two-way contracts between the NBA and G League were introduced in 2017 along with three new G League teams, effectively creating 105 new opportunities for professional basketball players in the United States. Jake Kelfer saw this as an opportunity to give a handful of prospects the additional exposure that could propel them to the next level.
In the two years since Kelfer founded the combine, the PBC has produced nine two-way contract players, 23 NBA Summer League invitees, and the 2017-18 G League Rookie of the Year Antonio Blakeney.
— Chicago Bulls (@chicagobulls) April 27, 2018
“The event was designed for players to turn their dreams of playing professional basketball at the highest level into their reality,” Kelfer says. “I think the proudest moment is being able to see that the event has created an incredible value to the NBA community and to these players.”
Thanks to an active web presence and quality auxiliary events like a Celebrity Influencer Game as well as a skills camp for those pursuing a career on the business side of basketball, the PBC has been able to create a strong name for themselves on the branding side of things. That’s easier said than done for an event that only takes place two days per year.
“It’s definitely been a process that takes time to build, but for us, the key is really making sure that we highlight our players accomplishments along with the value that we provide to players, agents, and teams,” he says. “Particularly we want our players to know that we’re with them, and we believe in them past the two days when the event takes place.”
Kelfer and team continued to make the combine a year-round brand by debuting scouting profiles and stat trackers for players on their channels.
PBC Senior Spotlight ft. Nick Weiler-Babb of @CycloneMBB ! 🏀
The 6’5” combo guard's positional size, multifaceted skill set, & ability to mold his playing style are appealing to pro scouts & will give him a chance to play at the next level
— Pro Bball Combine (@ProBBallCombine) March 27, 2019
As the event has grown, the PBC now prepares prospects for life off the court as well as on. This year, Kelfer and company are debuting the first-ever PBC Prospect Development Program in conjunction with BrandForward, PTD Business Management, and Urner, Lemos and Paul of Wells Fargo Advisors.
“We really wanted to create a program to help these guys have the maximum success on and off the court,” he says. “Specifically, we’re going to be working with them on creating a digital footprint. How do you brand yourself as an athlete? How do you use your influence for positive change? How do you generate revenue through your social media channels? In today’s environment, players are able to capitalize on more than just traditional endorsement deals.”
The program will consist of several workshops for the combine participants regarding topics like financial literacy and personal branding. Both are important concepts for young professional athletes to grasp.
“In today’s hyper-connected world, athletes have tremendous power in their platforms,” says Stephanie Martin, co-founder and managing director of BrandForward. “Brands are eager to leverage the direct-to-consumer relationships that athletes have with their fans, so we help athletes to take the reins of their brand and build strategies that support their larger goals. We’re excited to be part of the PBC Prospect Development Program because we believe personal brand-building can be truly additive to a professional athlete’s career both on and off the court.”
While the PBC began as a way for athletes to showcase what they can do physically, the event has quickly evolved into something much bigger and into a very important part of the global community surrounding the sport.
The third Professional Basketball Combine will take place on May 21 and 22, 2019 at Mamba Sports Academy in Thousand Oaks, California. For more information on this year’s event, visit professionalbasketballcombine.com/about.