He was all sneakers, backpack and glasses, dwarfing his slight frame. He was impossible to miss at AAU events, a high school-aged kid who clearly wasn’t a player. A “cool, nerdy, little geeky guy” is the way close friend Frantz Massenat described him.
But if you focused on Alex Kline, you could quickly tell he was somebody. Everyone knew him — players, coaches, handlers, parents — and everyone seemed to like him. He couldn’t walk a few feet without getting stopped. A decade later, his look has been refined, but little else has changed. Kline remains one of the more popular people in his industry, a 26-year-old success story who is now with his second team, the Knicks, as a scout.
Ten years ago, Kline started his own recruiting website, The Recruit Scoop. He has raised nearly $200,000 for cancer research in honor of his mother, Mary Kline, who passed away when he was 10 from brain cancer. By the time he was 22, fresh out of college, he had a job in the NBA. He had twice been named to the Forbes 30-under-30 sports list — before his teenage years were over.
Boy Wonder only begins to describe him.
“It’s not going to be surprising when he’s running an organization at a very young age,” UConn coach Dan Hurley said.
A southern New Jersey native, Kline started a trend that has grown in popularity. Now, it’s not unusual to see high school or college kids covering recruiting. But at the time he was an anomaly, a schoolboy trying to break into a business run by adults. He loved basketball and saw it as a way to get his foot in the door, in addition to his duties as the Pennington High School team manager. He started locally, traveling with the New Jersey ABC program and quickly made a name for himself. Players trusted him because they could relate to him and his intel was strong, giving him an in with coaches. Not everyone was so fond of him, though.
“Alex when he first started doing it, he rattled some cages, got some people fired up, because he made some people have to work harder,” Rivals.com national recruiting analyst Eric Bossi recalled.
It didn’t deter him. Kline wouldn’t take no for an answer. He was good at it, too, frequently breaking news. Rivals.com added his site to its network for that very reason, giving him an even bigger platform. He was as obsessed as the coaches and the kids he was covering. Hurley remembered talking to Kline almost every day in the summer of 2011, as he was doggedly recruiting prospect Eric Fanning while coaching at Wagner College.
“It was like a Cal Ripken-type of streak and Alex loved every second of it,” Hurley said.
His name kept coming up among college coaches. Players would bring him up unprompted. Villanova coach Jay Wright’s assistants told him Kline wanted to visit the school. At that point it dawned on Wright that his staff was relying on a kid for information.
“My first thought was, ‘He’s only in high school?’” Wright recalled with a laugh.
He was so knowledgeable, Wright tried to get him to be a student manager at Villanova and Jamion Christian tried to do the same at William & Mary. Kline, though, wound up at Syracuse and kept his recruiting website.
It was then that his scouting chops began to take shape. He got to know players on a deeper-than-basketball basis. He created real bonds. He saw why certain programs valued some more than others. He studied different styles of play to better understand coaching philosophies, always asking questions, trying to gain information however he could.
While in college, Kline began working for former NBA executive Leo Papile’s BB Pro Associates through a connection he developed with Papile’s daughter, Britney. A start-up company, BB Pro Associates could only pay for his expenses, but his reports were sent to NBA teams and he got to learn from Papile. When the Pelicans made a change in their front office last spring, replacing Dell Demps with David Griffin, Kline — who was hired by the team in 2016 — was kept aboard in part because of Griffin’s familiarity with him dating back to BB Pro Associates.
Initially, Kline thought most players could play in the NBA, and would refer to them as being able to play in “The League.” Papile would respond the same way: “Which League?” He emphasized the need for Kline to look beyond the sports information director’s biography of a player. He wanted to know everything about a player, where he’s “from-from,” in Papile’s words. His family background, the role of basketball in a player’s life, what made him pick up a ball, what motivates him. Inquisitive by nature, Kline, with his ample recruiting background, took to that advice quickly.
“In another business, he could be a headhunter for a Fortune 500 company,” Papile said. “He has those types of skills where he doesn’t look at the résumé. ‘He likes to look between the lines,’ is a good way to put it.”
One advantage Kline ironically has is experience. He’s seen players make it to the NBA and blossom, and others fall short. He’s seen it from both ends of the spectrum, as an NBA scout and an amateur one. He has the added bonus of closely following them from their high school days to breaking into the highest level of the sport.
“And he can get an evaluation in his own mind of why guys make it and why guys don’t,” said Christian, now the head coach of George Washington. “That’s really valuable.”
(Kline was not made available to comment by the Knicks, citing organizational policy.)
“You see that guy right there handing out stats, you want to know him. He’s going to be somebody.”
Jim Clibanoff was at the NBA Summer League in Las Vegas when a coach suggested he meet Kline. The Nuggets director of scouting was immediately impressed. Kline, a college kid at the time, found the sweet spot between being over-eager and shy. He was humble yet determined, showing no intimidation. It’s how he met Demps. During the summer league, he saw Demps was scheduled to play in a ping-pong tournament and so he set himself up at the entrance of the venue and struck up a conversation. A few months later, he landed a job with the Pelicans, first as a basketball operations assistant and later an intel scout. Four years later last month, the Knicks brought him in to work under assistant general manager Walt Perrin.
“Alex is wise beyond his years and someone I have always respected for both his hard-working mentality and talent evaluating skills,” new Knicks president Leon Rose told The Post in an email. “He will be a solid addition to the versatile and innovative front office that we are assembling.”
Kline is on a path to stardom, most agree. People his age are typically still trying to find their calling. He’s thriving at his. He didn’t get lucky. He made his breaks. The question is how high he can go.
“The nature of his contact base is very good and he’s not going to go changing,” Clibanoff said. “He’s on his way.”
The common term used to describe Kline is genuine. It’s what endeared players and coaches to him as a recruiting reporter and how he has landed jobs in the NBA at such a young age. Even as Kline is making his way in the NBA, onto his second team with more responsibilities, those closest to him say he has remained humble, still looking to help others. Massenat still gets calls from Kline about the landscape overseas, trying to help players find future homes who may not be NBA caliber. He believes his friend “overextends” himself.
Upon taking the job at St. Joseph’s, Billy Lange leaned on Kline for player evaluations, and credited him with the coaching staff passing on certain players that has put his program in a strong spot. Stephen Smith, the senior vice president at the office of institutional advancement at Thomas Jefferson University Hospital, and Kline frequently attend Temple games and Smith is struck by how everyone — parents of players, fans, coaches — seem to know him and how he takes time with them. He always begins a phone call or a text message conversation by asking someone how they are doing, how their family is holding up, what is new in their life.
“Every time you call him, he just makes you feel better when you hang the phone up.” Christian said.
It can be traced to the loss of his mother. Kline has frequently told Smith how thankful he is that she was around for his formative years, that even though he lost her so young he was grateful for the time they had after she was diagnosed with a brain tumor when he was five.
“It just turned him into an incredibly grateful, humble, in-the-moment person and I don’t think it’s ever left him,” Lange said.
He has used his growing profile to make a difference. He launched the Mary Kline Classic in 2010, a fundraiser to support cancer research. Future pros such as Karl-Anthony Towns, Donovan Mitchell, Markelle Fultz, Michael Porter Jr. and Jamal Murray attended. When he took the job with the Pelicans, he could no longer work with amateurs, and so he started the Mary Kline Classic Sports and Business Symposium in 2018, having panelists such as Bulls general manager Marc Eversley, Griffin and announcer Ian Eagle as the emcee. All told, he’s raised $196,000 while predominantly working with Thomas Jefferson University’s Sidney Kimmel Cancer Center — the same place that treated his mother — and a webinar series this spring raised an additional $4,000 for COVID-19 research.
“He’s someone,” Smith said, “you want on your team.”