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After a few more years in the Arabian sun, Ronzone joined the Dallas Mavericks in 1997 and based himself in China, where he and Nelson nudged the Chinese government into letting the Mavs sign 7-ft. 1-in. Wang Zhizhi (paving the way for Yao Ming's arrival in the U.S.). In 2001, Ronzone was poached by the Pistons, who, never having drafted an international player, gave him carte blanche to travel. After years of frequent-flying, though, Ronzone discovered he could cut back. "If I'm going to three normal countries--say, Italy, Spain and France--I now have friends I call in advance who direct me to players. A trip that used to take two weeks now takes four days."
This allows Ronzone to tack on what he calls "a random country," a Kazakhstan or a Congo, to the end of each journey. When he arrives--friendless and unannounced--his strategy for expanding his network frequently consists of walking up to people, saying hello and starting to talk about basketball in his train-wreck sentences. More often than not, they talk back. In Kazakhstan, a conversation with a hotel bellman led to the discovery of three raw but promising players at a club team. "Tony talks a lot, and that gets him into these places," says the Pistons' Hammond. "But he's also a very bright guy, and that shows up once he's inside."
As a rule, Ronzone looks for the same things most scouts look for: hand skills, shooting and footwork. "I'm really into watching feet," he says. "Can they run? Do they have balance?" Unlike most scouts, though, he never takes notes while evaluating players and usually refrains from asking a coach questions until a third or fourth meeting. "The big reason," he says, "is respect. Some guys go to practices and they focus on one player and scribble a bunch of notes; it comes off arrogant. The Kazakhs feel their club team is as important as the Pistons, and just because we like a player doesn't mean they'll give him up. I've got to respect their club that has bad rims, bad balls, bad floor. I'll invite them to Detroit to see one of our practices. Because if I do like one of their guys, we're going to need their help."