Alex Kline: The Brains Behind Recruit Scoop
At age 18, Alex Kline earned a spot on Forbes Magazine’s “30 Under 30: Sports” list. Here, he discusses how he went from typical high school student to sports entrepreneur with his website, The Recruit Scoop.
Everyone has their own agenda. I don’t do this to help the college coaches—this is all about the kids.
It wasn’t so long ago that Alex Kline was a fourteen-year-old, running a small pop-culture site, The Recruit Scoop, and dreaming of meeting celebrities one day.
Today, a mere six years later, Kline runs The Recruit Scoop as part of a partnership with Yahoo Sports and has received over 50 million views in a single day. It has become the indisputable authority on high school basketball in the country, discovering high school basketball talent and providing information for coaches, players, and fans alike. Using a combination of classic web journalism, social media, and even personal contacts, Kline’s website has condensed the colossal world of high school basketball into one easy, accessible source.
He stands side by side with celebrities like Lebron James and Kevin Durant on Forbes Magazine’s “30 Under 30” most influential figures in sports and boasts over 34 thousand Twitter followers. And while the Syracuse University sophomore’s life is far from what he could have possibly dreamed of as a passionate, starry-eyed teenager, one thing has stayed constant: Alex Kline is all about the kids.
As a freshman in high school, Kline wanted to give people a reason to listen to him. Understanding that not just anybody could go up to the Kobe Bryants of the world, Kline made it his goal to give people a reason to speak to him—to have his opinion heard and respected in circles beyond his own peer group. Calling himself a “shy person,” Kline used Recruit Scoop as a conduit for his personal voice. “I let my work speak for myself,” Kline said.
While working as the manager of his high school basketball team, Kline started up a pop-culture website with his friend covering everything from movies to sports. Unfortunately, the duo quickly found that they had very few opportunities to grow as a business. Many of the people they were writing about were not willing to return the calls of two nameless fourteen-year-olds. Nevertheless, Kline turned his greatest weakness—his age—into his greatest strength.
He found his niche in high school basketball. High school basketball players were accessible. More importantly, they were comfortable talking to someone they could relate to. “Even though they were on their way to bigger things…there was very easy access as far as connecting with them…since I was a similar age. People saw some of the work I did, whether it be interviews…[or] Q&A’s online, and it really started to catch on,” Kline said.
While Kline’s youth set him apart from other reporters to the players, he still lacked the necessary, traditional qualifications to publish his work in any respectable papers. “The youth factor was both good and bad.” Kline noted. “I had more access to the players…but not everyone took me as seriously because of my youth—because I was just a kid.”
In search of a solution, he turned to the Internet, where the cloak of anonymity provided him with a sense of authority, and his words were indistinguishable from those of an expert with thirty years of experience. Yet, digital journalism’s low barrier to entry was a double-edged sword. In a world where practically anyone can post his or her opinions, it becomes increasingly difficult for a journalist to make a name for himself. Kline sought to differentiate himself through continuous credibility. “The biggest thing was being credible, showing up at an event, covering those events, proving that I did have value and important things to say, and always showing consistency. My whole thing was [that] I wanted to bring something new to the table,” Kline said.
Soon enough, Kline overcame these hurdles and proved to the basketball world that he did have something unique and valuable to share.
However, as Kline’s word had become his livelihood, he only truly trusted himself to defend that identity. Even now, he turns down requests week after week asking him if he needs interns, third party reporting, or wants to expand his one-man company. Even throughout his partnership with Rivals, Kline has remained adamant on retaining Recruit Scoop’s core essence: “When it comes to helping out kids and the pressures that come with such a big following, if you put out the wrong information or you mess up somehow, then that reflects on the brand. If I screw up for whatever reason, I want that to be on me, because it’s my brand.”
This individualized take on business comes at a cost: there is a ceiling on just how much he can do on his own. This was especially apparent during his time in high school. “Every day in high school was like the conference tournament—survive and advance,” Kline said. In fact, the recruiting guru likes to joke that his teachers in high school used to think he had a bladder problem, because he was regularly leaving class to have extended and hushed phone calls with Division I coaches in the bathroom.
My father taught me to be a good person who looks out for the best in other people.
But it is not only branding and time that keeps Kline from expanding his high school basketball empire to incredibly high levels of corporate profits. It is also his perception of what exactly entails success, which has been molded by his unique journey through life.
When Kline was only five years old, his mother Mary Kline was diagnosed with grade IV brain cancer. By the time he was ten his mother had passed. While these were some of the toughest years of his life, they also had a profound impact on his character. Kline credits his father for teaching him many of the skills that would ultimately lead to success from an early age. “He was there for the entire thing…he taught me wrong from right—to walk up to someone, shake their hand really firmly, look them in the eye, [and] say ‘Hi, how are you? Nice to meet you.’ Little things like that,” he said. “… Most importantly, he taught me to be a good person, who looks out for the best in other people.”
Kline created a website in order to have his voice heard. And now that his voice does indeed ring through the ears of basketball fans across the country, his definition of success is making sure it carries the right message. He aims to pass on the mentorship and support that he received from his father to high school basketball players across America, just through a different medium. While basketball is his life, there is more to life than basketball. The Recruit Scoop isn’t about fame, money, or access to celebrities anymore. It isn’t even about college coaches and college basketball. It is merely his humble way of helping people.
Athletics provides many high school students with the opportunity to attend college when they otherwise might not. One of the most fulfilling aspect of Kline’s day is providing opportunities for kids who otherwise may not have very many. “Whenever I can make an impact, and [help] a kid as far as promoting him to a school…that’s the biggest thing for me. That’s where this information is actually being put to use, and it makes an impact on someone’s life in such a [substantial] way,” Kline said.
Kline’s mentorship doesn’t stop once athletes get into college. Rather, he hopes to instill in those athletes values that extend beyond the basketball court. “A lot of these kids are talented and treated like gods at times. Rightfully so. They do a lot of great things, but there’s more to life than basketball,” Kline said. Kline sees imparting habits of philanthropy to players who may one day be in positions of incredible fame, wealth, and power as one of the most vital aspects of his job. Thus, this year will see the fourth annual Mary Kline Classic, a basketball game intended to both showcase some of the nation’s top players and also raise money for cancer research.
When asked about the Mary Kline Classic, Kline breezes over the fact that the event has featured some of the biggest names in high school basketball as well as in college recruiting. Instead, he is quick to point out that it has raised over $85,000 through donations and sponsorships.
“The biggest thing with the Mary Kline Classic is one, raising awareness and raising money for cancer research… [and] two, teaching young people—especially these student-athletes—about philanthropy [as well as] how important it is [and] why we should do it,” Kline explained. “Eventually these guys will possibly make a lot of money playing in the NBA, or they will have the opportunity to do a lot of great things…They need to learn from an early age that they should give back. They should be grateful for their health.”
The Recruit Scoop isn’t about fame, money, or access to celebrities anymore… it’s merely his humble way of helping people.
While Kline has built his life around the game of basketball, he does not feel tied down by this career path simply due to his previous successes. Though Kline created a successful business at the age of 15 and has become a formidable name in basketball recruiting, the single most astounding thing about Alex Kline is that he is willing to walk away from all of it if he finds something he is more passionate about—something he thinks will more effectively help others.