When Scott Starkey watches a basketball game, he has a different take than most people.
While the typical fan is looking at screen and rolls, double downs, kick outs and alley-oops, everything that's happening on the floor, the Hobart native is looking at the floor. Yes, the floor.
Why? Back in December, Starkey became a product engineer manager with Connor Sports, a Fortune 500 company that makes gym and sports flooring. Among its plum accounts is being the provider of the basketball courts used in the NCAA men's and women's Final Four for the last 12 years.
"Since I've come up here, the first thing that comes to mind is, did we build the court?" Starkey said. "My perspective's changed. I used to be engrossed in the activity. Now that's all shifted to the quality of the construction. I'm looking for flaws in the courts, the design, graphics, logos. I don't look at the game."
Starkey grew up in the glory days of the Bulls, though his interest waned after the Michael Jordan era passed. After four years in the Marines following high school, Starkey did an apprenticeship with Sheet Metal Workers, landing a job at U.S. Steel in 2000. He moved to Valparaiso and spent most of the next 16 years at U.S. in different capacities before he was contacted in October by Connor Sports, whose wood mill is in Amasa, Michigan.
"Going from steel to wood was quite a change for me," Starkey said. "I bought property in Iron River and decided it was where I wanted to be. I'm 46. I want to have a work-life balance. I love to work in an area I really enjoy. I started searching for opportunities in the (Upper Peninsula) and when Connor contacted me, it was something I couldn't pass up."
Not much of a college basketball fan outside of the NCAA tournament, Starkey quickly became aware of what a big deal March Madness is with the company, which installs 21 courts across the country during March, including the first- and second-round custom court in Salt Lake City. He had never filled out a tournament bracket before this month, picking local favorite Michigan.
"There's definitely a lot of pride in producing the floors," he said.
Starkey oversees the making of the pieces of the hard wood maple floor, including the planing, siding and grooving of the 4-feet-by-7-feet sections that interlock like a puzzle and are secured to a panel, a step that is repeated over the length of the court, which measures 6,700- to 6,900-square feet. While Starkey is mainly on the production, he'll occasionally do a site visit with a sub-contractor to make sure specifications are followed.
"It's so portable, two, three people can assemble it," Starkey said. "It's a pretty unique process."
Also the official court of the International Basketball Federation, Connor Sports has done flooring for 14 NBA teams and colleges including Purdue, Oregon, Baylor, Miami (Florida), Minnesota, Cincinnati and Marquette. Former Valparaiso coach Homer Drew has a testimonial quote on the company's website.
"Our players and coaches thoroughly enjoy the softness and flexibility of the floor," Drew said.
Connor also makes synthetic surfaces used for tennis, track and a variety of other sports out of its Utah plant.
Because he's been there only a few months, Starkey won't be making it to the upcoming Final Four, but plans to do so next year.
"Being able to see it that way will be an experience to remember," he said.