Crim: Britton turns high school hoops passion into information superhighway for fans
QUINCY — Aaron Britton fell in love with basketball growing up on a dairy farm in southern Illinois.
He remembers watching tape-delayed television broadcasts of University of Kentucky games in the 1990s when Rick Pitino and Tubby Smith were guiding the Wildcats to national championships. He was a member of the Mounds Meridian High School team, although he admits he was better in the classroom than on the basketball court.
“I knew pretty early I was not going to earn a living playing basketball,” Britton said. “Both of my parents pushed me very hard to go to college. I can remember being 10 or 11 years old and my dad telling me, ‘You don’t want to be milking cows the rest of your life.’ ”
Britton followed his parents’ advice after graduating from Mounds Meridian in 2003 and went on to earn a degree from Southeast Missouri State. He moved to the Rockford area in 2008, where he works as an engineer for a food beverage manufacturer.
The love of basketball remained constant, however.
“The late 1990s and early 2000s was the golden age of message boards,” he said. “There was no way to communicate on social media then. You pay 10 bucks a year and you could get on the message board. IllinoisHighSchoolSports.com was where fans went to talk about teams and players.”
After college, Britton began traveling to high school gyms across Illinois to get a firsthand look at teams and players. Until his oldest child was born nearly four years ago, he estimates he attended 150 or more games each year, from summer leagues to holiday tournaments to shootouts to postseason contests.
He joined X, formerly known as Twitter, in 2011 and began sharing scores and information with other users. “I was tweeting to no one for many, many years,” said Britton, who now boasts 9,000 followers.
He began gathering schedules and scores for all 750 high school boys’ teams in the state and compiling them in spreadsheets in 2015. Two years later, he took his hobby to a new level by sharing that information with the launch of the website nestohoops.com, and it soon took off.
It has become arguably the go-to site for Illinois high school boys’ basketball enthusiasts.
The site carries up-to-date schedules and scores of every team, altogether or by class. There are also separate tabs by conference and for teams in the Chicagoland area and those that funnel into sectionals south of I-80.
You can easily access each team’s current won-lost record, winning percentage, offensive and defensive scoring averages and top players.
Want to know the sub-sectional and sectional your team will play in? It’s there. Notable transfers. There are 199 listed. The names and historical information of gyms Britton has visited. Got it.
Britton developed a mathematical formula that takes into consideration a team’s winning percentage, the winning percentage of opponents and the winning percentage of their opponents, along with good wins and good losses, to come up with a strength of schedule ranking and the Nesto Power Index.
Each Monday morning, Britton releases his rankings of the top 25 teams in each of the four classes.
“The main reason I started doing this is that there was no one place to get this information,” he said. “Basketball is my hobby, it’s what I have a passion for. Most of the people I talk to every day are involved in the high school basketball world. I feel like I’m able to know teams as well as anyone without seeing all of them.
“The computer values used for strength of schedule and NPI, that’s a snapshot. You can take it for what it’s worth. You try to rank teams with what the computer is telling you, but I also try to be as objective as I can. How do I feel about that team? How do their losses stack up against another team’s losses? What’s the eye test?”
Britton’s preseason work begins in June when he takes in as many summer league games and shootouts as possible, mostly in the Chicagoland area or just south. He also begins scouring basketball and school websites to locate schedules, rosters and statistics for all 750 teams and putting them in spreadsheets.
He conservatively estimates he spends 10 to 15 minutes per team over the course of a few months on schedules, which translates into at least 125 to 187 hours. And he does have a day job.
On a normal weekend once the season begins, he gets up at 3:30 a.m. each Saturday and works on updating scores he has gleaned mostly from X until his two children wake around 6:30. He gets another 90 minutes or so of work in when they go down for a nap in the afternoon and tries to do more after they go to bed and he spends “as much time as I can with the missus.”
He then gets up each Sunday morning and starts the process all over. He finalizes his rankings each Sunday evening and releases them on X the next morning.
“From Thanksgiving to St. Patty’s Day, really,” Britton said. “Christmas week is the toughest gauntlet for me, especially when I try to see as many games as possible.
“Before I had children, I would go to Collinsville, Centralia and State Farm (in Bloomington-Normal). I’d be gone for three or four days. I don’t go on overnight trips anymore. Half of the teams in the state are in Chicago, so I have a selection of games to choose from.”
Streaming has enabled him to also watch games from home.
The primary benefit of the website is the wealth of up-to-date information it provides for each team. The knowledge Britton possesses on teams, players and conferences is a conversational motherlode.
The weekly rankings, meanwhile, are for water cooler discussions.
“I’m not going to say my rankings are better than anybody else’s,” Britton said. “Are losses to good teams? Are there any good wins? Sometimes people are ranked only because of good losses, not good wins. Who the coach is matters. Some coaches, their teams get better every game.”
Quincy High School was fifth in Class 4A in Britton’s preseason ranking. The Blue Devils moved to first for two weeks preceding Christmas before losing to the host school in the Collinsville Holiday Tournament.
At 19-1, they’re currently third behind Homewood-Flossmoor and Chicago Curie, even though their strength of schedule is 70th and NPI ranking is seventh.
Britton does not consider games against out-of-state opponents in his rankings. Two of Quincy’s best wins this season have been against Webster Groves (Mo.) and Philadelphia Imhotep in the Quincy Shootout.
“But Webster Groves beat (Chicago) Mount Carmel, which is the best team in 3A,” he said.
Meanwhile, Homewood-Flossmoor and Curie also have one loss apiece, and both came on the same day against out-of-state opponents.
“I think they can win 4A,” Britton said of Quincy. “There are probably 10 to 15 teams that could win it. Curie and Homewood-Flossmoor have the best starting fives. Homewood-Flossmoor has some name power, while Curie is more of a blue-collar, defensive-minded team that will bury you if you don’t take care of the ball.”
Homewood-Flossmoor and Curie funnel into the same super-sectional, however, meaning only one can potentially reach the state finals.
“I was interested in the Collinsville tournament,” Britton said. “It was the third year in a row Quincy was the favorite down there and three years in a row it lost in the title game. The same in the sectional semifinals last year when the wheels fell off (against O’Fallon). That’s historical information that does not go into the rankings.
“Quincy could or should be favored to get to Champaign. I don’t expect Quincy to lose a conference game. The only ones they could lose are at Moline or Rock Island. The sectional won’t be easy, and it shouldn’t be. All the teams in the sub-sectional have a pulse. I think they’ll avoid Collinsville in the regional.”
The 38-year-old Britton will be watching as the season continues to unfold. Blank spreadsheets in June become useful trends by February. Nestohoops.com is here to stay because everybody needs a hobby, and his is high school basketball.
“What I like most about this hobby is data collection,” he said. “Some people appreciate what I do and I’m sure some people think I’m a clown. I’m already entrenched and have some skin in the game. I think I’m building a little bit of a reputation. It’s nice to be thought of as a reputable source throughout the state.”
And it beats milking cows.
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