The RTC Interview Series: One on One with Dave TelepPosted by rtmsf on October 29th, 2010
Rush The Court is back with another edition of One on One: An Interview Series, which we will bring you periodically throughout the year. If you have any specific interview requests or want us to interview you, shoot us an email at email@example.com.
Scouting high school basketball players is a task that probably ranks just above weather prediction and winning trifectas at the track in terms of its certainty, but there are several folks out there who are among the best in the profession. Dave Telep, former National Recruiting Director for Scout.com and current Senior Basketball Recruiting Analyst for ESPN, is one of those guys. As a young college graduate in the mid-90s, he helped launch PrepStars before quickly rising up the ladder and developing his name at both Rivals and Scout, two of the pre-eminent recruiting services in existence today. In the intervening decade, Telep built a sterling reputation for his workhorse approach to scouting, going from game to game in state after state to see players with his own eyes so as to fairly evaluate them. He also founded Dave Telep’s Carolina Challenge in 2007, a one-day camp for 80 hand-picked North Carolina high school players in who want to learn what it takes to become a top college basketball player. Some of the recruits who have attended this camp have been Duke’s Mason Plumlee and former Kentucky star John Wall. The recruiting aficianado was in fact driving to a game in Virginia at the time of this interview — he never stops moving when there are players to be evaluated. You can find Telep on both Facebook and Twitter — we’d recommend you friend/follow him to stay on top of all of the latest recruiting and scouting news.
Rush the Court: Let’s start with the most newsworthy item in your life right now, the move from Scout.com to ESPN. Can you tell us a little bit about how this all came about and what the plan is for the immediate future there?
Dave Telep: Yeah, you know, I could not be more thankful and more grateful for the nine years I spent with Scout.com and Fox. My contract came up for renewal this summer and ESPN presented a really unique opportunity to do some things in the recruiting world on a bunch of different media platforms. It’s something where, to be honest, I’ve always wanted to work for ESPN. When I realized that I wasn’t going to be a professional athlete around the age of twelve, I realized one of the things I wanted to do with my life was to eventually work for ESPN. It’s really been a fun time for me and my family, and we’re having a great time with it. We have such a really neat team of guys there from the scouts to the guys who operate the database, that it’s really exciting to have so much support of a bunch of guys who are really woven into the fabric of college basketball. It’s awesome!
RTC: To many in this business, getting the call from ESPN is a dream come true. Is this the Dave Telep equivalent of seeing your name at the top of a recruiting list?
DT: The cool thing for me as the father of two boys is that I can someday look at those guys and say “if there’s something in your life that you really want to do, and you have the ability to, through hard work and luck and people helping you out, you can make that happen.” That’s been the neat thing for me with ESPN so far, just sharing and talking about it with my parents. You set these goals when you’re younger, and to see one of them come to fruition on a personal level is really cool. It’s not just a job for me. This is something I’ve always kinda had my eye on. I never knew what I would ever do at ESPN someday; I just knew that I always wanted to be around people who were excellent in their field. I knew from a young age that I would love to do that someday. This is definitely a dream come true for me.
RTC: Let’s move into some scouting questions. Everyone has predictions from their career they’re proud of and a few they’re not quite as ready to shout from the hilltops. What are some of your most notable ones both ways?
DT: Great question. I was very excited the first time I saw Chris Paul, and I was happy to be one of the first people who spearheaded that charge. That worked out really well for me. You know, recently a couple of years ago we had DeJuan Blair in the top twenty, and the reason why I ranked Blair in the top twenty was because six or seven years before that I totally whiffed on Emeka Okafor by ranking him in the 80s. I was bound and determined that if a guy averaged as many rebounds as Blair did to not make the same mistake that we made with Okafor. I screwed up with Okafor but I’d like to think I learned something from it. Some others — I’ll never forget the day I saw Adam Morrison go for 30+ in a packed gym in Las Vegas, and I totally whiffed on that one. I learned a lot from the evaluation of Stephen Curry. I watched him all through high school. I evaluated him as a low-major player, a mid-major player, and at the end of his HS career, I rated him the highest level mid-major player possible. But if I could have stuck him into the top 100, that would probably be one of my bigger regrets in not doing so. My real job is to learn from all these mistakes and try to avoid them [in the future]. You see a situation like Emeka Okafor – he averaged 18-19 RPG in high school – that is a freaky number, to be frank. Then to see Blair come around and be that same kind of a rebounding force… they’re two different players, but although we screwed up Okafor it taught me a little more on the back end with Blair. When you see a guy with such a freakish skill set and such a knack for doing something extraordinary, your radar definitely goes up.
RTC: You’ve talked in the past about ‘balancing potential with production’ when evaluating prospects. Which is harder – figuring out where a prospect can top out or figuring out where he will top out?
DT: It’s definitely figuring out where he will top out. I love that phrase, “potential vs. production,” but really what it comes down to is what is your ability to maximize your potential? That’s the question that has to be answered, and obviously it’s the most difficult question you can ask. There are some indicators that help you understand who is going to maximize their potential. Guys that have noted work ethics, the ability and desire to be coached, a basketball intelligence and a thirst to get better. Those are intangibles that you have to dig below the surface to identify so that you can make the best guess you can as to who will maximize their potential.
RTC: This gets at what I call the ‘upside gap,’ which represents the concept that no matter how much talent or potential a player has, if he doesn’t have the motivation and drive to realize it, other lesser-regarded players who do will outperform him. To go back a few years, I’m thinking about Derrick Coleman vs. Tim Duncan, or Dwyane Wade vs. Joe Crawford. Is there anything you as a player evaluator can do to address that aspect of a player’s development?
DT: There’s the character quotient that helps you max out your abilities. If you look at two guys who have the same skill set and the same ceiling, now you’re talking about having to get down to fine details to try to separate them. We’d be remiss if we didn’t look at things like your character, your work ethic, your desire to improve, and ultimately, how competitive are you? If you’re a 6’10 long, rangy athlete who gets by on your natural ability, that’s all well and good; but if you’re 6’9, long and rangy and you’re starting to hit some of our markers of performance, you gotta start banking on those guys. The great thing about the way the game has changed is that we see these guys so much — this is not a science — that I really think by looking for some markers you can eliminate some guys.
RTC: If you look back through the past decade or two of top ten players, most of them end up in the NBA and a large percentage end up as all-star caliber players. It seems as if players like that are fairly easy to evaluate. It seems a lot harder to distinguish player #20 from player #100. How do you make those decisions — what are you looking for?
DT: That’s where you’re looking for guys who have the drive and the talent and the competitiveness to achieve. If you’re ranking a player in the top 75, you want to know that that guy has the ability by the time he’s a sophomore or junior to be a number one to three guy in the rotation for a major college team. To do that you have to have some substance. There are always going to be some guys who are late bloomers, who are freaky athletes, who just make the list because they have this natural gift. But really what you have to do is try to find out who is going to put in the time to go from good to great. My wife has me hooked on CSI and Criminal Minds, and in this business, I feel that we should be building profiles on guys so that we’re working off of a profile. The profile of Stephen Curry should teach me about the next guy like him a couple of years down the road. If we can establish the profiles of these guys, I really believe that going forward we can identify the guys easier.
RTC: Let’s talk about the always exciting topic of metrics. Scout gives players one to five stars and ranks them overall and by position. Your former competitor Rivals appears to do the same thing. ESPNU ratings are on a scale of one to one hundred. The weakness in the 5-star system as I see it is that it puts a player like Austin Rivers in the same bucket with players who are well behind him in their development. The weakness in the ESPN scale is that is that there is no “real” difference between a 95 and a 98 in most people’s minds, but those scores represent the scope of the entire ESPNU 100 — the top rated player on ESPN gets a 98 this year, while the #100 player gets a 95. You can see where I’m going with this. How can the talent evaluation industry better distinguish between the various forms of the metrics?
DT: There’s a considerable amount of difference [between Rivers and #100 player], and I think there’s room to extrapolate that even further. One thing you have to understand is that every single year there’s a different group of kids and this whole thing is cyclical. You can’t just say that a guy who is #1 in 2005 – he might not be a top ten player in 2010. So you have to look at the context of everything that’s going on. That’s something that people tend to forget when these lists come out and you’re a top 25 guy – well I can tell you that a top 25 guy in the class of 2007, for example, carries a lot more weight than it did in the class of 2005.
RTC: Do you use any internal metrics to self-evaluate one, three, five years after the fact? And if so, what kinds of things are you looking at?
DT: I actually have a study an intern did for me a couple of years ago – a sophomore at Duke – we did a self-analysis. It’s not like baseball where you have uniform statistics or anything like that. It was more of a self-analysis looking for trends, but we were able at the time to come up with some things that were very applicable. I did it because I decided to take a look at things on a deeper level because of the mistakes made with Adam Morrison, Stephen Curry and Tyrus Thomas. Those things were maddeningly frustrating. So we really went back and looked at it, and it’s time to refresh that study again. By doing a little self-analysis and self-scouting – with the help of a young man named Drew Cannon – I was definitely able to find some trends that needed to be worked on and some identifiable markers. As an example, we found that guys who are in our top 100 and signed with mid-major schools were failing at an amazingly high rate. When you pull the curtain back on that, it was largely due to mid-major schools who were willing to take risks on maybe some guys who had been in some trouble or whose character was a little bit up for debate, or a kid who’s been a multiple-school kid and those guys were having difficulty making the transition to college. Going forward, we were able to weed some kids out because of a marker like that.
RTC: Let’s transition into the current recruiting landscape. The consensus seems to be that Kentucky and Memphis have the top incoming classes, while Harrison Barnes at UNC, Kyrie Irving at Duke and Jared Sullinger at Ohio State are the top incoming individual players. What do you expect to see from each of these teams/players this season? Who do you expect to stand out?
DT: Obviously, I think all eyes are on Harrison Barnes. He’s the guy who the biggest spotlight is on… coming on to a team at North Carolina who underachieved last year and being the #1 recruit, and a guy who just looks like such a sure thing in terms of an impact player. People really want to see him. You talk about the Triangle in the state of North Carolina. You have the #1 player in Harrison Barnes for a team that struggled coming off a national championship. You have the returning national champions at Duke who added the best point guard in the country in Kyrie Irving. And then to complete the Triangle, you have NC State which just reloaded their frontcourt, beefed up their backcourt and has some athletes for Sidney Lowe. So that’s a story right there in college basketball that I think you’re going to see get bigger as the year goes on. I get this, these guys are freshmen, ok? Jared Sullinger isn’t your average freshman. He wouldn’t have been your average freshman ten years ago, twenty years ago, and he certainly is a lot more worldly as a class of 2010 kid than some kids were in the 80s and 90s. I expect Sullinger to be a major problem for the Big Ten, and I’d be surprised if he wasn’t in the running for [conference] POY. I think he’s that good, and I think his game translates in that league very well. He’s going to be a problem for some people.
RTC: If I forced you to pick a few players who might stick around for 3 or 4 years like Kyle Singler or Patrick Patterson or Tyler Hansbrough or Evan Turner – guys who could be competing for NPOYs, playing in F4s and winning titles in 2013 and 2014, who would those players be in the classes of 2010 or 2011?
DT: That’s a good question. I’ve turned off my 2010 hat for a while. Let me put on my class of 2010 cap and try to dig this out for you. That’s an awfully good question because you really don’t know. I think Reggie Bullock [at UNC] is a professional basketball player. There is likely a two to three year window for that. We can’t really be sure. The other thing is that the way the game is now structured you can get better in one year with a really good recruiting class right now. You never know who is going to get stacked on top of each other. If you’re looking at it from that angle, you’d have to pick some guys from well-established programs who are not only good prospects but the program has to be really good to compete at that level. Maybe what’s going on at Illinois with a guy like Jereme Richmond where it’s going to take him a couple years to get this thing figured out and he has talent around him. Maybe a guy like that is a surprise pick for what you’re talking about down the road.
RTC: Speaking of 1-and-done, what do you hear coming from the NBA and other sources about changing the rule? New NCAA president Mark Emmert is on record wanting an MLB-style rule, which we think would be terrible for the sport from a player marketing perspective. We’ve been pushing a 2-and-done rule for a number of years now. What are your thoughts?
DT: I think that it will definitely be on the table. The question is whether that will be a bargaining chip used by the union to get something else they want, or is that going to be a real concern? It depends on which side decides to make that an issue, or if both sides decide to make it a bargaining chip, how will it be leveraged?
RTC: Moving into some quick-hit questions, what is the single most important thing a top 100 recruit wants when considering his schools?
DT: What he says and what he thinks are probably different. He’s going to tell you that style of play and he’s going to tell you it’s the relationship with the head coach. What he really means is the ability to come in and start or get a lot of minutes and the ability to get some exposure for himself. If you peel back the curtain to find out the real meaning, you’ll see that the most overused phrase when a kid commits is, “I really like their style and the relationship I have with the staff.” If it were that easy… well, it’s just never that simple. They want to be told that they’re going to be put in starring roles and they want to see where they’re going to be showcased. And I think that’s important to a lot of the guys.
RTC: Who is the best HS prospect you’ve ever seen?
DT: Gotta be LeBron James for me. He’s almost in his own category because there’s no question from a basketball standpoint he’s been a freak for a long time. What impressed me more about LeBron at the time was how he handled everything. He was a franchise as a high school junior. I don’t know if anybody could have handled it the way he handled it. He was intelligent, and he had all kinds of stuff going on around his life but he managed it. Every single time he stepped on the floor, and I mean every time, when the lights went on, same deal. It was about winning, it was about competing, and it was always done at an exceptionally higher level than anyone else could do.
RTC: Give us a name of a rising star in the class of 2011 or later who you want us to keep an eye on.
DT: I can’t wait to see the individual battles between the big guys in the class of 2012. There are some super-bigs. Next year we don’t have the long, skinny, angular guys. We have guys like Cameron Ridley [Richmond, TX] and Shaquille Cleare [Houston, TX] and DaJuan Coleman [Dewitt, NY] who are these super-bigs. These throwback post guys with size to them who are mean and nasty inside. Because there are such a high number of super-bigs in the class of 2012, if you’re a national championship contender, whereas before you’ve been very concerned about guard play, there are so many of these guys in 2012, you’re going to have to have one of the eight or so bigs in that class if you fancy yourself a title contender.
RTC: Thanks so much, Dave, and we wish you nothing but continued success with the new gig at ESPN and in the future.