Dave Telep, the National Recruiting Director at Scout.com, is one of the most respected names in the game of basketball. The National Hoops Report caught up with him just before he embarks in a coast-to-coast travel schedule this July for the all-too-important recruiting period for college basketball coaches and peppered him with an assortment of questions regarding college hoops, recruiting, old stories and even dig into his exotic taste for hotels on the road.
How much bearing does the month of July have in your eyes when it comes to ranking of players?
“For me, July is about the great players sharpening up and shoring up how they are viewed. July isn’t as much about moving from number three to number two on the list as so much it is to move into the top 100. Everything is under such a magnifying glass that if you consider yourself a big time player and a real prospect, then the dress rehearsals are over and the big curtain goes up on July 6.”
Do you get the sense that coaches are chomping at the bit to get out there and see kids again in July?
“I think everyone is on their heels because for the last three months if you are good at your job, you’ve been trying to keep guys warms. The worst thing about this July is that we are going to see some kids worthy of big looks left standing at the altar. The guys who have bad first halves of the month are going to fall of the big draft board in people’s offices and they won’t even know it. I think the big change with April being taken away is that is slowed down commitments from freshmen and sophomores because guys haven’t had a chance to see them and fall in love with them. The pressure to score those commitments isn’t as strong as it way say last year. I think that’s been a good thing. Overall, though, I think coaches are pretty frustrated that they haven’t seen players in three months.”
How hard is it to make it through the wild month of July from a recruiting analyst perspective?
"A lot of people don't really understand the logistics of July. For starters, once you kiss the kids goodbye on July 7 you make it home for a half day on the 11th and then for four days on the 17th. From the 21-31 you're on the road again and by the way, traveling to these places can be a grind.
"For me, the best part of the month comes around the 28 and 29. You see the light at the end of the tunnel plus by that time you know who is truly hot and all the hungry guys are making one last bid to get noticed. That's where you can really do your "scouting" work and dig some kids up. I know my approach to the AAU Nationals this year is that of a grinder. I think there are blue chippers to be mined out that event and its my intent to polish up a few stones.
“The easiest events to cover are the shoe camps. The days are planned out with breaks in between and user friendly starts. The hardest days of the year are the first few in Vegas. Yikes, nobody in their right mind goes to Vegas without a GPS device or driver.”
You’ve been a “ranker” for a long time and I would imagine your opinion of the ranking process has changed dramatically since publishing the first list over 10 years ago. What are your thoughts on rankings in today’s landscape?
“I don’t enjoy them at all. Having your knowledge and expertise acknowledged and scrutinized isn’t exactly enjoyable sometimes. I do enjoy the actual process of doing it. I think the rankings can be valued in great strides with the work that kids have done in order to improve. But you can be the greatest kid on the planet and be really upset with your ranking. At the end of the day, it’s a difficult pill to swallow knowing how much a guy put into it but the fact of the matter is there might be a 100 guys that are just better than him. That’s a difficult thing to reconcile when you are doing my job and you want to reward a kid for the work that he is doing but you know that as hard as you want it, there are just guys that are better. On the flip side, the hardest thing to see is watching a guy with so much talent not put in the work and you walk away saying ‘I know I want that kid to be so much better than he wants to be.’”
With that being said, who comes to mind that fit’s the bill of not living up to their natural ability and vice versa?
“In terms of underachieving, the names DeAngelo Collins and Lenny Cooke come into play. When you talk about guys that just overachieved you have to realize that Dwayne Wade didn’t start for his AAU team as a junior and he may be one of the five best players on the planet right now. To me a guy you normally think about in this instance, you have to look at a guy like Travis Deiner. He’s a guy that has embodied overachieving. He represents everything that is good about college basketball. He helped take a team to the Final Four and hooked on with a NBA team and now grinding out a career in the NBA. That’s a definition of an overachiever.”
Cooke and Collins are always mentioned as busts and guys that never lived up to the hype. We hear the names all the time. For someone that watched those two in high school, can you explain the level on how good they were?
“This is how I measure DeAngelo Collins. He was more talented and had more upside than Sean May, who was in his same class and I think by a pretty good margin. DeAngelo Collins was a bust and Sean May walked away as an All-American and his jersey hangs in Chapel Hill and he has a National Championship ring to show for it. As a sophomore in high school Lenny Cooke was the best player in his class. He ran his mouth about LeBron James and LeBron James essentially ended his career on July 8, 2001 at the ABCD camp. How many guys do you know of that you know the exact date of the last real relevance in the game of basketball? At the ABCD camp and in Lenny Cooke’s backyard, the hype was there. LeBron had the hype back then but Cooke came out firing and was playing as hard as he could to try and impress everyone. He started out great but LeBron just reeled him in and absolutely embarrassed him. LeBron hit a couple of shots that just stopped camp. From then on, Lenny Cooke became less and less of a novelty item. His confidence took a major hit. He started making even worse decisions. That game changed the course of his life, from a positive direction, right then and there. It’s the perfect lesson in dealing with adversity. Things don’t go your way, how do you respond? Instead of putting his nose to the grindstone and taking the Harrison Barnes approach, Lenny Cooke mailed it in and is doing street ball.”
On the flip side, what player do you recall having a moment that changed the course of his life both on and off the court like Cooke but in a positive direction?
“I remember a game in Las Vegas where Al Horford found himself. He was playing against the Atlanta Celtics who had the best frontline ever assembled in AAU basketball has ever seen in Dwight Howard, Josh Smith and Randolph Morris, and Al Horford fouls out and goes to the end of the bench, put a towel over his head and cries his out. From that moment on, Al Horford didn’t lose too many basketball games. He realized how much it menat to him. I wish looking back on that moment, I took that into account because I think that moment made him a player that he is today.”
Looking at the draft history of former number one players, Blake Griffin is anomaly in the sense he wasn’t a consensus top 10 player coming out of high school like Dwight Howard or Greg Oden or Derrick Rose or Dwight Howard, etc. Griffin was considered a top 30 consensus level player coming out of high school in an incredibly strong NBA class in 2007. Did he get looked over by the high school evaluators or was he just lost in the shuffle in a class that could be one of the best in modern history?
“Looking back it’s to say people missed out on him but he was a top 15 level player for us coming out of high school in a pretty good year. I think he has improved his game so much since high school it’s less of people missing on him, per se, as so much it a credit to him and the work that he has put in. He used to be a robotic athlete. He’s now a Karl Malone fluid basketball player. I don’t thing anyone missed on him. I just think he just kept getting better and better.”
Whose recruitment has wowed you the most in your career of covering recruiting?
“The biggest roller coaster ride with the most storylines and subplots that I’ve had to cover has been far and away John Wall. John grew up on Tabacco Road. Then you thrown in his AAU coach (who is hired by Baylor with the belief he could deliver Wall to the Big 12 school). You have the high school coach involved. There are so many sub plots in there. It was far and away the most interesting thing and documented thing I’ve ever had to cover. And at the end of the day, John Wall made his own decision and he turned himself into a guy that was looking like a mid-major point guard as a sophomore to the best point guard in the country at the end of his senior year.”
Who are your top five players in 2010 class going into July?
1. Harrison Barnes
2. Brandon Knight
3. Tristan Thompson
4. Jared Sullinger
5. Fab Melo
1. Michael Gilchrist
2. James McAdoo
3. Austin Rivers
4. Tony Wroten
5. Rakeem Christmas
What about the young guys? What names will be popping up over time in that class?
The basketball world should become familiar with these positions players: PG LJ Rose, SG Jordan Price, SFs Amile Jefferson, Xavier Johnson and Shabazz Muhammad, PF’s DeJuan Coleman and Perry Ellis and center Andre Drummond.
There are always guys that climb the ladder in July. Who do you anticipate jumping up the rankings?
“You have to love the July blow ups. From Jeff Teague to Chris Paul and everyone in between, its a great month to have a great month. This time around, expect Fab Melo to continue his rise, ditto for Justin Coleman and James Johnson. On the junior side, I don’t think the ascension of Rakeem Christmas is through yet and watchout for Amile Jefferson, JP Tokoto and PG Marcus Paige.”
Favorite event: AAU Nationals in Orlando. It’s an opportunity to use your expertise at your job to dig some guys up. Everywhere else, it seems like guys are more known commodities. You can grind it out and find some guys at the AAU Nationals.
Favorite food spot on the trail: My favorite place to eat in the entire country…is in St. Louis. It is a soul food spot called Sweety Pie’s.
Best hotel: Residence Inn in Las Vegas on Dean Martin Drive. (Pure functionality.)
Have you bought into the Twitter craze?: I love Twitter. I think I’m addicted to it. I don’t think it has any bearing on recruiting and I don’t think it is going to help coaches get players. I just think it’s a cool social network thing. I have weird thoughts that run through my head and I’m going to just throw them out there. I’m going to use Twitter everyday in July. Some days it won’t have anything to do with basketball.
Who are your writing idols?: John Feinstein is the guy I read everything he throws out there. And the last book I read, that I absolutely crushed and have recommended was “The Bald Truth” by David Falk. Loved it.
(Photo courtesy of newsobserver.com)