Friday, August 21, 2009

Just a Minute with Jody Demling of the Louisville Courier-Journal

Jody Demling started with the Louisville Courier-Journal a couple months out of high school as a part-time employee. Nineteen years later, he’s still there and serves as the source for all things recruiting for Indiana, Kentucky and Louisville. His blog is one of the best in the online hoops recruiting world.

Your blog is one the very best in the .com recruiting world but also a rarity – a newspaper that is dedicated to that genre. How did the blog get started and what’s the premise of it?

“About four years ago one of my bosses said hey why don’t we get into this (recruiting) stuff. I’ve always enjoyed reading the stuff and talking to kids about it. I did that already when I covered the high school kids in Kentucky anyways. He said, ‘Hey why don’t we try to pitch this to our bosses to do this full-time.’ I thought there was no way possible until we tried it. We really used the Internet and tracked our hits on the Internet. Now all papers are looking how they can get more readers and more hits on the Internet and things like that. I figured it was time to try it. This is the third year that I’ve been out (to the national basketball events). October will be our fourth year since they bought it and said, ‘Let’s go for it and let’s try it.’…It’s been fun but it’s also challenging. We cover three schools (Indiana, Kentucky, Louisville)…and with all of the kids in the state, it’s tough but it’s also very fun.”

How much is your success with the blog tied in with the fact three very passionate programs is your focus? How much has that established your blog as a national branded site in the .com world?

“It’s huge. When I first started out doing this, I didn’t know where it was going to evolve. All of the sudden, I look up Rick Pitino is there. Then Billy Gillispie is there. Then you throw in Tom Crean. And then within the last year with John Calipari coming in, it’s taken my blog to the next level. It’s almost become, and I don’t want to say it’s a beast because I still love doing this, but there is a lot there for me to do. Sometimes I have to step back and remind myself about this Kentucky kid or that Kentucky kid. There is just so much that goes on with the three schools now that it’s taken on a whole new brand of it’s own. I think it’s totally the reason why the blog has grown as well as it has.”

I’ve noticed in my daily readings of your blog that you’ll throw in a national nugget here and there. How much have you made that mental note to maybe extend outside of the three – IU, UK, UL – to appease this new national reader that may stop by your site?

“We get to look and see where our views are coming from and what not and we noticed that things started to really branch out and you see more and more people coming to the site. So, I’ll throw some things in there that maybe outside of the norm. Plus, the fan bases at Kentucky, Indiana and Louisville are so advanced and so into the recruiting scene that they want to know what’s going on outside of their own school. They said, ‘Hey, we come here everyday and we get this stuff for free.’ You know, they may appreciate the national stuff maybe even more. They want to know whatever is going on no matter the school so I try to address that. I’ll try to focus mainly on the Big East, the SEC and the Big Ten schools if I go outside of the three. It is amazing to me the emails I get from random fans from random schools. There was one day we looked who had read it and our Internet guys were excited about our numbers. We had people coming to the site from Hawaii. You don’t even think people all the way out there think about recruiting. It was something obscure or to do with football. It really has evolved. I didn’t know where all of this was going to go but I’m very pleased with where it has gone so far. There are still things that we want to do each day and everyday but this is a pretty unique thing and I like it.”

As a newspaper man for nearly 20 years, talk about the evolution of that industry and how much do you think blogs enter into the newspaper world.

“As far as our newspaper goes, every writer that has a beat, has a blog. They want us to post as much as possible. The Internet has become a huge vehicle for newspapers. You read a lot of things and you hear people say this but I don’t tend to believe that all newspapers are going to die in five years. I believe there is always a place for newspapers and I’ll always believe that. I do think that the Internet and blogs and other vehicles will become more and more focal points. A lot of newspapers are putting blog bites in their paper from somebody’s blog. It is one of those things that as we go on and look for more and more readers, I think that is what they are going to have to do is branch out to a younger generation on the Internet.”

Are you surprised more papers, more daily papers don’t go out to more national events if they are in a big basketball school market?

"I am surprised. I really am. I had a lot of calls the first full year we ran the blog from newspapers asking what we did and how we did it. It’s funny because everyone thinks it is a great idea but there is no follow through. Of course, the thing is, I’m lucky that our newspaper has kept this in the budget while a lot of other papers haven’t. I’m lucky. I get that. I get to go to these places and I know a lot of these papers want to do it but simply can’t because of the economic state of their paper right now. There are so many things that they are dealing with right now. Honesty, I’m very lucky. I get to travel to wherever I feel like I need to be to cover the top players. I’m very lucky. You can’t do this job or a recruiting job unless you are at all of the big events.”

On Rick Pitino vs. John Calipari: “You read things that they don’t like each other but they respect each other. Who knows? All I know is that it’s going to be fun to watch them against each other this year and the next couple of years. When Rick Pitino comes to Rupp Arena and looks over and there is John Calipari there on the same sidelines, it’s going to be interesting. They are already recruiting a lot of the same players. They are calling the same young guys. I’m sure the day will come when they are recruiting the same top level guy. All I know is that things are about to become very interesting with that rivalry. It’s going to be fun to watch.”

On covering the Las Vegas events and the surprising nature of recruiting: “The whole Vegas experience is totally crazy. You go from one gym to the next. I’ve met a lot of people in college basketball and in AAU and in the newspaper world and when you put those groups together, you never know what is going to happen. I’ve been shocked the last couple of weeks on scenarios that have played out. If you would have asked me if Fab Melo goes to Syracuse and Dominique Ferguson goes to Florida International, I would have never guessed. I would have been off the mark like everyone else. I think that plays into the whole scene of the wild, wild world that is AAU basketball. You can’t predict what is going to happen next. That’s what makes it so much fun for me. You are going to be wrong more than you are right. But you are going to be right sometimes. That’s what makes all of this fun.”

Best game you’ve ever seen from a player: “Last summer I Jeremy Tyler had a game where I said to myself, ‘Oh my gosh, that kid is going to be ridiculous.’ He was off the charts. Now, the next I saw, he was awful. But for that one game, it was the best game I’ve seen from a kid in three or four years.”

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