That is where Dave Telep comes in. The National Director of Basketball Recruiting for Scout.com, Telep is considered one of the premier authorities in the nation on the topic of prep level hoops and college recruiting. He also runs his own recruiting service for college coaches, and hosts a TV show with Bobby Cremins called Countdown to Signing Day, on FoxSports.
Essentially, if you have a question about your teams new big time recruit, Dave Telep is the guy you want to ask. Hes probably been scouting the kid for years.
Watters recently had a chance to ask him a few questions of his own, and here is what he had to say. Amongst other topics, they delve into scouting philosophy, age limit implications, and the top NBA prospects in the class of 2006.
Note: Every player mentioned is listed with his school of choice (if he has decided), and his ranking in the ScoutHoops.com Top 100.
Jonathan Watters: How did you get your start in the business?
Dave Telep: My start was pretty non-interesting. I was supposed to be getting involved with broadcasting, and I wind up looking at high school basketball players for a living. Its kind of difficult to truly explain. I wound up with Prepstars, and then to went to Rivals. Then, Scout.com sprung up.
Jonathan Watters: Your title is National Director of Basketball Recruiting. Thats a pretty imposing task to be responsible for all high school basketball recruiting in the entire country
Dave Telep: Its a big job. The great thing about my job is that while I have a home office, I have an office out in the field thats probably more important. I watch a ton of high school players, a ton of AAU games, and I am basically a paid observer. A lot of college coaches talk about the relationships they have forged over the years, and one of the most rewarding things about my job are those actual relationships that I have with people.
Jonathan Watters: What else do you find rewarding?
Dave Telep: The other thing would be watching a kid like Chris Paul go from a 58 ninth grader who played JV to a 6 point guard playing in the NBA that is probably sitting on $60 million someday.
Jonathan Watters: How much time do you spend on the road scouting every year?
Dave Telep: I would say about one third, maybe upwards of that.
Jonathan Watters: Do you have a network of people that give you tips on what is going on across the country?
Dave Telep: Absolutely. I have a ton of people that I trust that I speak with on a regular basis. It could be an email or a telephone call. I rely on college coaches I have forged relationships with, high school coaches who will give me good information, people in those areas. A good tip is one that turns out, and over the years you get a good feel for who is providing you with good information. I always do my homework, but I try to trust my sources.
Jonathan Watters: As far as your website goes, the things that people really want to see are your lists. How tough is it to come up with a national top 100 list?
Dave Telep: It is really, really difficult. There are no rules to follow when evaluating a guy. The tough thing is that you have to balance production with potential. You really have to know that player. You have to know his age, his work ethic, and his academic capacity. Does he have desire to get better? Who has he surrounded himself with? What is important to him? That is just in terms of off the court.
Then you have to look at him as a basketball player. Where is he right now? How far can he go? Why is it that he is not where he needs to be? You have to a make a judgment call on whether or not he is capable of getting where he needs to be. Sometimes I will see a kid and want him to be better more than he wants to be better. There are so many different ways to look at it, but at the core the key is to achieve a balance between production right now, and potential for the future.
Jonathan Watters: How much stock should we put in a top 100 list like yours?
Dave Telep: I would hope that you could put a significant amount of stock in it. It is hard, though. There is a guard in Chicago named Patrick Beverley that is just starting to peak right now, and Ill never have the chance to do all the homework I would like to do on him. But in the grand scheme of things, hes a top 100 guy in the latter half of it. He may end up better than a guy in that 40-80 range that is leveling off as a prospect. Thats the difficulty of trying to compose a top 100 list.
Jonathan Watters: I wanted to ask you about a couple of players that were somewhat unknown at the high school level, but have really exploded in college. Did you see Adam Morrison back in the day?
Dave Telep: Morrison (ranked by Scout.com as the #26 SF in the class of 2003) was probably one of the last ten or fifteen we excluded from our top 100 list. I saw him play in a tournament in Las Vegas with an eastern Washington team. At the time he was 65 and very thin. Hes just a different guy than the one who came out of high school.
Jonathan Watters: Was Gonzaga really the only school that offered Morrison?
Dave Telep: They got it done really early, so there really wasnt much of a chance for anybody else.
Jonathan Watters: The other guy I wanted to ask you about is Tyrus Thomas...
Dave Telep: Ive got a story on Tyrus Thomas. Thomas played for the Louisiana Dream Team with another player youve probably heard of named Martin Zeno, now of Texas Tech. When I saw him at AAU nationals, he was very thin, absolutely in need of weight. Thomas was a guy who was talented and probably hitting his stride as a late bloomer, which taught me a lesson.
I look at a kid like Jarvis Varnado (Mississippi State, #61), who is in our top 100 this year. Varnado is doing the same kind of things that Thomas was doing in the second half of his high school career. We didnt have Tyrus Thomas in the top 100, and put Jarvis Varnado in the top 100 to not make a mistake like that again. Similar to Thomas, he's a guy that doesnt have a ready for college body but you can tell is blooming.
Morrison and Thomas are two guys that Ive looked back and seen where we have made mistakes. It is really the same thing with both guys, in that they werent ready physically but were really peaking late. With a player like Varnardo or a Perry Stevenson (committed to Kentucky, #60), I want to make sure we dont miss on those guys that have similar characteristics. You have to be willing to learn from your mistakes and self evaluate.
Jonathan Watters: It really cant be considered a mistake on your part, with the way that Thomas has exploded. Nobody knew who he was, and now after LSU/UConn last weekend people are wondering whether he is a better prospect than Rudy Gay
Dave Telep: Im just glad I saw him because going forward, I now know what to look for in a guy like that.
Jonathan Watters: You hear all the time about how American basketball needs fixing, and that the whole AAU, shoe company summer circuit is to blame. How do you feel on that?
Dave Telep: I think theres value in the summer, and giving guys an opportunity to challenge themselves against the best players in the country. I think, to a degree, the AAU guys in general get a bad rap being portrayed so negatively. For every negative case there is a tremendously positive case.
I do think that our kids arent looking at things in the proper frame of mind. The big prize isnt being ranked in the top 100 or making it to an all-star game. The big prize for guys like Tyrus Thomas is getting the chance to work hard and improve their game. These are the guys that have made the strides and have a chance to do something with their game. Our kids are too focused on the short term. They dont spend enough time looking at their deficiencies and asking how they can get better.
Jonathan Watters: Do you feel that kids develop the fundamentals they need at summer circuit types of events?
Dave Telep: Its a different of brand of basketball. While there is value is matching your skill and wits against the best players in the country, you can't deny the style of basketball that is played over the summer.
At some point these kids have take it upon themselves to trim up their fundamentals. There are portions of the summer where they can work on their games, so I dont just buy the argument that AAU is killing the game. The bottom line is that if you really want to improve and really want to get better, dont blame the fact that you are traveling and playing AAU ball. The guys that want to get better find time, and find a way to improve.
Jonathan Watters: How much of an impact does high school play have on a players ranking, as opposed to AAU ball?
Dave Telep: I wish we could see everybody in both settings. Different guys are easily evaluated in high school and their games may not translate to AAU ball as much. In a perfect world, you try to see players in as many different environments as possible. There are advantages to evaluating a player in both settings, and that is why you have to try and get as many looks at these guys as you can.
A player can go to an AAU event, get up and down the floor, and score a ton of points. I love statistics and find them very useful, but they have to be interpreted properly. How that player scored those points is more important.
Jonathan Watters: We all know about the age limit, and you have already written on the subject. Have you seen a change in mentality in the top level kids, now that they have to go to school for a year?
Dave Telep: Slowly. With this 2006 group, the elite level players are really a bunch of level headed guys. They understand the process of what is going on and have a pretty good grasp of everything. In years past I think there were more kids just interested in getting to the league as fast as they could. They seem to be a little bit more levelheaded and embracing the college experience right now.
I think it is going to take some time for kids attitudes to truly change. For a long time it is has been, if you are really good enough, you have to go. It is a gradual process.
Jonathan Watters: I have been a bit surprised at the decisions of a few of these top level prospects that were supposedly looking for "one year auditions." Instead of picking perhaps a hometown school where they could have starred from day one, many of them are picking the big time program where they will have to share the spotlight during that year. Brandan Wright would be an example. Any comment on that?
Dave Telep: Wright might have to share the spotlight a bit with Hansbrough, but he will command a significant portion of it as well. I think Brandan Wrights decision to attend North Carolina was based on several things. Hes a kid that is used to winning, and will probably win four state championships. Hes had a good high school team, but hes never played with a great AAU team. I think Brandan Wright wanted to see what it was like to play with other players around him, and he thought he was putting himself in a position where he could stay for a year or two and win a national championship.
It was a courageous decision for him, because he had a great situation at Vanderbilt right in his own back yard. People dont understand the type of coach that Kevin Stallings is and the type of program that Vanderbilt is becoming, but he made a decision to play in a really high profile setting and I dont think he can be faulted for that.
Jonathan Watters: Do you think that draft websites hyping high school players too early contributes to a kids making the wrong decision and entering the NBA too soon?
Dave Telep: I think information is power. There is good information, there is bad information, and there is information that needs to be evaluated. If I were Davon Jefferson, I would need a group of people around me that are going to tell me the truth and help me evaluate that stuff.
Websites dont have draft picks. NBA teams have draft picks, and thats where you are going to get your good information from. As much as any site could like a guy, at the end of the day, information has to come down from a general manager as far as his true standing in the draft. Information has to be evaluated, and you need good people around to process that information.
Jonathan Watters: Do you get a general feeling that kids are going to test the prep school option in the near future?
Dave Telep: I personally dont think the prep school option is going to be the one that blows up. When you make the decision to go to the NBA, life is going to be good. You will have money, a new car, big time people around you. Prep school basketball is great, but its buses, night trips, and smaller crowds. You still have school. Its just not as glamorous as some people think is.
Jonathan Watters: What option do you think might blow up?
Dave Telep: It is a developing process. Some guys might have big enough names that they can go overseas and make a little money. Under the direction of an agent and a high profile European team, maybe a guy can make a big payday for a year.
I think some shoe company is going to sit a kid out and just work him out for a year. That is going to be an amazing test just to see how good that is for the player, and if it is going to be an option going forward.
I think there will be a mixture of kids using these various routes. At this point, I couldnt tell you which one would be the best route, or the more lucrative route.
Jonathan Watters: How about the NBDL?
Dave Telep: I dont think so. At the end of the day it is the small dollar amount. The guys who are there right now arent really jacked up about it. If I am a really good basketball player with the NBA option, why do I go make $35,000 a year? I think Id rather go to college.
Jonathan Watters: Just how bad are high school all-star games when trying to evaluate a player?
Dave Telep: I would consider it almost the most useless environment to scout a guy, to be honest with you. It is hard to watch the all-star games and evaluate a guy, especially if it is your first look at him. I really dont put a ton of stock into the all-star games. Anything that is 141-140, that doesnt really smell like a basketball game to me.
The practices are much more useful for evaluating players. You get to see a guy in a setting where he is being defended. The all-star games have unfortunately degenerated into a showmanship, one-on-one type deal. Thats nice for the people who are watching a player for the first time, but they are very boring if you ask me.
Jonathan Watters: Obviously Greg Oden is the guy in the class of 2006. How would you rank him compared to other #1 players in recent classes? LeBron James, Dwight Howard, and Amare Stoudamire come to mind
Dave Telep: I think hes probably number two on that list. LeBron was such a special, special deal. There was so much asked of him to live up that billing, and what he did was remarkable.
Coming out of high school, I would have gone James, Oden, Howard, Stoudamire. In retrospect, I would have switched Stoudamire and Howard.
Jonathan Watters: Who is the top NBA prospect in the class of 2006 beyond Oden?
Dave Telep: There are a couple of contenders. They would be Spencer Hawes (Washington, #3), Brandan Wright (North Carolina, #5), and Kevin Durant (Texas, #2). Of those three, Durant is probably next in terms of star power, but Wright and Hawes are really close. Im really starting to fall for Brandan Wright. At the high school level when the games really mean something, he is a dominant, dominant player. Spencer Hawes is an extremely skilled big guy, but Durant probably has the highest ceiling because he is by far the youngest of the three.
Jonathan Watters: If the age limit hadnt been instituted, how many 2006 players would have declared for the draft?
Dave Telep: Probably between 8 and 10. I think it would have been a mass exodus. Just looking at history, 2005 was a poor group, and look at all the guys that declared.
Was Greg Oden going to college? No. Spencer Hawes wasnt, Brandan Wright wasnt, Kevin Durant probably wouldnt have gone either. These are guys that go early in the draft. In the next tier of guys, Thaddeus Young (Georgia Tech, #7)probably wasnt going to school. Who knows what would have happened with Wayne Ellington (North Carolina, #4) and Chase Budinger (Arizona, #11)?
Im not saying Tywon Lawson (North Carolina, #8) would have gone into the draft out of high school, but he is at least the same player as Sebastian Telfair and he came out. Tywon Lawson is a Raymond Felton, Chris Paul type of point guard when he enters the ACC.
Jonathan Watters: How does the 2006 class compare to other recent classes?
Dave Telep: Way better than 2005. 2004 and 2006 probably belong in the same breath.
Jonathan Watters: We all know North Carolina and Ohio State have the top classes in the country. Who do you take number three?
Dave Telep: There is a definite distinction between two and three. There is a significant gap there, as those two classes are head and shoulders above the rest. Washington has a nice class coming in with Spencer Hawes and Quincy Pondexter (#27). Added to what they have, you think that these guys have a chance to play in the Final Four.
Jonathan Watters: Is there one school that might be particularly disappointed with their recruiting haul at the moment?
Dave Telep: I was surprised because I thought Alabama was in line for a big haul. I thought they would end up with Stanley Robinson (Connecticut, #20) and Jodie Meeks (Kentucky, #80). To the credit of Mark Gottfried, he recruited those guys so hard that you almost feel bad when he doesnt get those two kids.
Jonathan Watters: Is there a prospect you see as being particularly underrated at the moment?
Dave Telep: Wake Forest has signed a point guard named Ishmael Smith that would fall into that category.
Jonathan Watters: Is there a high-riser out there from the high school play thus far?
Dave Telep: John Scheyer (Duke, #35). He is in super human mode. Hes doing ridiculous things in high school basketball games right now, and has everything you could ever ask for in terms of intangibles.
Jonathan Watters: Any big recruiting battles shaping up for this spring?
Dave Telep: There are so many seniors off the board. The big ones left would be Darrell Arthur (#12) and Lance Thomas (#19). The real story to follow this spring is what ends up happening with Bob Huggins. Does he get Jason Bennett? Who follows?
Jonathan Watters: Thanks for your time, Dave. You are the best!