There's a reason that Telep is the most clued-in college basketball recruiting analyst on the planet: he spends half his life headed out on airplanes to scout prospects, and presumably the other half on the phone with college and high school coaches. Often, it's not Telep pumping college coaches for information-- it's the other way around.
In short, he's the king. He's ScoutHoops' be-all, end-all repository of hoops data. If he doesn't know it, it probably can't be known.
So it was with great interest that I approached the all-knowing Telep earlier this week. Vanderbilt, you see, is expecting perhaps its biggest basketball official visit ever this weekend, when Brentwood Academy senior big man Brandan Wright arrives on campus. Telep, who has watched Wright bloom into a 6-foot-9-1/2, 200-pound phenom over the last two years, ranks him the No. 5 overall prospect in the class of 2006, the No. 1 power forward, and the second-best prospect on the board who's still uncommitted.
Wright's visit to Vandy-- as recruiting enthusiasts already know-- is the third of five which Wright has planned. He's been to Kentucky and Duke, and has plans to visit Louisville and North Carolina after Vandy. With a list of finalists like that, the Commodores ordinarily would consider themselves lucky just to be mentioned in the same company; in fact, Wright's August announcement that he would honor Vandy with a visit shocked most casual observers.
Wright's impending visit has Commodore fans aflutter. Should Brandan ultimately choose Vanderbilt, he would easily become the highest-rated signee in school history. Kevin Stallings made solid pitches to top-flight big men Emeka Okafor and David Harrison in recent years, and finished second in last year's race for Memphis guard J.P. Prince. But never before has Stallings-- or Vanderbilt-- come this close to landing a Top 5 prospect.
Vanderbilt, of course, is nominally the hometown favorite for Wright and the place he could go to remain close to home. On top of that, Stallings has an in with the family, a wild card that no other coach can play-- his son Jacob is a teammate of Wright's on Brentwood Academy's varsity.
Still, the odds look long. Is there any realistic reason to think Wright might opt for Vanderbilt over four such traditional collegiate superpowers?
Surprisingly, the answer Telep gave me was yes.
"I've gone to both extremes on this," says Telep. "There were times along the way I was even wondering what Coach Stallings was doing at Brandan Wright's games. But they [Vanderbilt] made up enough ground to where they secretly got in there-- they've been in there the whole time, he just hadn't told anybody."
In Telep's mind, Vanderbilt's recruiting pitch is easily the most unique of any of the five finalists.
"I'm probably in the minority on this, but I'm gonna make Vanderbilt's case for them," Telep says, anticipating what Stallings will try to impress upon Wright this weekend.
"This is a guy [Wright] who has a very close relationship to his family, particularly his brother. I think in his mind, he's kind of a one-or-two-year-and-done kind of guy. So I think there's a part of Brandan that would be comfortable going to Vanderbilt, staying home and being the focal point of a program that's going to be pretty good.
"I think that's their pitch. I think that's their one shot, and they're gonna take it this weekend."
The fact that Wright is not likely to be an impulsive decision-maker is another factor that could weigh heavily in Vandy's favor, Telep believes.
"He's stated on more than one occasion that he's taking all his visits, erasing everything that he learns from it and starting new each time. He's said that repeatedly, and a lot of kids don't think that way. I think that bodes well for giving Vanderbilt an opportunity.
"If you'd asked me three months ago if they had a shot, I'd have said there's no way Vanderbilt gets a visit. They've come full circle, and now they're one of five. They've got their opportunity this weekend."
Based on his frequent conversations with Wright, Telep doubts that Wright will have anything much of a revealing nature to say about the visit next week.
"You're not going to really learn anything about how good, bad or indifferent the visit was, because this guy's committed to going through the process. He's going step by step by step.
"We won't know anything from Brandan Wright until at least the middle of October."
Would Telep go so far to say that right now each of the five finalists has a 20 percent chance?
"No, I think that would be too much of a utopian thought," Telep said. "I honestly don't know though. I couldn't put a number on each one. There are so many factors with all these schools. It's not as simple as that. You have schools that are recruiting these top-level guys that, if they get a certain guy, it may eliminate them, or it may reduce their chances.
"Brandan's done a remarkable job of keeping all this close to the vest. I would imagine in his heart of hearts he's got maybe one or two that are inching ahead... but I really do believe he's evaluating these visits independently. I think you've got to give the kid a lot of credit.
"And I think you've got to give Vanderbilt a lot of credit, because nobody in America thought they were going to be able to get involved with this guy, after not being involved with him in the spring-- at least publicly."
And if it doesn't work out between Vanderbilt and Wright? Power forward JeJuan Brown (6-7, 215, Biloxi, Miss.; photo right) had told Scout.com in late August that he would make a Sept. 17 visit to Vanderbilt, but that was before Hurricane Katrina decimated much of his home town of Biloxi. Brown ended up not making the visit.
Telep said he had heard recently Brown had been in touch with West Virginia, another of his suitors-- but had also heard secondhand that there may have been some tragedy in Brown's family, putting most of his life on hold at least for the short term.
"I don't know where basketball stands right now with JeJuan Brown," said Telep. "I think that's a situation that will probably need a couple more weeks to sort out.
"He certainly fits the profile for what Vanderbilt needs, from a basketball and academic standpoint. He's really a multi-use forward who is definitely going to play some 4, maybe even some 3 because he can play facing the basket. He's the kind of guy they like in the style that they play."
The first of Vanderbilt's two available scholarships for 2006 was claimed last weekend by combo guard Jermaine Beal (6-3, 185, DeSoto, Tex.), who chose Vandy over offers from Oklahoma, Illinois, Oklahoma, Baylor and SMU, among others.
Though Beal was recruited ostensibly as a point guard, Telep says chances are good he could play multiple positions before he's done.
"Jermaine is a guy who can handle the point, but he's big enough and his perimeter shot is good enough that he can slide over and play the 2," Telep said. "He's got good size, and he's still growing. I wouldn't be surprised to see him play both positions at Vanderbilt."