This past year, ESPN analyst Mike Schmitz put forth a series of film sessions with draft prospects. The series was designed to mimic the basketball version of Jon Gruden's Quarterback Camp, an ESPN segment that was wildly popular among football fans. Schmitz doesn't bring the heat or turn out the humor in the way Gruden does, instead opting for conversation, analysis driven by fixing mistakes and highlighting positives and giving the prospects an opportunity to let their IQ and personality shine.
The final point is a big one. In QB Camps with Gruden, he was the dominant voice in the room. Schmitz does a great job laying out and letting these hoopers be the focal point. It makes for much better conversation and, to be honest, makes them more comfortable.
While this was likely a series done during the pandemic as a means of creating content, I hope ESPN continues with it. Mike is great in this role and these are genuinely useful videos.
The question is: how?
When watching these interviews, what are teams/ scouts trying to get from it? After seeing a great deal of them this past summer, I'll attempt to frame the conversation around what key takeaways should be focused on when viewing.
To start, we need to look at what was successful and enjoyable from the QB Camp sessions. Instead of highlighting one with Gruden, we'll move to the NFL Network knockoff with Steve Mariucci, and admirable but nowhere near as entertaining attempt at recreating Gruden's magic.
Check out this session with Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Jalen Hurts. Hurts, thought of as a low-level quarterback prospect who might even consider a switch to wide receiver, has seen impressive success since moving into the starting role with the Eagles a few weeks ago. In looking back at this film session, there were signs that Hurts had what it took to be a great leader of a football team.
I'll start this video at a certain point to watch, but I do recommend you see the whole thing:
Hurts showed incredible comfort with himself, ownership of the room, charisma to interact with a wannabe intimidator while the cameras are on and a general likability that rarely comes across so naturally.
The only way to sum it all up: swagger.
We'll never be taken all the way into the interview rooms that these teams conduct. Some ask ridiculous questions just to fuck with kids. Every team does so much digging and research on backgrounds that there's no way to guess the level of detail they have that we don't.
But sessions like this give us, outside viewers, a little glimpse into what it's like to sit across from this guy and talk shop. That's where the interest in these series comes in, and that's why they are likely to continue.
The biggest thing I'm watching for is the level of comfort. Not as much articulation or polish of a personality; it's not the same as a corporate interview. I like guys who are who they are and own it. Where there is comfort, there is also a genuine person. Where there's a genuine person, there's less unpredictability about their habits and actions to distract who they are.
This summer, I had a conversation with a well-connected college basketball coach and we talked a lot about team-building at the NBA level. He revealed a source of his within an NBA front office did a review for his team going through all the pre-draft notes they had on guys they drafted the last few years under that regime. The goal was to see common threads on who they hit on and who they missed on, so that it would inform their future decision-making.
The biggest common thread: they focused too much on character and not enough on performance in the situations they failed. They fell in love with the person and were willing to sacrifice some perceived ability to invest in that guy. And it didn't work out.
Watching these interviews isn't a guarantee that the guys who come across the best are the best guys, improve their draft stock or even deserve a tiebreaker when neck-and-neck with another prospect. All it does is give you a feel for the type of person you are dealing with and what they might need to succeed.
When you come across someone like a Jalen Hurts, who oozes charisma and confidence, that's a different story. Those guys are ones whose success cannot surprise you because they go about their business the right way. Think of it as the icing on the cake: the background and skill must check out first, then the character sweetens the deal.
Over a year ago, Schmitz did one of his first film sessions with Anthony Edwards, just coming off his Maui Invitational performance at Georgia. Edwards was widely considered a top-three pick in this draft class at that time and ended up going first overall.
Leading up to the draft, multiple stories made the rounds online about Edwards' perceived lack of interest in basketball. It was spun heavily as a negative. Questions were raised about his commitment, desire to be great and whether those concerns would scare the Minnesota Timberwolves away from taking him first overall. It seemed like he was more interested in just being an athlete than a basketball player; he enjoyed football and other sports and thought he'd be a better fit there.
I was stunned by those critiques. Watch the Schmitz interview from a year prior and there is a genuine level of comfort with Edwards. He knows who he is and is comfortable with that. Sure, he's younger and less polished than Hurts, but he owns the room that he's in and isn't shy about being his own man.
What I heard on the video session was a brutally honest Edwards who took criticism in stride. An 18-year-old with a good memory of his play, with command over what he should do and already an understanding as a young freshman about what level of preparation was required to reach his peak. I left that really confident that he'd figure it out.
Fast forward to late-December and Edwards' charisma is well accepted in NBA circles. Now, despite not changing his tune or his personality, NBA fans are in love with him. He took the same concept about being interested in multiple sports and confident in all of them -- baseball, hockey, anything -- and flipped the criticism into a positive. He's now "A1 from Day One".
The point is this: there's so much noise around these kids. Any one detail can be spun the right way or the wrong way. The same was done to Jaylen Brown, who "had too much he was interested outside of basketball" prior to being drafted. The start to this 2020-21 season from him is outrageous, showing improvement and that those concerns were really wrong. Instead of focusing on burying yourself in the weeds, get a better feel for who these kids are in the interview session.
The ultimate question to ask yourself: would I want to be teammates with this guy?
If you walk away from an interview wanting to run into battle with this guy, he's done his job. That's what I think about when I watch that interview with Edwards. Sure, he's got his flaws as a player and areas to improve. But he's a genuinely fun, comfortable, humorous dude who I'd share a locker room with. With Hurts, he's a guy I'd follow into battle, root for his personal success and carry my own weight more intently just to make sure he thrives. Those are snap judgments made from a small appearance on film, but it's by far the most important part of this equation.
Everything else is secondary. How's their IQ? Can they take criticism? Are they articulate and attentive to the task at hand?
At their best, these interviews are glimpses behind the curtain to a raw, unfiltered look at people. Sports aren't mathematical, aren't scientific and there's no magic formula that can accurately predict which guys will turn into great pros. At the end of the day, these teams spend millions and millions of dollars to invest in people.
So... spend a little more time trying to get to know the person and a little less on the player. It's not going to tell you more about whether they'll be successful, but it could inform which guys might have that certain "it" factor.