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Thursday, July 24, 2008

Exclusive Interview with ESPN's Fran Fraschilla, Part IV

In Part III of my interview with Fran Fraschilla, he noted that in order to make sound player evaluations it is vitally important to watch NBA games. Statistical analysis is a useful tool but it cannot replace what Fraschilla calls "the trained eye." He added that college scouts should be required to watch a couple NBA games a month so that the stark difference in talent level between the NBA and the college game remains clear in their minds; otherwise, there can be a tendency to overestimate how well a college player will do in the NBA. The fourth and final part of the interview contains Fraschilla's observations about some of the differences between NBA basketball and NCAA basketball and his explanation of how he became ESPN's FIBA basketball guru.

Friedman: "Most people, even some people who analyze basketball on TV, do not understand the huge difference in speed, physicality and skill level between the NBA game and the NCAA game. They see a guy in college do something and they have no idea that there is no way whatsoever that this is going to translate into the NBA."

Fraschilla: "You’re right. I’ll give you an example. I just got done working with the LeBron James Skills Academy. We worked with the high school kids. We had Craig Ehlo, Kevin Eastman from the Celtics and a bunch of other coaches. The college players are coached twice a day by Tates Locke, who is a legendary coach who scouted in the NBA and whose big thing now is working guys out. We had this year at LeBron’s camp 24 of the best college players in the country, guys like Austin Daye from Gonzaga, Kyle Singler, Hasheem Thabeet from UConn, Jonny Flynn from Syracuse, who’s a great kid--some really good players. It’s amazing that when you are showing them something in a workout--for example, a bounce pass on the perimeter: a guy comes off of a screen and one of the college kids throws a bounce pass. Tates made the point, ‘Do you understand how much slower a bounce pass on the perimeter is compared to a pass that is in the air?’ By the time that ball gets to a guy who was open, in the NBA he is no longer open. There are little nuances of the game like that that make your adjustment--if you are a good enough player--from the college level to the NBA level a little easier but far, far, far fewer college players have that understanding than should have it. That’s a good example of one little nuance of the game that is completely different at the college level than it is at the NBA level. At the college level you might be able to make that bounce pass and a guy still gets an open shot. In the NBA, you’ve got Trevor Ariza closing out on a guy and that guy is no longer open. Does that make sense?"

Friedman: "Yes. The bounce pass is a situational pass that depends on your location on the court."

Fraschilla: "Absolutely."

Friedman: "It depends on how you are being defended, how the guy you are passing to is being defended--there is so much that goes into it. I was smiling when you were talking about that because I actually think that the bounce pass is overused a lot in college in situations where you can get away with it but it is not actually the proper pass--even if it worked, it was not the correct pass."

Fraschilla: "Absolutely. There are certain things like that that don’t really matter in college because you can get away with it because you are just better than the next guy but at the next level you don’t get away with it because it makes the game harder for your teammates to play."

Friedman: "I always get back to Redick because he is an obvious example and he is an example of a player who is well known so when I write about him my readers know who he is. He won the College Player of the Year but people don’t understand what exactly that means and how he won the award. There is a longer shot clock in college, the whole offense revolved around setting multiple screens to get him open, the players he was going against weren’t as good--and even though he is not a great athlete he might be better athletically than some of the guys he was playing against in college--and eventually he pops open and he is a good open shooter and he makes the shot. You get to the NBA, there is a 24 second shot clock and no team’s offense is built around a 6-3 shooting guard going around multiple screens; that is not practical for any number of reasons so he is just not going to get the kinds of looks in the NBA that he got in college."

Fraschilla: "That’s right."

Friedman: "I write that and to me it is self evident and some people understand it--but what is funny to me in this instance is that some of my readers seem to understand it better than some of the people who I see on TV talking about Redick or who comment about him in print. I had a friendly discussion with ESPN’s David Thorpe about this. He insists that Redick has the ability to be a starting shooting guard for a playoff team in the NBA. I just don’t see it. I respect Thorpe's ability to evaluate players and all the experience he has. I finally told him to tell me what he sees and I’ll quote him on my website, because I just don’t see it. He said some things and I quoted him. I think that he’s wrong in this instance. Maybe I’m wrong in other instances. Nobody is right every time. Switching gears, you mentioned being known now as the international guru and how much you really follow the college game."

Fraschilla: "I say that jokingly, by the way. If I pronounce the international kids’ names right on Draft Night people think, 'Wow!' Actually, I’ve spent every June over there for the last five years so I do have a reasonably good feel but that’s kind of like a hobby of mine. It’s allowed me really to work the NBA Draft because there is nobody at ESPN who has the interest or the inclination to want to learn about the young international players."

Friedman: "From a job standpoint what you did was very smart because you found a niche that nobody else is willing or able to fill and you filled it so you got a job doing that."

Fraschilla: "Yeah."

Friedman: "That makes a lot of sense from a job standpoint. During the era in which you came into college coaching there were very few if any foreign or international players. How did you develop this interest that you have in the FIBA game and how did you end up going over there so frequently and following it so closely? How did you transition from being an American college basketball coach focused primarily on scouting young American players to becoming so knowledgeable about the foreign players?"

Fraschilla: "That’s a great question. In part the reason that it happened was two former Manhattan players. I had a player from Spain who played for me for four years. He was a good, not great, player who later wound up being a role player in the Spanish ACB League. While he was at Manhattan with us we took a trip to Spain one summer and played throughout the country and just had a phenomenal experience. It opened my eyes to basketball around the world and after that I got a number of opportunities and invitations to speak at clinics in places like Spain, Iceland, Italy and I took people up on that and it gave me more of a broader sense of what was going on internationally. Finally, another former player of mine who I coached at Manhattan went overseas and played a number of years. Then he got hooked up with Reebok and became their international grassroots rep and parlayed that into an NBA scouting job with the Minnesota Timberwolves. His name is Pete Philo. Pete invited me to work the Reebok Euro camp five years ago in Treviso, Italy. You may have heard of Benetton Treviso."

Friedman: "Certainly."

Fraschilla: "For many years they were the Boston Celtics of Italy. Treviso is a city with great basketball tradition. It is where (Andrea) Bargnani played prior to coming to the States and where Mauricio Gherardini was the general manager before he went to the Toronto Raptors. So all of these varied experiences overseas gave me a greater appreciation for international basketball. I became less jaded about how good the coaching was and how good the players were fundamentally. I almost came back like Paul Revere, telling my American basketball friends, 'The world is changing. They’re coming over. They’re going to get us.' Almost like ‘The British are coming.’ I’m a basketball purist. I just love good basketball, whether it is here in the States or overseas, and all of these various reasons turned me into an international basketball junkie, I guess, and it opened up an opportunity to cover the international players every draft night on ESPN."

Friedman: "Tell me a little more about Pete’s position with Reebok."

Fraschilla: "He’s like their European grassroots guy and their top international scout. He has a great feel for Europe. He’s a guy who played for me at Manhattan and we go back and forth about different players. I saw (Danilo) Gallinari play when he was 15 at a little junior tournament in Italy; Pete brought me to the tournament. When I work at the Reebok Euro camp now, David, there are 50 players there and 20 of them are eligible for this year’s draft either because of their age or because they put their names in as early entry candidates but the other 30 are guys who are potentially going to be drafted two, three or four years from now, so it is very rare that a guy will be on the NBA radar screen that I haven’t either seen play or coached personally at the camp. This year I worked out Serge Ibaka, a young guy who was drafted in the first round from the Congo, for two days before the camp started. I had (first round pick Nicolas) Batum from France on my team and I had (Goran) Dragic from Slovenia, who was drafted in the second round and is going to be with the Phoenix Suns this year. It’s just a great tool for me to follow these young players so that when they get on somebody’s radar screen at draft time there is a good chance that I know a lot about them and I’ve interacted with them personally."

Friedman: "Who was the first player from Manhattan? You didn’t mention his name."

Fraschilla: "Jeronimo Bucero. He came to us in 1993, a 6-6 small forward, and he not only was a solid player for us--in fact, he made three threes against Oklahoma in the 1995 NCAA Tournament when we blew them out in the second half--but he also ended up being a 3.97 (gpa) at Manhattan in international economics. That is a pretty competitive school. Being a basketball junkie anyway, the beauty of the international game caught my eye, as it has many other people who love the game."

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posted by David Friedman @ 1:52 AM

8 comments

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8 Comments:

At Thursday, July 24, 2008 8:19:00 AM, Anonymous yogi said...

Thanks for this great series. It's worth about a week or two of ESPN broadcasting as far as meaningful content goes!

 
At Friday, July 25, 2008 4:42:00 AM, Anonymous tp said...

Jerónimo Bucero played sparingly in the Spanish ACB League, I think he spent most of his career in Portugal or Spanish lower leagues. As I recall, he had a reputation as a player who did not belong in the elite in terms of talent, but a good pro, a nice guy and a top brain for business. I think he is a major executive at some big firm now, and he still plays sometimes with other retired Real Madrid players in exhibition games and such.

 
At Monday, August 04, 2008 12:06:00 AM, Blogger Evin Demirel said...

Very nice interview series, David.
I did not know that Fran goes over to conduct camps in Europe but knowing that makes me respect his knowledge that much more.
Just curious - how did you attain an interview with him in the first place?

 
At Monday, August 04, 2008 2:22:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Evin:

He contacted me to tell me that he enjoys reading my articles and after some dialogue back and forth I arranged to interview him.

 
At Tuesday, August 05, 2008 9:42:00 AM, Blogger madnice said...

Apparently Fran didnt watch Michael Redd during his analysis when he said Redd cant get his shot off when someone has a hand in his face.

 
At Tuesday, August 05, 2008 6:10:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Madnice:

Are you talking about Fraschilla's response to Kamla during the Australia game when Kamla asked if Redd is the best shooter in the world? Kamla's question is stupid because it is impossible to answer: maybe some guy no one has ever heard of is the best shooter in the world. Maybe Jerry West is the best shooter in the world, even if he can't run up and down the court anymore. Redd is a very good shooter but his is not the first name that pops into my head when I hear "greatest shooter in the world." What about Ray Allen, Steve Nash, Peja, Dirk, Kapono, Rip Hamilton? Redd was not in the top 20 in the NBA last season in 3FG% or FT%.

I think that Fraschilla is right that in general Redd is much more of a catch and shoot player than someone who can create a shot for himself off of the dribble. Yes, Redd can do that at times but it is not a strength of his.

 
At Tuesday, August 05, 2008 8:28:00 PM, Blogger Evin Demirel said...

Ray Allen has the best looking jump shot in the world. And his career stats - 40% 3s, 89% FT - beat out Redd's - 39% 3s, 85& FT - for best American sharpshooter.

 
At Tuesday, August 05, 2008 11:42:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Evin:

I've said before that Ray Allen's jumper is as smooth as Ken Griffey Jr's swing was during his prime.

 

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