Tom Lemming and Van Coleman are two of the most respected recruiting analysts in the country. Both have been evaluating high school talent for 30 years, Lemming in football and Coleman in basketball. The only other evaluator who belongs in their class is Bob Gibbons, who began covering basketball about the same time as Coleman.
Although they are associated with different sports, they have a lot in common. Both, for example, place an emphasis on quickness and athletic ability while evaluating the skill level of prospects. And both believe statistics count for nothing.
"The biggest difference between a scout and a fan is the use of statistics," Coleman said. "A fan thinks statistics tell everything. I look for things that fans don't look for. Fans get hung up on statistics. They don't anything to me."
Coleman, who is based in Cedar Rapids, Iowa., points out that Division III players can average 25 points per game in high school but not be able to play in Division I. "Quickness and the ability to shoot the ball are the two things that will allow a player to play at a high level, more than any other skill sets," he said.
"Fans don't have a catalog of comparisons to go and look at. Their comparison is watching two players playing against each other at one time. But so many variables go into making an evaluation. It comes down to the fact that fans don't see as many players as scouts see. They don't have as many points of comparison to look at.
"Anybody, scouts or fans, should be able to identify the top 50 players in the country. It doesn't take a rocket scientist to know that Derrick Rose is a big-time player. But beyond that, picking the top 100 or 200 or 500 or 1,000, deciding who can play high major or mid-major or low major, those comparisons come into play. I have 300,000 snapshots in a my head that I can compare a kid to."
Coleman credits Bill Bolton, a former assistant coach at Tennessee and Florida State and co-founder of the B/C all-star camps with Bill Cronauer, for giving him the best advice on how to evaluate talent.
"He told me that if you can learn how to break down the most important points--athleticism, quickness and shooting ability--you can became an excellent scout," Coleman said. "He said you can break a player down in six to eight minutes. It took me seven or eight years to be proficient at it so I could put 'scout' next to my name. You don't learn it overnight. The longer you do it, the better you get at it. But you must learn it at all five positions."
In football, Lemming said he looks for three things--size close to what that position demands, athletic ability to satisfy the demands of that position and production.
"I overlooked production at first," he said. "But I learned that great production can sometimes overcome lack of size."
Where the average fan often fumbles the ball in evaluating talent, Lemming said, is they expect kids to look like super stars on every play, which won't happen. And he points out that statistics of often inflated and misleading because level of competition is often deceptive at the high school level.
"I can watch a tight end not catch a pass during an entire game and still be able to tell if he is a Division I prospect by the way he blocks and runs," Lemming said. "You can see that at every position. You must evaluate according to the competition, especially running backs. Did a kid play against an athletic defense? But if he is a 6-0, 210-pounder with 4.5 speed, he'll be recruited."
Lemming credits his old friend, former Nebraska coach Bill Callahan, whom Gil Brandt of the Dallas Cowboys once said was one of the two best offensive line coaches he had seen, for providing the best advice on how to evaluate players.
"I always looked for linemen to see if they were dominating. I didn't look at body type," Lemming said. "But body type is so important...thick legs, wide body, wide hips, the ability not to get knocked off your feet. Now I look for offensive linemen who have a solid base, who can withstand an initial hit and hold their ground. And long arms are important to keep defenders away from their body. And, most important, they must have quick feet. Forty times are overrated for offensive linemen. The ability to slide and mirror the defender, to keep him in front of you, is most important."