Butler head coach Brad Stevens has spent plenty of the last few seasons trying to compete with Duke. His team faced the Blue Devils in the 2010 NCAA title game and again the following December in a non-conference matchup. But this summer, Stevens has drawn on Blue Devil expertise, adding Duke class of 2012 graduate Drew Cannon to his coaching staff in August.
“It is great [working for Stevens],” Cannon said. “He is a pretty outstanding person.”
Cannon’s entrance into the college basketball world occurred six years ago by pure coincidence. Steve Long, Cannon’s childhood neighbor in Raleigh, was the lawyer for Dave Telep, who is a senior recruiting analyst for ESPN.com and one of the most respected experts in college basketball recruiting. One day, Cannon’s father Jim got the opportunity to meet Telep, and he mentioned his son’s longtime passion for college basketball.
“Jim pulls me aside and says, ‘My son is really into statistics and basketball and kind of odd ball things with numbers,’” Telep said. “So I said to bring him over and I’ll meet him.”
Soon after Drew met Telep, he became Telep’s intern and worked with him for the next six summers. As the right-hand man for one of the most respected recruiting minds in college basketball, Cannon studied trends in recruiting, profiled players and meticulously analyzed the various factors that made programs successful in converting high-school talents into collegiate stars.
“We were kind of the CSI of basketball behind the scene,” Telep said. “[Drew] did some cutting edge stuff.”
Working alongside Telep, Cannon gained a wealth of knowledge and developed a knack for evaluating talent.
“[I learned] how to be a scout,” Cannon said. “[I am] able to walk into a high school game, watch ten minutes of basketball and have some idea of who has a chance to play college basketball.”
Simultaneously, he enhanced his writing skills. During his sophomore year at Duke, he began seeking out other opportunities to publish and share his work. He authored pieces that were published by College Basketball Prospectus, KenPom.com and eventually ESPN. He became a household name among college basketball junkies.
By this point, Cannon had developed unique arsenal of talents—the ability to identify talent, write, analyze statistics and make advanced projections on high school and college players with high levels of certainty.
Last year, though, after graduating from Duke in May, Cannon’s future in basketball was very much uncertain.
“I was a couple weeks from getting a bartending gig in Chicago and writing on the side for a year,” Cannon said.
Cannon began running a scouting service to analyze the statistics of high school players competing in the Nike Elite Youth Basketball League, one of the premier summer leagues for aspiring college basketball players. Butler was one of the first schools to subscribe to his service, and not long after that, Cannon received a call from Stevens, who wanted to discuss recruits.
Two weeks later, Stevens’ next phone call to Cannon was about recruiting of a different kind. He wanted Cannon to join Butler’s staff as a graduate manager.
“I [was] really excited to not have to get a real job,” Cannon said. “I am really happy someone is willing to pay me enough money for rent just to do what I do.”
Cannon’s first mentor may have planted the seed with Stevens some years ago, when the ESPN analyst mentioned Drew’s ability to the Butler head coach.
“A few years ago Brad Stevens and I were talking...and I think I brought up Drew’s name and what we were doing behind the scenes and sparked a real interest in him,” Telep said.
Now, Stevens, one of the rising stars in the coaching profession, has one of the brightest young basketball minds at his disposal to analyze, scout and break down Butler’s performance as well as its opponents’.
Stevens has shown a high level of trust in Cannon from the outset, surprising even Cannon himself.
“There are many college basketball programs that would not have given me much respect if I had walked into the door and started spitting numbers at them,” Cannon said. “But that’s not what happened at Butler at all.”
After he completes his two-year term on the Bulldog staff, he hopes to choose between several different career paths in college basketball. He eventually may return to journalism, join a professional organization as a talent evaluator, or end up as a Director of Basketball Operations for a university.
Regardless, the sky seems to be the limit.
“I don’t know [where Cannon will be in the future],” Telep said. “I just hope I’m working for him someday.”