Computing, Straight From the Bench
Mike Lepore, Wake Forest's assistant director of basketball operations, logs every possession into a laptop.
NEW ORLEANS -- When Texas' desperation heave missed the rim at the end of overtime on Thursday night, much of Wake Forest's bench cleared to mob point guard Ish Smith, who'd hit the game-winner with 1.3 seconds left. Mike Lepore, the Demon Deacons' assistant director of basketball operations, nearly joined that mob; he'd made a similar sprint off the bench last season, when he was a senior walk-on and James Johnson hit a last-second shot to beat Duke.
"My first instinct was to chase Ish," Lepore said. "But once I got to halfcourt, I started worrying about my computer."
Lepore did a 180 and went back to the sideline. He had to enter the details of Wake's final possession into his IBM laptop. His in-game responsibility is to log every possession -- the situation (transition or halfcourt), the play-call, the defense, and the result -- into a program called FastStats, which provides on-the-fly reports of play efficiency, as well as plus-minus ratings for every player and lineup.
FastModel, the company that makes the software, lists more than 100 college clients on its Web site, but the Deacons are the only one SI has seen in the NCAA tournament that actually has one of its bench coaches using a computer throughout the entire game.
Lepore generally occupies the last seat between the staff and the players, and stays focused on the computer screen while the rest of the team reacts to game action. This is not easy, given that Wake regularly plays 70-plus-possession, up-tempo games -- said Lepore, "I'm constantly having to tap people on the left and right to ask, 'What just happened?' " -- but it leaves him at no risk of ever drawing a referee's ire. When the Wake bench was warned by an official to sit down with 35.4 seconds left in overtime, Lepore was the only coach already seated.
He brings a printer along on every road trip, and produces custom halftime and postgame reports for head coach Dino Gaudio, who implemented the stats program this season on recommendation from the Demon Deacons' women's team. Keeping accurate data requires having someone at the keyboard with an encyclopedic knowledge of the playbook, and Lepore fits the bill due to the four years he spent at Wake as a non-scholarship guard. Gaudio does, however, question the former walk-on's sanity for taking the job. "He already has a business-school degree from Wake," Gaudio said. "I don't know why he's trying to get into coaching." But thanks to Lepore, Gaudio left New Orleans Arena early on Friday morning with a set of detailed, color-coded printouts in his briefcase. They outlined the Deacons' most effective plays, players and lineups -- all information that would be part of the equation in planning for another athletic, man-to-man team: top-seeded Kentucky. Smith and John Wall, two of the country's fastest point guards, will be off the races in that game, and Lepore will be on the laptop, trying to keep up.