The Dons men’s basketball program is arguably the most storied team here on the Hilltop, and with that level of greatness comes a loyal fanbase that packs War Memorial Gym just about every weekend in the fall and early spring.
Members of the tight-knit and loyal fanbase may have come across the Twitter account @DonsInsiders (Dons Insiders), which provides live-game analysis and coverage of the Dons all year round. One might assume that with nearly 20,000 Twitter followers, the duo running the account are overzealous USF students or alumni longing for the glory days of Dons basketball. Surprisingly, the account was started by two native San Franciscans (then-San Francisco University High School students) who grew up loving sports and watching the men’s basketball team.
Now college freshmen at the University of Pennsylvania and Stanford University, respectively, Sam Pasco and Teddy Solomon first drew up the plans to create Dons Insiders in 2018 because of their mutual interest in sports journalism, albeit from different angles.
Solomon said, “We were able to kind of combine our talents where I’ve always been a huge college basketball fan, a huge USF fan, and very into college basketball analytics as well. And Sam has kind of been somewhat of a media expert, really into media stuff.”
Solomon attributes his interest in statistics and numbers to a University of Pennsylvania sports analytics program. Pasco, on the other hand, spent a lot of his time volunteering at KXSF 102.5, where he covered local sports teams ranging from the San Francisco Giants to the Golden State Warriors. Pasco now has his own show called “Pasco’s Perspective” at the station.
Pasco and Solomon had entrepreneurial goals when it came to starting the outlet. Both were big basketball fans and felt that there was a lack of coverage of mid-major college basketball. By creating Dons Insiders, they felt they could fill the void and capture a younger audience in the process.
Solomon, who describes himself as a lifelong Dons fan, took Pasco to his first USF basketball game. After that, they both realized there was potential to create an outlet.
Streaming from their perch in the War Memorial bleachers, Solomon and Pasco hit the ground running. They went to just about every home game while also taking trips to Palo Alto and Moraga, California to cover the Dons’ closest west coast opponents, the Stanford University Cardinal and St. Mary’s University Gaels, respectively.
Pasco and Solomon did not only limit themselves to California. The duo traveled to Las Vegas during the summer of 2019 to cover the NBA Summer League, an annual event where NBA fringe players and prospects compete in a tournament that acts as an audition for NBA teams, where they focused on West Coast Conference (WCC) players who were hoping to turn pro.
When it comes time for games, the duo spends hours planning their coverage. “I know during the season, we’re putting in close to 20 hours a week for Dons Insiders,” said Solomon. Those 20 hours are split between researching the Dons’ opponents, looking at the WCC as a whole, and analyzing the Dons’ statistics. This is in addition to the time consumed by the logistics involved with the creation of their content. Pasco and Solomon go to each game three to four hours before tip-off to start streaming their pre-game show.
Pasco noted that they also stay after games to stream their post-game analysis and catch the post-game press conferences, in addition to trying to access the Dons’ locker room to conduct post-game interviews. “The hours do add up,” said Pasco, “but it’s overall a really fun process.”
Besides covering games, Pasco and Solomon create additional content for their Twitter feed and YouTube channel. Their most-watched YouTube video features Pasco going around the Dons locker room talking with Dons players about their favorite pairs of shoes.
Pasco said this idea came about when he noticed then-Dons point guard Frankie Ferrari’s bright green shoes at a game. “[The shoes] were something cool that, you know, people aren’t talking about.” This prompted Pasco to ask a question about the shoes during a post-game press conference, where Ferrari indulged in the question and spilled his secret shoe obsession fetish. This led to the development of a short feature on Pasco and Solomon’s YouTube channel in which Khalil Shabazz, Jamaree Bouyea, and Trevante Anderson, along with Ferrari, showed Pasco their shoes of choice.
The pair agreed that the highlight from their Dons Insiders adventure would be their 2019 summer trip to Las Vegas, where they originally set out to follow Ferrari’s journey. Pasco described the planning, “We did a lot of texting back and forth and we had a couple little meetups at Starbucks kind of planning everything out, how could we actually do this logistically flying down there, food, hotel, media passes?”
The trip, which was planned in mere days, was a success. In 48 hours they interviewed seven Summer League players, one of whom, Devontee Cacock, later signed a contract with the Los Angeles Lakers.
“It was well worth it. One thing I think that kind of came through with us was like, that’s where we kind of maybe felt a little bit more like high schoolers,” Pasco said, describing how the duo were managing both the production and editorial elements of their outlet in comparison to the media crews from major sports networks.
As the duo are now in college, albeit remotely due to the pandemic, they posted a video on Sept. 5 to their Twitter account discussing the future of Dons Insiders. With the NCAA announcing the return basketball on Nov. 25, Solomon and Pasco plan to continue their coverage and keep Dons Insiders active in a limited capacity, although they are unsure how the current COVID-19 pandemic will affect their plans or the college basketball world. Furthermore, as both are now freshman in college, Solomon said, “[Coverage is] not going to look like what it did when we were in high school because I can’t put in that 15 to 20 hours a week[…] that’s not going to be possible from college.”
Over the summer, the duo created a new platform called Insiders Institute that is dedicated to teaching high school writers the tips they have learned over the past couple of years in the hopes that their trainees can replicate Dons Insiders at other mid-major college programs across the country.
As Solomon is now studying economics and Pasco is studying communications (although both are currently keen on pursuing journalism professionally), Solomon reflected on their journey. “I mean, just looking back on it from where we’re at right now, it was somewhat of a fairy tale story. Things just went exactly as we could have hoped and having the opportunities that we really couldn’t have dreamed of having.”
Their coverage of Dons basketball not only gained them Twitter followers, but it also gained them respect from the top of the Athletics Department. Matt Fontenot, assistant athletics director for communications and content, said, “I think they did a phenomenal job of putting themselves out there as being the unofficial news service of USF basketball. They went to about every home game, they conducted post-game interviews and had great follow-up questions.”
Fontenot spoke positively about Solomon and Pasco and noted how impressed he was that the duo understood how to interact with a college athletics department. Fontenot lauded their professionalism and said he was able to treat them as if they were sportswriters from the San Francisco Chronicle.
“They were a great service to our fanbase,” said Fontenot. “It wouldn’t surprise me at all if you see the two of them in the future as major media moguls.”