ESPN personality Scott Van Pelt admits to having an appreciation for fine art. In fact, the walls of the functioning studio in his home are filled with some of his favorite works.
They aren’t prints of van Gogh’s sketches or Rembrandt’s paintings, however.
Van Pelt’s favorite art was created in the bonus room studio of Irmo resident Kevin Roche.
“My wife makes fun of me for it but I like art – I collect art and like nice stuff but to me, my favorite stuff is his stuff,” Van Pelt said.
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Roche, who played basketball at Dutch Fork High School and graduated in 2001, went on to the University of South Carolina where he majored in physical education and planned to be a coach.
But before long, Roche switched his major to art.
“I always loved drawing since I was a kid I guess,” Roche said. “My parents told me when I was growing up I would draw people’s faces and then if the eyes weren’t right or something, I would just crumple up the paper and throw it away.
“I always liked drawing anything that made me laugh and anything sports-related. I just decided to pick up drawing again in college and started seeing if I could actually make a career out of it.”
Unlike other young artists, Roche actually enjoyed drawing cartoon illustrations of people – particularly famous athletes, coaches and others in the sports arena.
Lucky for Roche, during his last year at USC, Steve Spurrier was hired as coach.
“The first piece I can remember doing was a cartoon for one of my independent studies when he first got there,” Roche said of Spurrier. “It was real bummy. Like it was terrible. I look it now and say that was awful.”
But his Spurrier drawings quickly improved and soon, capturing the famous coach’s personality became “pretty easy actually, because, I mean he’s Spurrier,” Roche said.
“All you gotta do is get the mouth right – the little nurmph he does to the side. If you do that and throw on a visor I think you can get him. He’s just so identifiable – he’s fun to draw.”
It was when Roche drew a picture of Spurrier shirtless with the letters HBC (Head Ball Coach) beneath that his art gained national attention almost overnight.
“That was the one that took off – the shirtless Spurrier,” Roche said. “I Tweeted it and then Scott Van Pelt actually re-Tweeted it and that got a lot of traction.”
But that wasn’t Van Pelt’s only connection to Roche’s work.
A few years ago, Roche was a big fan of Van Pelt and Ryen Russillo’s ESPN radio show, “SVP and Russillo,” which also aired live on television on ESPN. The table where the two hosts sat was lined with drawings of Van Pelt that had been sent in by viewers.
“I didn’t have a ton going on. I was like, ‘Man – it might be alright to see if I could get one on there; I’ll see if I can do it because, no offense to the pictures that were on there, but there was a lot of crayon from what I can remember,” Roche said with a laugh.
“So I sent them in a picture and the guy who gets their email told me they loved it and I was like, ‘Well OK.’ But then Russillo emailed me back himself and said, ‘Thanks for the pic, man. We love it.’ So I sent them pictures over the months – anything sports-related that I did and I thought they would be interested in and it kind of built from there.”
That started a relationship with Van Pelt and Russillo that ended up landing Roche the title of being their show’s “Unofficial Illustrator.”
“Actually I told them that in an email once – and I was just kind of joking around – but I was like, ‘My goal is to be the ‘Official Unofficial Illustrator’ of your radio show.’ So then I could say to folks, ‘Yeah, I do all the art for a radio show. Real, real visual media,’” Roche said. “But yeah, I was just kind of lucky that they liked the stuff and it matched up with what they wanted and they were able to run with it, so that was pretty awesome.”
According to Van Pelt, Roche’s art was a perfect fit for the show.
“When he first sent stuff in, Ryen brought it to my attention and said, ‘Have you seen these?’” Van Pelt said. “And then you look and you go, ‘That’s really good.’ It looked like a professional animator or something. It didn’t look like some guy doodling. And then you realize that he was just a big fan of ours, and he started drawing these incredibly detailed sort of posters that were based off these idiotic conversations we had on our show.
“The detail is what was just crazy,” Van Pelt said. “He was taking these conversations and bringing them to life with such vivid detail. We just loved it. We loved it.”
Even though Van Pelt and Russillo no longer have the radio show, Roche’s relationship with them and their show has opened doors to other ESPN opportunities, including creating weekly work for Sunday Night Baseball and Baseball Tonight, along with contributing to the network’s Home Run Derby show, the Mike and Mike Show and more.
Roche and his work also were recently featured in a segment on the SEC Network.
“We were fans of his stuff and it was sort of this organic thing. Nobody was telling us to push it. We did it because we liked it, and he did it because he liked us, and something cool came out of it,” Van Pelt said.“We’re huge fans.”
But Roche’s work isn’t all for ESPN – and it isn’t all of people.
Last summer he drew illustrations for “Just a Chicken,” a children’s book based on USC mascot Cocky and other SEC mascots. The book is written by former Gamecock defensive linemen Langston Moore and Preston Thorne.
“I came upon his work through the magic of Twitter,” Thorne said. “I saw his work on SVP and Russillo and then looked him up on Twitter, and I realized he was from right here in Irmo and couldn’t believe it. I knew we had to figure out a way to get him to work on the book with us.”
Roche grasped Thorne and Langston’s concept for the book immediately, Thorne said.
“We saw a lot of visual representations of Cocky that weren’t really good and we knew we wanted to make him look cool. Kevin did a great job of catching that and he just did so much with little details throughout the book,” Thorne said. “He’s the man that got the thing to come together.”
Roche liked the process so much that he is hoping more children’s books are in his future.
For now, though, he continues to draw for ESPN, all from the comfort of an old kitchen table that serves as his desk in the bonus room of his Irmo home.
“The stuff I’m doing with ESPN now is kind of right in my wheelhouse because that’s all I drew when I was growing up – drawing sports stuff and my favorite players. That was kind of always the goal – I always wondered if I could draw for ESPN the magazine or Sports Illustrated or something like that that.
“Well, basically, my career aspirations were always to be able to work in sweatpants every day. It’s kind of the ultimate goal. It’s what everything comes back around to,” Roche said laughing.
“As long as I can keep doing that, I’m just living the dream.”
ESPN Scott Van Pelt, on his favorite Kevin Roche drawing
“The Who’s the Nerd one is just hysterical to me,” Van Pelt said. “The idea of Who’s the Nerd was, each one of us had things that we did that were kind of embarrassing. Ryen was kind of the comic book dork. I played video games and kind of spoiled my dog rotten. It’s drawn to illustrate a game show as if we’re playing a game show and all of the things that we admitted to are reflected in the actual piece.
“There’s my dog sitting there eating like a Five Guys hamburger because I would famously go to Five Guys just to get a cheeseburger for my dog, not for me and my family – I would just get him cheeseburgers because he liked them. And I’ve got like a video controller in my hand. Ryen’s got like comic books. Again, you would have had to paid such close attention to the detail. If you knew us you would know that the picture – to the most minute detail – reflects what we talked about.
“To me, the reason I like it so much is that it reflects so completely how idiotic our show was. He is just so talented and doesn’t miss anything.”