Irving recruitment shows benefits – and ills – of social media’s impact

Window into a teenager's thoughts

For better or for worse, the amount of access fans have has truly changed in big-time college basketball recruiting, and social media is a major reason why.

In the past, high school stars were relatively elusive figures. We rarely got to see them play, much less know very much about them before they showed up to be big little men on campus as freshmen.

Sidebar: Man on the Moon comes highly endorsed by this site But now? We’ve seen them play on YouTube, though it’s tough to draw conclusions since we likely only see the best the kid has, set to lousy hip-hop. We’ve read fervently on Twitter as they post important facts about their lives, like what cereal they prefer, when they’re studying for biology tests, and what songs they think are most worthy on the new Kid Cudi disc. We watch them make off-color jokes on a live stream and egg them on with a comment board.

As always, progress is a double-edged sword, as you’ll once again have to excuse me for slipping seamlessly into “Old man: ‘Get off my lawn’” territory. (I’m increasingly prone to that as SportsAngle hurtles unflinchingly toward maturity) On the upside, it is empowering to be able to know ever more about the 16-year-old saviors of our favorite college basketball teams.

But on the downside, while the Lunatic Fringe formerly had to wait until the kid was out on the floor to let them know what they think of their mother and sister, they now have nearly direct access from adolescence. The advent of Twitter – which remains at least fairly prominent, though SportsAngle social commentator Frank Pepe has informed me that it has jumped the shark – has given everyone with a computer and a fair amount of vitriol the ability to directly address young players who choose to use the 140-character juggernaut. With Facebook, they have room to be even more explicit.

In the past, rabid – literally – fans had to resort to team message boards to spout their unhealthy disapproval of, well, everything. Unless recruits had a morbid fascination that I think only applies to the fans themselves, they didn’t subject themselves to reading it.

But now you have situations such as that of Mr. Kyrie Irving, a top-flight point guard from the great state of New Jersey by way of St. Patrick’s in Elizabeth, who alienated tons of dozens of fans for the sole reason that he didn’t want to matriculate at their schools. (Irving committed to Duke University on Thursday and is regarded as potentially the school’s best point guard prospect ever, high praise)

Never mind that Irving was limited to just one school and went with the one where he felt most comfortable. Picking a situation that didn’t correspond with the best interests of certain passionate Kentucky and Indiana fans made him worse than Iranian lunatic Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.I need to get me one of those St. Pat's jerseys... sharp as a tack

(Please note: This is not an indictment of all UK and IU fans; SportsAngle remains friends with supporters of both programs, for example, this site. If I’m referring to you in the negative, you know who you are, and this by no means excludes the Duke contingent)

Irving runs a Twitter account which is followed currently by somewhere around 3,000 people, with likely most of them supporters of the schools which were recruiting him. I think he enjoyed the attention that he was getting – who wouldn’t? –and he almost certainly benefited in the selection process from hearing the selling points from fans of the schools he considered. He was also able to communicate with potential future teammates.

But he saw the ugly side when he removed Indiana from his short list – leading him to respond… twice – and then when he “spurned” Kentucky to pick Duke. At both times, he was subjected to being called names that would make anyone’s mother blush. And they were able to send them directly to Irving with no filters to speak of.

Irving, for his own part, used Twitter to help make his day in the sun a little brighter. From all accounts, he was likely pretty sure he would attend Duke after his official visit several weeks ago. But he announced that he would use Twitter to announce his choice, leading to copious followers. He used the site to detail his subsequent official visits and demonstrate what appears to be a fantastic work ethic and a great personality (his mantra is “Hungry and humble.” He eventually chose to announce his destination with a news conference on ESPNU, which is fine – his hard work dictated that as a reward.

So that’s the advantage. Twitter afforded the young man the ability to attract attention that he normally would not have been able to garner, and it let him control the information put out about him. In the past, a couple dozen hardcore aficionados would have heard of him. Now? At least 3,000, and then however many more watched his commitment conference.

And make no mistake, every time he said something on his site, people overanalyzed it to death.

The disadvantage is the unfettered access that allowed fans to voice their displeasure directly to him in quite colorful terms, even leading him at times to attempt to provide a lesson in morals to them. To Irving’s credit, he did not seem that adversely affected by the interaction.

Now I can’t determine whether the positives of having the forum to self-promote outweighs the perils of letting the lowest common denominator have a crack at you. But there’s no looking back. The days of word of mouth, and seeing a recruit for the first time when he steps on campus, are over.

And though the enhanced access we experience is all in the name of progress, one has to think that just maybe, we were better off in a simpler time when we didn’t have the power to practically reach out and touch a recruit. Was it perhaps more satisfying learning about a player once he actually gets to campus?

Though there’s no turning back, it just might turn out to be true that knowing everything isn’t always the best thing.


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