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July 8, 2014

Stirring False Interest Through Social Media

Through social media, false interest is being created and stirred to ignite a players' recruitment based on lies, miscommunication and the lack of firsthand sources monitoring each situation. As the July Live Period begins on Wednesday, players can make themselves or break themselves on the court, as well as off it through social media.

The first of three live basketball viewing periods begins Wednesday on the AAU circuit. Hundreds of college coaches will be floating from gym to gym this month, checking on their prized possessions, proving to their top recruits that they are a priority and searching for hidden talent throughout July.

Coaches will make decisions based on players' performances on the court and the July evaluation period may result in college interest or scholarship offers.

It most certainly will result in the modern social media game: stirring false interest.

Twitter was founded in 2006 and became hugely popular in 2011-12. The service had 500 million registered users in '12 with an average of 340 million tweets posted every day.

The world's youth joined the popular trend, and recruiting would be changed forever.

High school recruits, college coaches, journalists, sneaker representatives, handlers or anyone else with influence in youth basketball began joining Twitter. Most importantly, recruits were now being monitored.

The class of 2011 was probably the first to really feel the impact of over-saturated social media and online blog influence. Current NBA players Michael Gilchrist, Anthony Davis, Austin Rivers and others had eyes monitoring everything they tweeted - regardless of whether it was significant or irrelevant.

Potential college basketball recruits now have the spotlight on them. The average recruit has between 500 and 1,000 followers on Twitter. Fans, media and coaches contribute to that mass following. That is for the average recruit.

Superstars such as Jahlil Okafor, who will begin his career at Duke University in the fall, have over 30,000 followers. One of the top rising juniors in high school hoops, Harry Giles, has more than 10,000 followers.

They tweet about everything from song lyrics to pictures of new sneakers to new scholarship offers and can provide a platform for how their recruitment will be dictated. This can be both positive and negative when a recruit tweets that they have been offered by a program, received a call from another and plan on visiting another over the weekend.

Players sharing information about recruiting became a very good thing for college coaches.

"Collecting information is what I use Twitter for because it tells me about players and what they are about as people," said George Mason assistant coach Chris Kreider, who has been on Twitter since 2008. "You can find out as much as you'd like as a form of a background check. It was a way to contact them at first and it bled over into finding out details about their character, references, schedules and more."

Players sharing information about recruiting also became a very bad thing for college coaches. Players began overstating or misrepresenting scholarship offers or interest from schools.

"There are cases where schools are seeing that this school or that school is interested so we better get interested, too," says Rivals.com National Basketball Analyst Eric Bossi. "As social media becomes more common as a news source, we are seeing a lot more misrepresentation of offers. While sources are or are not credible, these 'offers' may not be more than initial interest."

With college coaches checking their Twitter timelines almost every hour, information spreads quickly and once information is leaked that a player is visiting, was offered by or is favoring a school, that can change the direction in which other schools pursue, or do not pursue, a player.

Numerous recruits interviewed for this piece validated that statement.

Rawle Alkins, a class of 2016 shooting guard from New York, has over 1,000 Twitter followers and about a dozen scholarship offers. He frequently tweets about his recruitment, or gives his recruiting scoop out to reporters.

"I can tell schools use Twitter to monitor what is going on with me because I will constantly get back-to-back calls depending on what is posted on the Internet," he said. "Social media has helped my recruitment because the coaches who follow me watch my videos and see how I hold myself on social media and they like the way I present myself."

Levan Alston, a class of 2015 shooting guard from Philadelphia, possesses nearly 1,400 Twitter followers and picked up eight scholarship offers this spring. As he will retweet what others tweet about his recruitment, Alston has noticed a similar trend.

"I've noticed that once it gets out on Twitter that a certain school has offered, other schools in that conference will reach out right after," Alston said. "Some have offered and some haven't. Without social media, I don't think this would happen as schools wouldn't instantly be aware of rival schools' activity."

Bossi, who has seen college basketball recruiting change dramatically over the past decade, believes shotgun recruiting exists. Shotgun recruiting is when schools will throw a number of offers out there in hope of hitting one of their many targets and gaining their attention.

"There are definitely schools that do shotgun recruiting where they offer everyone a scholarship," he said. "When coaches can't be out at events during the dead period, the kids who are written about the most on social media seem to gain an influx of offers and interest the next week or two. Is what they are reading on Twitter playing into this?"

This is certainly possible, and if so it completely debunks the idea of evaluating a player firsthand and giving out a sincere, firm verbal scholarship offer based on the player's talent and effort on the court.

There are also cases, according to Bossi, where recruits find out about their recruitment through unreliable sources such as social media. This can lead to miscommunication and foolishness on behalf of the recruit and their party.

"I've asked several recruits over the past year how they earned an offer from a specific school," Bossi said. "Some have told me that they were made aware of it by reading something on Twitter, or that their AAU coach spoke with the assistant coach three months ago."

But can social media actually impact one's recruitment to the point that certain schools are willing to back off? It certainly can even if one is not posting anything inappropriate. Perception is everything, and when college coaches form a perception of a recruit and their situation, they can decide to move forward or back off.

2015 Syracuse commit Malachi Richardson of New Jersey witnessed this during his recruitment. Holding over 3,000 followers, as well as offers from a variety of high-major programs nationally, social media gave the perception that Richardson was a lean to Indiana because he would retweet Indiana fans the most and the fact that information leaked about him visiting the Hoosiers campus twice before he visited other schools.

Ultimately, he was an Indiana lean at one point but would wind up committing to Syracuse. But he says hisrecruitment was altered.

"It made things very tough because Indiana has a huge fan base and with me visiting twice a lot of schools backed off a bit," Richardson said. "But visiting the school twice and retweeting what the fans were saying wasn't a point of me saying I'm leaning toward choosing Indiana. It was simply enjoying the love. Schools definitely backed off because of what they noticed on social media."

Some recruits see their recruitment enhanced by social media, others see their recruitment opportunities damaged.

"When players retweet everything about themselves, it actually concerns college coaches," Bossi said. "They wonder if they'll have to end up babysitting this kid because he cares what everyone else thinks about him as opposed to putting in time in the gym and into his academics."

High school players and their families can suffer from "Keeping up with the Joneses" syndrome. If a recruit sees several of his teammates or peers gaining college attention and they are not, it can be demoralizing to their self-esteem and make their family feel as if they've failed them.

The best way to handle this is with hard work. But because of social media, underachievers will stretch the truth about their recruitment in order to expand their options, if any.

"You get a false sense of who's really recruiting a guy," said Drexel assistant coach Bob Jordan, who has been using Twitter since 2009. "It gives the kid a false sense of the level they can play at, and coaches a false sense because most times you look at a player's college list and realize something is weird about this.

"Did they really offer him? Somebody tweets something about someone and all the sudden there is a domino effect. Then coaches think, 'Am I missing something?' and start making calls."

"Social media impacts recruiting negatively because once a kid gets a bad sense of the level they can play at - based on something untrue that someone told them - that same kid gets stuck thinking they can play at that level."

But can such a silly tool as Twitter have so much influence on the minds of some of the best minds in college basketball and lead them to make decisions they regret when presenting scholarship offers to irresponsible recruits? Thousands of transfers in the past few years can certainly attest to that as social media's influence can make a player gain more credit than they may deserve.

Twitter wasn't as widely used when former Drexel player Frantz Massenat, a four-year starter and one of the top players in the Colonial Athletic Association, played high school and AAU basketball. Could he have gained high-major opportunities had every stretch of his recruitment been covered? With nearly every college coach in the nation watching their Twitter feed, it is certainly possible.

"I think social media could get you an offer or two, but it can't get everything. Say you're being primarily recruited by Atlantic-10 schools, maybe you can get some attention from the Big East but not every school will be on you. Maybe the lower schools in the Big East will look at you. It gives you another option for people to look at you."

If Massenat was going through the recruiting process today, social media would more than likely help boost his recruitment. While he was a valid player, the scary part is that certain players are using the system and exploiting it.

As Kreider stated, and many coaches echo, "The issue is self-promotion and adults who promote kids. That propaganda leads to the realization that you've been given false information when you see the kid play. It wastes a lot of time and hurts kids.

"Yes, social media impacts where a kid can go (level wise). However, the truth is going to come out. You see them in April, July and throughout the fall and winter. The truth comes out," said Kreider.

While there are many downfalls to social media, it can lead to welcomed exposure for those who need it. A remote location, AAU program's lack of budget and injuries are all reasons why certain recruits are not as fortunate as others when it comes to gaining exposure.

"Social media gives a player a chance to show their personality and interests," says Bossi. "They can show they are really interested in a school. Coaches can get a read into how a kid may behave, which is good for both parties."

Twitter can also show recruits where they stand on the totem pole of recruiting breakdowns and whether they are priorities of certain schools. If a school is calling a recruit constantly and telling them that they are a priority, but then social media shows that school has offered six other players at their position, that player clearly isn't a priority. That is a different type of publicity as it exposes college coaches, as well as the truth.

Ultimately, an athlete's play on the court in front of colleges will be the likely factor for where they wind up. But there are the other factors that come into play based on the perception a student-athlete creates from their social media footprint.

Do athletes want to play at the level destined for them, or do they want to keep up with the Joneses and be an underachiever? The social media platform can make or break someone's future.

As the July live period begins Wednesday in Philadelphia, Indianapolis, Washington DC, Las Vegas, Atlanta, Reading and other spots around the country, many players will excel on the court. Many influential people will have their say on where those players' recruitments can go. Twitter will factor into their performance and final evaluation.

"If kids aren't careful and act out on Twitter, especially guys who are competing with many other similar guys at their position for scholarships, they will lose out on opportunities," Bossi said. "If you act like a fool for the world to see, you probably won't be helping your chances. How these guys portray themselves on social media can make a huge difference."

Alex Kline is a national recruiting analyst for The Recruit Scoop on Rivals.com and can be followed on Twitter at @TheRecruitScoop and contacted at [email protected]


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