Monday, June 20, 2011

An Experiment in Modern Recruiting News

I am not Jonathon Paige.

There is no Jonathon Paige. There is no SummerHoopScoop. In fact, there never was. A little over two months ago the college basketball season ended and the long off-season of recruiting events and commitment speculation began. Messageboards and popular basketball news sources began to populate with recruiting interviews, videos, news stories, and rumors. The summer circuit circus began and college basketball fans dug in for the slow rolling waves of recruiting information to parse through. Of course, the real issue is-- who's information can be trusted? Sometimes it feels to fans like recruiting services and "experts" are just sorting through twitter feeds and regurgitating third-hand information.

However, a funny dynamic develops as a result. When a recruiting "source" brings good news to a fan base, it is instantly credible and plenty are willing to defend the source with recollections of previous information provided that proved correct. When a recruiting source brings bad news, it is open season. "Never heard of this guy"... "probably some opposing fan base's blogger" .... "I doubt he knows what he is talking about." In short, fans believe what they want to believe.

So, out of boredom and sincere interest in the relationship between the internet, recruiting services, and consumers, I created Jonathon Paige.

All I did was start a twitter account and a blog. The first blog entry gave a simple back story:

Hey All, 
After a seven month hiatus and brief retirement, I am back. A lot of you followed me last summer on the website and twitter. I originally thought the yearly AAU circuit grind might be a bit much moving forward, but I just couldn't hang up the kicks and notepad.
My methods were simple. 

- Immediately tweet information found on the twitter feeds of proven and credible sources like Dave Telep, Jeff Borzello, Jeff Goodman, and Brian Snow.
- Bounce around the free messageboards of top tier programs and tweet any "breaking" information that trickles down the pipeline.
- Find out what summer tournaments are taking place each weekend, read the tweets and blogs of those attending, and do tournament write-ups that regurgitated all of the information in a slightly different manner.
- When in doubt, use lots of language that appeals to specific fanbases (Example: Carolina fans love the words "family atmosphere" and Duke fans like to talk about "silent verbals"while Kentucky fans love to hear about Calipari "going to work.")
- And if a piece of information seems likely (and hopefully incontrovertible) given the circumstances, just make it up.... 

With hardly any effort... without ever leaving my couch... I was AT the tournaments. I had "well-informed" opinions about recruits. I was a source that people looked to. Don't believe me? As of right now I have over 550 followers.

Jonathon Paige's blog has almost 20,000 views with readers from multiple countries.

... and it wasn't just casual fans interested in my information, my twitter account gained some interesting followers along the way. Recruits, assistant coaches, writers for real recruiting news sources, and college basketball reporters:

While Twitter was helpful in building the "Jonathon Paige Brand," messageboards and team-specific blogs were the greatest instrument. Most of the fan blogs collect any conceivable information (about their team of choice) available on the internet in one place for fans. There is no real filter and this is where fans go for information. Messageboards served much the same function. Here are a few examples:

Kentucky Site
Memphis Messageboard

Kentucky Site following Tweet that Bazz would soon commit

Duke Messageboard

UCLA Messageboard
Carolina Blog

... and so Jonathon Paige grew a small following. This is just a limited sampling of screenshots collected over the last few months, but hopefully it gives readers a sense of how the name spread. 

Throughout it all Jonathon Paige made sure not to predict any commitments before reliable sources had already reported them.... until the end when it came time to finish the experiment with a boom. The last test was to see if anybody would actually believe a fictional twitter account's breaking news that a top tier recruit was choosing a top tier program. Enter the University of North Carolina (the school with a recruit perceived to be closest to a commitment at the time):

First Jonathon Paige tweeted that Kaleb Tarczewski desired to choose UNC while his parents were leaning towards Kansas. This led to a flurry of retweets and messageboard threads (My personal favorite was - "WHO THE FRICK IS JONATHON PAIGE?"... this guy was obviously very invested). 

Then, Jonathon Paige officially called Kaleb Tarczewski to North Carolina... WHILE TARCZEWSKI WAS ON ANOTHER SCHOOL'S CAMPUS!!! Would anybody even entertain the possibility of this being true for even a second.... of course. We believe what we want to believe when it comes to high school recruiting.

... and I am not going to go in to the message boards. At least the recruiting handicappers qualified their reports of "buzz" with the helpful statement that it is all unconfirmed. 

Lessons Learned

I found that the easiest fanbase to sway was Kentucky, followed closely by UNC, Duke, and UCLA. This was unsurprising as all three programs have huge fanbases with passionate fans that take a sincere interest in recruiting. Also unsurprising was the reception given to different sorts of recruiting news. If Jonathon Paige tweeted that a recruit was "leaning towards" school X, there would be multiple re-tweets and messageboard posts by fans of that school about the news. If another school in the race for the same recruit saw the tweet and it was brought up on a messageboard, the source and news would be summarily dismissed in short order... until something more positive came out a week later of course.

Perhaps what was most surprising of all was how little effort this all took. Whenever I sat down at my computer I would do a few searches on twitter, browse my timeline, and I would be done in 3-5 minutes. Ultimately, this experiment has taught me a few lessons that I hope you can also take away from this:

(1) Only trust PROVEN sources that have a track record and accountability. 

For my money, Jeff Goodman is the best overall source in the business. He has tons of contacts, breaks more stories on college basketball than anybody else, and does so in a responsible way. Similarly, Dave Telep might be the best when it comes to contacts and breaking news in the recruiting world. Services like ESPN Recruiting and Scout (and Rivals on occasion) are often panned by college basketball fans, but they remain a valuable resources. Those guys hit the road hard every week during the summer and collect tons of information. Their jobs are not easy and they are likely underpaid. Sure some of them have slight biases that might bother you, but their information is sound 95 times out of 100. They should be your primary resources on national recruiting news. Here is a rough list:

Dave Telep
Brian Snow
Jeff Borzello
Jeff Goodman
Paul Biancardi
Evan Daniels
Eric Bossi

(2) Keep your ears open to bad news as well as good news. When you hear negative news about your school's chances with a recruit from a trusted source or all the facts don't add up in your favor, don't go in to denial about it. Just accept what you are seeing and hearing. A analyst is not wrong just because he brings bad news. A random recruiting twitter account is not right just because it tells you what you want to hear. Be smart about what information you hear and where it comes from.

(3) Recruiting is about choices made by 16 and 17 year old kids. They change their minds all the time. When they do that doesn't mean a previous piece of information given by a source was wrong.... just that it is no longer correct.. Accept this fact and move on. Remember, these are kids.

If you want to look through the pretty simple and fast way Jonathon Paige built a following, just scroll through the blog or the twitter feed. All anonymous or fictional sources.... all innuendo or general information. All a joke.

Thanks for Reading. Yours Truly,