UK basketball notebook: Media part of problem when fans' Twitter trash gets credence

Herald-Leader Staff WriterMay 18, 2013 

Wiggins Decision Basketball

Huntington (W.Va.) Prep star Andrew Wiggins and his mother, Marita Payne-Wiggins, were all smiles during his college announcement Tuesday.

SHOLTEN SINGER — AP

After committing to Kansas on Tuesday, mega prospect Andrew Wiggins made a big mistake. He sat down in his coach's office, pulled out his cellphone and checked immediate Twitter reaction to his decision.

Wiggins could be seen shaking his head and mumbling in disbelief as he read the ill wishes expressed by some fans of the losing schools in the recruiting race: Florida State, North Carolina and Kentucky. In 140 characters or less, they hoped he'd tear ACLs, be consumed by fire or die in a plane crash. They flung racial slurs. They slandered his native country of Canada (Canada?).

Wiggins' coach at Huntington (W.Va.) Prep, Rob Fulford, lamented the damage that can be done by Twitter, Facebook and other postings on the Inter-nut, er, Internet.

"Social media has made recruiting kind of a disaster, honestly," Fulford told the newspaper in Huntingon, the Herald-Dispatch. "There are so many people who have access to those that they normally wouldn't. It's really dangerous."

Robert Thompson, the director of the Bleier Center for Television and Popular Culture at Syracuse University, wonders why news outlets fritter valuable time by monitoring Twitter. More than a few stories on Wiggins' college choice, including one in the Herald-Leader, mentioned the ugly tweets.

"What amazes me is how much attention the professional journalistic establishment pays to a lot of this stuff," Thompson told Christine Brennan of USA Today. "In the old days, if I had been really mad about something, and typed up my manifesto and Xeroxed it and sent it to the local newspapers and radio stations, they'd have thrown it away."

Au contraire. In the old days, we'd give the manifesto more consideration than that. We'd read enough to get the gist, roll our eyes, share a good laugh and then throw it in the trash.

"When you open up a communications system (for) practically everybody, there is absolutely no way that some percentage ... is not going to say really mean things and attack," Thompson said. "But we're not talking about 5 percent or 10 percent or 30 percent of the population saying horrible things about athletes. We're talking about a pretty small percentage."

In a follow-up telephone conversation, Thompson dismissed tweets as an insightful gauge of public opinion or anything else.

"Quick bursts that come from the id," he called tweets. "Put it this way, tweets make the old-fashioned sound bite seem like a lengthy, well-thought-out idea."

Professional news operations should concentrate on gathering useful information and presenting it in a compelling way, Thompson said.

"If I wanted to know what somebody on Twitter was thinking, I'd get that at the barbershop," he said.

Or the saloon or the bleachers in center field, he added. But the Internet gives the inane a worldwide distribution.

Of course, UK Coach John Calipari tweets. So have several UK players.

When it was noted that these kind of tweets seem "almost like a P.R. tool," Thompson said, "I'd remove the word 'almost.'"

Wiggins received 90 text messages on his phone within minutes of announcing for Kansas. Fulford lamented the swirl of rumor and innuendo that attaches itself to a highly rated prospect.

The Huntington Prep coach noted a person on the web purporting to have sold crab cakes to North Carolina Coach Roy Williams. During the transaction, the person claimed to have heard that UNC received a national letter of intent signed by Wiggins.

"It's become ridiculous," Fulford said. "It's become really unbearable. There are some nut jobs that live amongst us."

With their reputation for non-stop obsession, UK fans fit the description. But Fulford noted that Kentucky produced no more message board maniacs than the other schools' fan bases. Many UK fans participated in a golf fundraiser for Huntington Prep late last week without incident.

A question to ponder: Does the Internet lunacy suggest there's more anger in the world? Or does it simply give a long-existing anger a larger circulation?

"I don't think we're angrier than we were 100 years ago or 200 years ago," Thompson said. "Human beings spend a lot of time getting really angry at things. They lash out. That's part of human nature, and some do it irrationally."

As to why the media pay any attention to the tweets, Thompson cited "this desperate feeling of, 'Oh, you have to make sure all of our people are tweeting or they're going to seem old-fashioned or out of it or not keeping up with the new digital age.'"

Ironically, this attempt at using tweets and such to monitor popular sentiment can be a detriment to the media's traditional role of weighing and assessing public opinion, Thompson said.

"I'm not sure going to tweets is the best way of really getting to the bottom of local response to a story," he said.

So what is?

"Reporting might be the best way," Thompson said, dryly.

NBA frustrated?

ESPN analyst Chad Ford boldly proclaimed that former UK star Nerlens Noel will be the first player taken in this year's NBA Draft. Well, maybe Ford wasn't all that bold.

"Teams at the top are frustrated," Ford said. "They want a franchise player. That player doesn't exist in this draft."

In Ford's estimation, this year's draft contains good players. "But I doubt there's a lot of all-stars or franchise-changers," he said.

Foul ball

In speaking to reporters last week, John Calipari scoffed at the talk of a crackdown on physical play in college basketball. The idea was that the threat of calling more fouls, or even actually doing so, would free up players to return basketball to — gasp — a finesse game.

The NBA created a more appealing flow to its game by outlawing the more egregious examples of hand-checking and the like. The presumption is college basketball will do the same.

"Do you really believe that?" said Calipari, who seemed clearly not to believe that.

"The more you foul, the more you shoot free throws," the UK coach said. "I don't understand how that works.

"So we're going to press (and) be more physical. Bump and grind."

In the past, he's set a goal of no more than six fouls per half, the better to limit the opponents' one-and-one opportunities, Calipari said. With the promise of a deep team that could easily have a 10-man rotation, the Cats are better suited to pressure defense, he said.

Cal shrugs

UK Coach John Calipari all but shrugged when asked about the No. 1 prospect in this year's high school senior class, Andrew Wiggins, committing to Kansas last week.

"I'm as confident before and after his decision," Calipari said, "and I wish him well.

"He's a great kid and he's going to be a terrific basketball player."

But Wiggins' decision apparently had zero effect on UK expectations for this coming season.

"It didn't change me any," Calipari said. "I was confident in this team and the group we had before and after (Wiggins' announcement)."

Noel leftovers

Here are a few leftovers from Nerlens Noel's interview session Thursday at the NBA Combine in Chicago:

Question: How is your rehabilitation progressing?

Answer: "It's coming along very well. I'm still ahead of schedule. I moved down to Alabama" (to rehab at Dr. James Andrews' Birmingham-based facility).

Q: What can you do on the court?

A: "I'm mostly form shooting — shooting free throws — starting last week. Starting to get on some machines. Strength and durability ... I'm not running (on a floor) yet. I've been polishing every little part of my game. As time goes on I'll do more low-block work. Right now it's more form shooting."

Q: What's your timetable for playing again?

A: "I'm taking this step-by-step, listening to my physical therapist and Dr. Andrews."

Q: How have you progressed mentally in dealing with the injury?

A: "The day I heard what the injury was (an ACL) was the only day I felt sorry for myself. Every day since then I've devoted to my rehab."

Q: What do you think of questions about your offensive game?

A: "I think I'm at a good point. Obviously I can't do too much right now. But when I come back, I'll be able to knock down that 15-footer and take my game to another level."

Q: What advice did you receive from Derrick Rose?

A: "He just told me listen to your physical therapist and you'll do well."

Q: What advice did John Calipari give you?

A: "Be very focused in everything you do because the NBA is a grind."

Kornet 2.0

Vanderbilt announced last week that it had signed Luke Kornet, the son of former Commodore Frank Kornet. The elder Kornet played for Lexington Catholic before going to Vandy.

The younger Kornet, a 6-foot-10 forward from Argyle, Texas, averaged 15 points, 7.2 rebounds and three blocks as a senior for Liberty Christian School. He made 44 percent of his three-point shots in helping the team finish with a 33-7 record.

The Texas Association of Private and Parochial Schools named Kornet to its All-State team.

"We're excited to have Luke join this year's class," Vandy Coach Kevin Stallings said in a statement. "He's a young man with an extremely bright future, and of course, an outstanding Vanderbilt pedigree. Both of his parents, Frank and Tracy, are excellent ambassadors for the university and we are thrilled to have them join our Commodore basketball family."

The younger Kornet grew almost 7 inches in his senior season of high school. He chose Vandy over Kansas State, TCU and Purdue.

Happy birthday

To Jamaal Magloire. He turns 35 on Tuesday. ... To Ron Mercer. He turned 37 on Saturday. ... To Enes Kanter. He turns 21 Monday. ... To Rob Lock. He turns 47 Wednesday. ... To Buzz Peterson. The former Tennessee coach turned 50 Friday.

Jerry Tipton: (859) 231-3227. Twitter: @JerryTipton. Blog: ukbasketball.bloginky.com.

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