Andrew Wiggins, the nation's top-ranked basketball recruit, who today chose Kansas over Kentucky, North Carolina and Florida State
LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) -- I like Andrew Wiggins. Here's a kid who didn't want to make a spectacle of his recruitment, despite being the top-ranked basketball recruit in the nation and being hailed as the greatest high school talent since LeBron James. Here's a kid who treated it like a grown-up. He didn't play games and court fan bases and in general make an attention-seeking clown out of himself. He didn't turn his announcement into a national TV event. He didn't blab a different story to every different national outlet. In fact, he kept it so tight that most experts who predicted his eventual college choice got it wrong.
He's going to Kansas.
Wiggins played it straight. Nobody else did. Rock, Talk, Jayhawk.
Wiggins didn't play circus ringmaster, but it became a circus anyway. There are reasons, of course, chief among which is that recruiting, along with meme making, cat pictures and pornography, is one of the four horsemen that drives the entire Internet.
Nobody appreciates the need to feed the web-hit counter more than I do. Heck, I left print to go all-in on the Internet (and TV). But at some point, if you cover these stories and retain any sense of perspective at all, you start to realize that you're covering it because of the story, not because of the actual value of the event.
We all love hype. The web is fueled by it. But so many times in recruiting, it's hard not to feel empty at the end of the whole thing. You can find yourself standing at a school in Huntington, W.V., having just spent months of coverage and a day of breathless anticipation covering what was, in the end, a Kansas recruiting story.
And I like Kansas recruiting. But not enough to drive to West Virginia for it. In fact, I don't like anybody's recruiting enough to drive to West Virginia for it.
You have to go, of course. If you cover Kentucky, you have to go, because if Wiggins had chosen Kentucky it would've been the Biggest Internet Story in the State. In fact, that he isn't coming to Kentucky is still the Biggest Internet Story in the State. I'm sure you can look at the headlines on this very sports web page and see wall-to-wall Wiggins.
I guess I'm getting old. It had to happen eventually. I like writing stories about recruits after they've committed or signed. Until then, I can manage a few, but I don't think I have the blood-thirst for web hits I should have.
Because in the back of my mind (but improving position in my mind with every media story that comes across the wire) is the nagging feeling that recruiting coverage and the public desire for it is everything that's wrong with reporting today.
The rampant misinformation. The need for information -- and consumption of it by the public -- whether it's credible or not. The focus on news as a predictor of events instead of as a reporting, analytical exercise. The over-emphasis of a single individual's action based on its sheer dramatic appeal rather than its actual importance, even within the confines of its field. The false construct of rankings. The building of a narrative and then reporting on that narrative instead of on events, or worse yet, the reporting of events as they apply to that narrative instead of on their own merits.
I covered recruiting for a lot of years as a college beat writer. And it is the most popular topic you can write about. But I found myself spending thousands of words (and in some cases, company dollars) writing about kids who never showed up in town. Some people love it. I did not.
It's hard enough to be a teenager without the whole world watching. A time will come for these young guys. I don't see much positive coming from turning the spotlight on them at such a young age over nothing more than picking a college. But I see a great many negative consequences.
"I cannot understand why you should wish to leave this beautiful country and go back to the dry, gray place you call Kansas," the Scarecrow told Dorothy in L. Frank Baum's The Wizard of Oz.
"That is because you have no brains," answered Dorothy.
I'm starting to worry about the rest of us, too. I realize that saying so has the effect of pouring vinegar into everyone's Corn Flakes. So I won't belabor the point, or even tell the kids to turn the music down.
I realize that the party goes on. I'll just pipe down now and go about my business, aware that when it comes to journalism and media, we're not in Kansas, anymore.
Also, have I showed you the latest photo of my cat?