So there was Kyrie Irving, the 6-foot-2 combo guard from St. Patrick's High School in Elizabeth, N.J., appearing live on ESPNU Thursday afternoon with a big ol' smile on his face. "I'm pleased to announce that I will be committing to Duke University," Irving said, putting on a blue Duke hat. "I will be a Blue Devil next year."
As twist endings go, this was hardly The Sixth Sense. But I have to admit, it made for pretty good TV.
The only problem is that, in an effort to pack as much intrigue into the moment as he could, Irving had to be less than fully honest. On Tuesday night, Adam Zagoria, who covers recruiting for SportsNet New York and Rivals.com, posted an item on his blog announcing that Irving had committed to Duke and would make a public announcement this week. Zagoria quoted three anonymous sources, two of whom were assistant coaches who had recruited Irving, as the basis for his report.
This caused the Twitter world to go, well, atwitter overnight as word of Zagoria's piece spread. Within a half-hour after it was posted, Irving, who has built up a Twitter following of more than 3,000 people, denied Zagoria's report. "I have not committed to duke!!!" read a tweet he sent out at 12:35 a.m. Wednesday. A minute later, another tweet: "I don't know what's going on with all these supposed sources but I have not commited [sic] to duke." He issued yet another denial later that morning: "I will be deciding between Texas a and am duke and Kentucky.. I have not commited to duke..I will be announcing on espn u."
Notice that not only did Irving say he had not committed to Duke, he was claiming that he hadn't even made up his mind yet. That is one strong denial.
Now, there's nothing wrong with a high school player using the media (social and otherwise) to generate some buzz. It's fun, and it's his right. Nor am I saying that Irving was flat-out lying when he said he had not "committed" to Duke before Thursday. From what I've heard from my own anonymous sources, Irving told Mike Krzyzewski four weeks ago on his official visit to Durham that he was coming to Duke. Irving told Coach K he still wanted to take his other visits -- first to Texas A&M, where he was doing a favor for Scott Spinelli, the Aggies assistant coach who played at Boston University with Irving's dad; and then to Kentucky's Midnight Madness, where the hype surrounding Kyrie's visit would be in full throat. (Irving was supposed to take official visits to Georgia Tech and Seton Hall, but now there will obviously be no need for those.) Then Irving would reveal his decision to the public.
Perhaps in Irving's mind, his assurance to the Duke coaching staff did not amount to a "commitment," but that's essentially what it was.
However, when Irving claimed via Twitter that, as of the day before his appearance on ESPNU, that he had not "decided" where he was going to school, he defied credulity. It's pretty obvious he knew at that point where he was headed. He just wanted people to tune in. He admitted as much when ESPNU host Lowell Galindo asked him about his responses to Zagoria's report. "I had to keep everybody in suspense," Irving said. "Somebody wrote that prematurely, but it didn't really have a hindrance on my decision at all. I really enjoyed ESPN doing this for me and it's just been great that I could announce it here."
Moreover, I also heard that Kyrie and his father were miffed that Zagoria had scooped their big announcement, especially since they had "helped" Zagoria in the past by letting him interview them. But who was helping whom? Zagoria, like all the other enterprising recruitniks out there, was enabling Irving's hunger for buzz by chronicling every minor development in his recruitment. It was odd, to say the least, for Kyrie to assert that Zagoria's story was "premature" just moments after he had verified it.
There is a deeper issue here that goes beyond these little media and Twitter games. If Irving really did know four weeks ago where he was going to school, then he was doing a disservice not only to Duke, but to the other schools on his list, by putting off his announcement. This is where the self-promotional aspect of recruiting has gotten out of hand -- and there are many kids who are far worse offenders than Irving. It is becoming all too common for high school players to needlessly draw out their recruitments solely for the purpose of holding the public's attention. I guarantee you a handful of top players will wait until the end of the spring signing period next May for just this reason. Yes, we and the media are all-too-willing co-conspirators, but at some point, you have to wonder whether these dishonest tactics are good for the kids, the schools and for basketball in general.
Make no mistake: Kyrie Irving is worth the hype. He is the best guard Duke has recruited since Jay Williams, and he is a terrific student to boot. But since he has been playing the media game so deftly, he should do what a real media organization is supposed to do when it publishes something that's wrong: He should issue a correction. At the very least, he should apologize to Adam Zagoria. Unlike Kyrie, he got the story right.