Zapruder Analysis of Devastated Illinois Fans Watching a Kid Commit to Kansas
In the hierarchy of "people who care a little too much about sports," I think that the "college football/basketball recruitnik" has a special (maybe even slightly creepy) place.
I'm not saying that following recruiting as one would follow the regular news is necessarily an unhealthy thing. Say what you will about the accuracy of the "star rating" system of Web sites like rivals.com and scout.com on an individual prospect basis (it's very hit-or-miss), but on the aggregate, the teams that gather the most four- and five-star recruits generally experience the most success on the field. The numbers bear that out. So it is important.
I am just saying that there are limits, and going to the extent of following high school kids on Twitter, trolling high school kids on social media when they don't choose your school, and allowing the whims of a 17-year-old's decision-making process to visibly affect the quality of your day is completely unhealthy.
And, yes, creepy.
Which brings us to our latest chapter in the Zapruder video post box set that I definitely need to assemble and market. It comes from the world of college basketball recruiting.
It's been awhile since the University of Illinois men's basketball program has been highly relevant on the national landscape. Since making the Final Four in 2005 with the Deron Williams/Luther Head/Dee Brown troika, the Illini, under former head coach Bruce Weber for the next seven seasons after that and under current head coach John Groce last season, have made five NCAA tournaments in eight seasons and haven't made it out of the first weekend.
In short, they're just another program in a sea of programs that get swept aside by the big boys by late March. Well, it's John Groce's job to change that, and it starts with -- you guessed it -- recruiting!
Now, meet Cliff Alexander.
Alexander is a 6-foot-8 power forward from Curie High School in the Chicago area. He is one of the top five players in the class of 2014 and exactly the type of player the Illini need to secure to make a run at Big Ten titles and Final Fours. Here are some Alexander highlights:
If I had to put an NBA doppelgänger on Alexander, I'd say he looks like the high school version of the player that the Knicks thought they were getting when they gave Amar'e Stoudemire five years and $100 million. Forceful dunker, freaky athlete, beast. You can see why Illinois would want him so badly.
So last week, as highly rated high school football or basketball prospects are inclined to do, Alexander held a ceremony to announce where he would be playing basketball for the next
four years three years two years year of his life after high school.
Admittedly, I don't follow high school basketball recruiting all that closely, although given how many of these guys go to college for just one season, I probably should, since it's barely a stone's throw from scouting things out for the NBA Draft. I bring this up because I'm just assuming that Illinois thought they had Alexander signed, sealed and delivered, because I see the words "shock," "surprise" and "swerve" tied to Alexander's choice to cast aside the Illini and choose Kansas.
The way that he executed the announcement probably didn't help. Here is Cliff Alexander's ceremony (and no, this is not the video I will be Zapruder-ing. That's coming shortly. Hang with me here...):
Okay, one quick, relevant observation -- Alexander is probably a great kid, seems to be very popular among his classmates (at least the ones who were dancing behind him in Mardi Gras masks and holding up the C-L-I-F-F placards), but there are few things that make me angrier in sports than the high school kid who thinks it's funny to "pump fake" the ball cap ceremony.
In other words, I can't stand when kids have multiple hats in front of them and they reach for one hat (and simultaneously raise the hopes, the mood and the heart rates of the coaches at that school, albeit for three seconds) and then end up putting on a second hat. I think it completely minimizes and spits on the exhaustive time and the tireless effort that the coaches at the jilted school put in to try and lure the kid to their campus. It's immature and insulting, and if I had a kid who did that, I'd be embarrassed.
So to be clear, I think the message the "pump fake" sends to hard-working coaches who finished second in the recruiting race (in this case, Illinois) is deplorable.
That said, I think the effect the "pump fake" had on this room full of students from the University of Illinois is hilarious, and I have no idea if that makes me a bad person, or maybe even "wishy-washy" (right, Ben Tate?). I mean, how can something be so simultaneously insulting and funny? Well, here's how (with Zapruder, finally, to follow):