Brendan’s Bits: Pull Back, Breathe Deep and Don’t Tweet at Recruits

Dropping everything, moving to New Zealand and playing basketball for a year sounds like a great year at 18. Or 19, 20 or any age, for that matter.

R.J. Hampton’s announcement on Tuesday that he’s heading overseas for a year before trying his hand at the NBA was a stunning revelation. It was the night before, anyway, when the rumors started to leak all over the internet that he would forgo college basketball.

Before the announcement and leaks, though, Hampton was widely projected to be Kansas bound. His game theoretically fits well next to Devon Dotson, or would be just fine if he was running the show should Dotson stay in the NBA draft. There was a scholarship open, tons of playing time, constant national exposure, the whole works. That’s how it goes for any hotshot recruit at Kansas.

He decided to go elsewhere. There is nothing wrong with that.

As a Kansas fan, it hurts. It’s not good for the Jayhawks, who need help, and now coach Bill Self needs to adjust the recruiting plan yet again for the class of 2019. I get it, I don’t like it either. But just because it’s bad news for Kansas basketball doesn’t give anyone the right to freak out at the kid.

It’s a strange phenomenon that fans (most of the time older than college-aged ones) feel entitled to have boisterous opinions about what 18 year olds decide to do with their lives. Every time a recruit announces where they’re committing to, a transfer announces their next destination or a player declares for the draft, fans come storming out of the woodwork to belittle them. In Hampton’s case, it takes mere moments of looking at KU-centric social media to see throngs of fans lambasting his choice.

It’s not your’s, mine or anyone’s business what he wants to do. It’s a rude awakening for some people to find out that there are individuals in the world who don’t care about the grandeur of playing in Allen Fieldhouse or about the tradition of Jayhawks basketball. Insulting the kid for choosing what he thinks is best for him is embarrassing, more than anything. Where do you get the nerve to call a kid out for it?

Again, as a fan it’s tough to see a missed opportunity. But nobody is shedding a tear for Kansas, a college basketball monolith which has been one of the sport’s most dominant institutions for over a century. KU doesn’t get to play a “woe is me” card when recruits choose to go somewhere else. Even more importantly, fans don’t get to reach out to a kid on social media to flame them for their decisions.

Fandom is a bizarre thing. It drives normal folks to insanity and can reveal the obsessive side of nearly anyone. One of my favorite, for lack of a better term, examples of the mess that is the recruiting world was the responses to this tweet from Hampton:

His replies are filled with screenshots of logos and desperate requests for Hampton to choose their favorite school. The best is the words of encouragement and agreement with his message, followed by a team’s (un)official hashtag, as if these people thought they were being stealthy.

This doesn’t even touch the very dark world of backlash against recruits. Calling them names, saying they won’t amount to anything, they’ll never make it past the G League, etc. You have to wonder what something thinks they’re accomplishing with these messages, as well as why that particular act makes them feel good. Do you really feel better about yourself because you said something mean to a teenager or early 20-something? That’s the kind of thing you should go therapy for.

At moments like this it’s important to take a step back and reassess what you’re doing. I will be the first to admit that I’m obsessive about my favorite teams. I care about the Green Bay Packers more than anything else in life. I lose my mind over KU athletics. It’s OK to be passionate and to care and to want your team to succeed. It’s another, much worse, thing to care so much that you feel inclined to attack a player on social media. It doesn’t matter if your name and face are on your profile or if you’re tweeting anonymously, it’s an uncalled for tactic that does nothing but make both you and the fan base look bad.

There’s a member of KU media who tweeted out something about no guys who spurned college ball for overseas leagues ever becoming NBA stars (I refuse to boost this guy’s signal, you can find him easily enough). So what? Past players have no bearing on a current player, and just because he won’t necessarily turn into a “legend” doesn’t mean it wasn’t still worth it for him. How many college kids become legends, whatever your definition of that buzzword is?

We all need to recognize that our values aren’t everyone’s values.

There are pros and cons to playing college basketball or overseas for a one-and-done type of player. There’s a strong argument that there are more pros, ironically, for going to college, but the biggest pro comes from actually being a professional and making money for playing the game. If he feels like that’s the best option for him then more power to him. No fan or media member has the right to criticize someone for doing what they think is best for them, especially when it comes to sports.

Take a step back and reflect on the situation at hand. Does R.J. Hampton’s decision, or any recruit’s for that matter, make you so upset that you need to attack them on Twitter? Does it enrage you so much that you need to insult them? If so, it’s probably time to log off, get some fresh air and reevaluate your priorities. Consider what’s actually important here and what is deserving of so much emotion.

While we’re doing that, maybe we can also finally come to an understanding that trying to predict the actions of 17 and 18 year olds is a fool’s errand.

As one of the obsessed fans I’m trying to reach, I hope I can learn that, too.