There are always plenty of reasons to doubt the validity of high school prep recruiting sources. For our money, analysts at Rivals.com are always the best source (of course, we're pretty much required to attest to that, given Prep Rally's proud network allegiance, but this blog also genuinely believes that to be true), but other competitive sources can occasionally prove reliable as well.
What can't be trusted are independent blogs that appear to materialize out of nowhere. The best case in point to come along in ages may be Jonathon Paige, or a man who claimed to be Jonathon Paige and appeared to run a hoops recruiting blog called SummerHoopScoop. On Tuesday, Paige admitted that he made up his entire persona. There is no SummerHoopScoop, there never has been a Paige and the Twitter account that Paige used to help build a relatively voracious following is filled with little more than completely fraudulent updates that he plagiarized from other, more reliable sources.
The confession and reasons for the massive fake news operation came from the unnamed creator of Paige's virtual identity as the main story on SummerHoopScoop. Part crusader for the exposure of fan naiveté, part curious media manipulator, Paige faked his attendance at major basketball recruiting events across the country and wrote with the authority of someone who was in direct contact with recruits, only to later admit that he made everything up.
Here's how he claims he did it:
My methods were simple.
- Immediately tweet information found on the twitter feeds of proven and credible sources like Dave Telep, Jeff Borzello, Jeff Goodman, and Brian Snow.
- Bounce around the free messageboards of top tier programs and tweet any "breaking" information that trickles down the pipeline.
- Find out what summer tournaments are taking place each weekend, read the tweets and blogs of those attending, and do tournament write-ups that regurgitated all of the information in a slightly different manner.
- When in doubt, use lots of language that appeals to specific fanbases (Example: Carolina fans love the words "family atmosphere" and Duke fans like to talk about "silent verbals"while Kentucky fans love to hear about Calipari "going to work.")
- And if a piece of information seems likely (and hopefully incontrovertible) given the circumstances, just make it up....
With hardly any effort... without ever leaving my couch... I was AT the tournaments. I had "well-informed" opinions about recruits. I was a source that people looked to. Don't believe me? As of right now I have over 550 followers.
Needless to say, the Jonathon Paige affair stands out as an even more extreme Stephen Glass case (albeit with a pseudonym and masked by an online avatar) for the high school recruiting industry. Naturally, a similar situation could have unfolded in any number of different reporting circles, though the college hoops recruiting circuit was particularly vulnerable.
Think about it: Unlike professional sports, the attention paid to top prospects varies wildly from area to area and site to site. All of that creates a vacuum that Paige could step into, immediately establishing himself alongside the more reliable sources that he mentioned above.
So, what did we learn? Paige claims that his entire episode proves diehard fans of a number of college basketball programs (Kentucky most predominantly, with North Carolina and UCLA also prominent on his list) are incredibly naive, and that they can be easily manipulated to believe whatever one wants. Prep Rally isn't so sure. Rather, the three points he outlines at the end of his confession seem to be the most important takeaways:
• Only trust reliable sources.
• Bad news is equally reliable as good news, it's all just determinant on the reliability of the source, and, most importantly...
• Recruiting news changes on a daily basis, because it's focused on decisions made by 16 and 17-year-olds, who are naturally incredibly indecisive. An article that says one thing may not be inaccurate just because a day later another piece says something very different.
That third point is the key, and is perhaps the most important to consider when analyzing why college basketball recruiting was (and remains) so vulnerable to this kind of a scam in general. The sad thing is that such a realization can do little to ensure that another Paige doesn't come along soon, particularly given the success of the first one.