Trevon Duval committed to the Duke Blue Devils. The highly-sought high school talent used The Players’ Tribune as the vessel for his message. It was the perfect marriage of talent meeting outlet, the never-ending cycle that is the Duke brand.
In the year 2017, fans know more about incoming recruits than ever before.
It wasn’t long ago that fans — and even national media outside a recruit’s bubble — had to rely on word-of-mouth to figure out which high school prospects were good. If your local paper told you Local Player X was a great get for University Y, you believed it.
With recruiting service websites so prevalent today, that’s no longer the case. While never 100-percent accurate, the number of stars attached to a player’s name gives a fan base a better-than-decent gauge of what to expect from the incoming player.
Duval’s announcement via a player-friendly (and player-owned) outlet on Monday doesn’t take away from that dynamic. It is the evolution of it: the removal of the third party — the reporter, website or paper. The player brands himself anew, even if others have spent years trying to explain his future worth to the program he joins.
In the player’s own way, it is his announcement of not only committing to a school, but that he has arrived… and is a big deal.
People will naturally feel uncomfortable with this new process. There’s been pushback to ESPN’s coverage of college football’s National Signing Day, Bleacher Report’s video commitments, and pretty much everything that gives high school players exposure.
This uneasy feeling is layered. Some are sincerely worried about giving a kid too much attention, that the growing platform will increase expectations to unrealistic levels. The fear of massive publicity and exposure in high school is that it will leave many players open to unfair criticism down the road. It is the same sort of fear people have for child stars in Hollywood.
It doesn’t help that large numbers of people using social media treat the commitment by a high school player as an affront to their own school or belief system. Hell truly has no scorn like a middle-aged person tweeting at a teenager his disgust over the “not-yet-an-adult” choosing a school that isn’t the fan’s favorite.
Other people weirdly focus on whether the attention given to a high-school prospect is warranted. This is a far trickier conversation. There’s only one true way to make this type of coverage credible: a demographic wants it. This exists, like it or not.
“Has he or hasn’t he earned the attention?” There’s no established threshold which can answer that question. There’s no rule which says only four-star or above prospects are allowed to make announcements.
Not that any of it matters. Players making public commitments will not go away. What Duval did on Monday will change how some of it is done.
It is branding. The player had a relatively lower brand heading into Monday. It is not as though he was an unknown prospect. However, by going the Players’ Tribune route, his star power is now far more expansive — and he didn’t have to do anything on the court to make that happen.
Committing to the Blue Devils obviously helps. Duke, itself, is a brand. The program’s coach, Coach K, is a brand.
Duval is branding himself before stepping foot on campus at an already branded school to play for a well-regarded and incredibly well-branded coach.
This helps all involved, directly or otherwise.
Gone are any notions of Coach K being hurt by no longer being the U.S. national team coach. Duval, as well as other recent commitments, prove that his greatness still has staying power. Duval, by doing what he did, amplifies this point on behalf of Coach K without Mike Krzyzewski having to do anything more. He doesn’t need to say a word or make a public sales pitch. Duval’s announcement received extra attention — and buzz — because it was made on The Players’ Tribune. The announcement did all the work for the coach.
It does something for Duke which doesn’t really need to be done: It gives the program more attention.
Duval has been more brightly repackaged. He’s now an elite high school prospect going to Duke, and he’s also “big enough” to make his announcement on an outlet as important as The Players’ Tribune. Perception matters — Duval won the war with it on Monday.
Will this change how commitments work? It is far too early to tell, but it wouldn’t be shocking to see more top-tier recruits wait longer in the process to announce their intentions. The more players who commit before they do improves their chances of getting as much national attention as Duval did on Monday.
Getting attention, if nothing else, helps the brand.