Cliff's notes a must read
CHAMPAIGN — At no more than 140 characters at a time, Cliff Alexander has captivated the college basketball world. The five-star Chicago big man, who made his official visit to the Illinois campus this weekend, has turned his Twitter account (@humblekid11) into a must-stop Internet destination for those wondering where he’ll play in college.
Media, coaches, college students — even moms and dads with children of their own — have been retweeting, responding to and offering their suggestions on which program the 6-foot-9, 250-pound forward should choose.
And the big man has had fun with every second of it, often responding himself and retweeting their advice.
“Everybody gets their time to shine, and this is that time for him. To get to this point, you’ve earned it, and that’s just his way of handling it,” said Mike Irvin, the director of Alexander’s AAU program, the Mac Irvin Fire.
If you’re one of the more than 9,000 who follow Alexander on Twitter, chances are you’ve been entertained or intrigued by more than a few of his 8,000-plus tweets.
“I really need to change my number ... Some random white dude just called me on FaceTime,” Alexander tweeted earlier this month. That came an hour after he solicited someone to FaceTime him on Twitter.
Even innocuous tweets get traction.
When he wrote “Good morning” on Twitter last week, that inspired seven people to mark it as a favorite and another person retweeted it.
“I think he likes to have fun with it. I don’t think he takes it too seriously. Everyone takes everything a little too seriously, but he does like having fun with the process,” said Scott Burgess, who covers recruiting for ChicagoHoops.com. “I don’t think that’s going to change.”
Fans from the schools in competition for Alexander’s services have been trying to one-up each other throughout the process. This summer, an Illinois fan tweeted to Alexander a rendering of the big man wearing an orange Illini uniform with a sold-out State Farm Center serving as the backdrop. Alexander released it on his Twitter feed with the caption “(Shoutout) to Illinois.”
That one got retweeted 361 times and inspired the mayor of Champaign to get in on the action.
“@humblekid11 … looking really good in orange,” Don Gerard wrote.
Not to be outdone, a Michigan State fan mocked up a photo of Alexander in a Spartans uniform inside Breslin Center later that day that Alexander shared with his followers. It received 75 retweets. Kansas and Memphis fans did the same thing later that week.
“I think he’s a kid who’s enjoyed it. To a degree, it’s his right to enjoy it. He has always been a coveted prospect, but he’s not been put on a pedestal like some of these other guys have. That just came about within the last six months,” said Joe Henricksen, publisher of City/Suburban Hoops Report. “Some of the guys have enjoyed it for two, three years at the maximum height where Cliff is kind of relatively new to all of the attention he’s getting — at least on a national stage. A lot of that comes with keeping the local schools (Illinois, DePaul) involved with a high-profile recruit until the end. It just maximizes the attention.”
Michael O’Brien has been covering high school basketball for the Chicago Sun-Times for more than a decade. He’s never seen anything quite like the recruitment of Alexander. The advancement of social media has changed the landscape tremendously, and Alexander is taking full advantage of his moment in the spotlight.
It used to be that when an athlete wanted to release a list of schools he was considering, he’d do it through the media. Now they serve as their own outlets.
“It’s really unbelievable. I’m so unnecessary compared to what I was. There are so many more media people dealing with recruiting, but most of it comes out directly through the kids now, especially with Twitter and a lot of other things,” O’Brien said. “You know people close to them and you hear things, but in a way it’s taken out the middle man with a lot of the kids.”
No one knew Alexander’s five finalists (Illinois, DePaul, Michigan State, Kansas, Memphis) until he announced them on his Twitter feed.
Other big-time recruits from the Chicago area have preferred a more low-profile recruitment. Not Alexander.
“Cliff definitely has a lot more interaction with the fans. He kind of enjoys teasing fans from all of the different schools a lot more than I’ve seen everybody else from our area. I’ve enjoyed it; it’s been kind of fun,” O’Brien said. “It’s better than the usual silent recruitment where when everything comes out, people get bent out of shape. They usually deny it, but Cliff just seems to enjoy it a lot more.”
Not everyone is a fan of this approach. Some recruiting analysts have labeled Alexander an overly dramatic diva.
“There’s no right way or wrong way to do it,” Mike Irvin said. “The main thing is just stay true to you, and that’s all you can really ask for from a guy.”
Said O’Brien: “I’ve never seen him get too bent out of shape about anything. He’s definitely easygoing. A lot of people might think that’s a negative, but he’s definitely into the game. He’s pretty gentile, pretty funny.”
Irvin has seen the process take a toll on some of his players.
“Yeah, it has worn on guys, but Cliff’s made it fun.”
This weekend provided John Groce and his staff the opportunity to make a lasting impression on the Curie product ahead of the announcement he will make live on ESPNU on Nov. 16 — his 18th birthday.
“He’s looking for somewhere from an academic standpoint that’s a good school, and Illinois is one of the top schools in the country,” Irvin said. “He wants to go into a situation that’s going to give him a chance to be one-and-done, but at the same time, if he has to be there longer than that, a place he feels comfortable enough to be there that long where he can get a good education.”