As we continue down the winding road of the Patrick Patterson recruitment, I have found myself spending a lot more time on the message boards of our rivals to try and see their take on the entire process. While at times it can be difficult (the folks at Florida seem to not care about this very much at all), a common theme on all three of the major players’ message boards is “why would Patrick want to go to the other schools when he could go to our school?” Part of this is simply because the fans on the various sites are simply hoping that by typing these questions, they can have some sort of cosmic role in helping to try and get him to their university. But some of that is really a legitimate question. People just dont see what recruits would see in the other places. Thus I thought I would give (as best as I can), a “neutral” view on the positives and negatives of each university.
Duke While Duke is most likely third right now in this “Chase for the Pat”, no University in America has been more successful at the recruiting game in recent years than the Blue Devils. So why is that? There are a number of reasons. First and foremost is that Coach K has produced a program in Durham that is really unlike any other in all of college sports. As much as is possible in that type of atmosphere, Duke is a corporate environment, where being part of “Blue Devil Inc” is more of a life choice than it is even a basketball decision. To the average, ESPN watching sports fan, Duke IS college basketball. The university has virtually all of their games on national television and they are the only school that can sell to recruits the notion that they will certainly become famous by stepping on campus. Put simply, a Duke basketball game is part of the national sports conversation……even when, as last year, it is played against a nothing opponent like Florida St. Duke is involved, thus it is news,
In addition, Duke as a university is an amazing institution. Regardless of the problems in Durham in recent years, the school is beautiful and due to its sports success, is one of the places (along with Harvard, Yale and Stanford) that even those not familiar with higher education, know is an elite school. Plus, the notion of the Duke “family” is real. While some of the family aspects are bogus (if you fall out of grace with Coach K you are kicked out forever……see William Avery), if you pass the test of “Dukeness” there is an entire business, journalistic and athletic network that can truly set you up for life. This network is nationwide and can be seen by all the Dukies working in these fields. Finally, Duke has the most fervent student population of fans in America. I know we all hate Cameron, but there is NO BETTER place to watch a college basketball game in America, period. When Duke is rocking, it is amazing (although when Rupp Arena is hyped for a big game, it may be just as impressive.) Plus it doesnt hurt that the number one rival for the school (UNC) produces a set of games every year that are often hyped as the biggest rivalry in all of sports.
So what are the negatives? Well for one thing, Coach K turns some people off (to say the least). He wears a “holier than thou” attitude everywhere he goes that can cause those who are not mesmerized to be truly turned off. In addition, Duke is lily white……I mean really lily white. There may be no university in America that reeks economic privilege quite like Duke. While many of the students are very intelligent, a lot are simply rich daddy’s boys and girls who had their mediocre high school performances overlooked by daddy’s trust fund. For many student-athletes, this student body simply is not where they want to spend four years, and it explains often the kids who end up disliking the University. Finally some folks simply dont buy the hype. Not all of us want to spend four years slapping the floor and worshipping the K Toupee. And for those, Duke can be a stifling place that they would rather get past.
Florida— While I have not always been a fan, you have to give Billy Donovan a ton of credit in recent years. Florida, unlike most of the best college programs in America, actually doesnt have the natural makeup to be a great basketball school. The fans really dont care all that much and even when they win a national championship, they would much prefer to talk football. Yet Donovan has utilized the advantages Florida has, as well as anyone. What are those advantages? Well style of play is one. Donovan has produced a type of basketball that leads to down the court style of play and that appeals to most athletes (although this has toned down a lot in the last two years). Florida also utilizes their location in a great climate and the Florida coeds to their benefit. Going to school in Florida in January is much better than Storrs, Connecticut. And finally, Billy Donovan himself is an amazingly charasmatic guy. He is still younger than most college coaches and he relates to kids very well and speaks to them on a level they understand…..an underrated quality in a head coach.
Negatives? Well there is no doubt that the Gators are not steeped in tradition like most top programs. If Coach K, Tubby or Roy Williams leaves, there is a great chance that a great coach will fill the void. Florida basketball is Billy Donovan basketball and it is unclear what a vacancy in Gainesville might bring. Plus as stated earlier, the fans dont care. For Midnight Madness for the national championship team, the Florida gymnasium was half full….or less. Simply put, you walk the streets of Lexington or Chapel Hilll a star…..you walk the streets of Gainesville (unless you are Joakim Noah) simply a college athlete.
Kentucky If you were to list the advantages to Kentucky, two stand out. First, the fan base for Kentucky is unmatched in virtually any sport in America. For the people of the state of Kentucky, UK basketball is life. There is no place which obsesses over every detail of a sport like Kentucky, which is why AJ Stewart, Patrick Patterson and Jai Lucas, can have 24,000 strangers chanting their name last weekend. In addition, the place oozes tradition. Kentucky basketball is the best program in the history of the sport, winning from the 1940s on. Some kids could care less about this…..but for some that sense of the past is important. Finally, the “family” of Kentucky basketball is much more career building than at most schools. Simply put, if you come to Kentucky, you will be set for life if you are willing to live in the state. Car dealerships, insurance agencies and public offices are filled with former UK players and will remain that way until the end of time.
Negatives….well two again stand out. The fan base has some crazier elements that can lead to results that are negative to an average player. A high school recruit knows that to come here, you must have a thick skin as you very well could be criticized and be given flak that wouldnt happen elsewhere. Plus, there is a perception in college basketball that the current team is a step back behind the top powers…..be that because of style of play or simply a lack of Final Fours, some have forgotten to put UK at the top of the college pack. Even though Kentucky has more NBA players than any other college program, that perception is not widely known, and it hurts UK in recruiting.
Now none of this is to say that any of the above positives or negatives are universally agreed upon. I have heard many talk about the diversity of Duke, the great fanbase of Florida and the running style of play of Kentucky. However the above generalities do play into most kids’ decisions and are a part of the recruiting process. Whenever Patrick Patterson makes a decision, I bet a lot of these code words above will be used. And before everyone throws up their hands and says, “why did he do that?”, putting yourself in the position of the neutral decisionmaker might explain a lot of the thought process.