Q&A with Maryland's Jaylen Brantley & Jared Nickens on Ellen appearance, the Running Man Challenge & more
These are quiet times in the college basketball world. The season is a month in the rearview. The coaching carousel has wound down. Most top graduating recruits have signed. Players find themselves with more free time than they've had in months. And thus it is the perfect time of year for silly dancing videos to go viral.
No doubt you know of what we speak: the so-called Running Man Challenge, a social-media sensation in which one films themselves doing a light-footed dance to the 1996 hit "My Boo" by Ghost Town DJ's. A pair of New Jersey high-schoolers named Kevin Vincent and Jerry Hall began posting the videos several months ago, but it was when two Maryland basketball players—guard Jaylen Brantley and wing Jared Nickens—began posting their own renditions in mid-April that the craze began to take off. After first spreading within the college hoops community—to players at Villanova, Virginia Tech, Marquette and beyond—it soon crossed over to ... well, seemingly everywhere: the Harlem Globetrotters, Bernie Brewer, a slew of college football teams, NBA players like Justise Winslow and Kyrie Irving. In the process, Brantley's Instagram follower count has jumped from 8,000 to just under 26,000, while Nickens's has gone from 11,800 to more than 51,000. And last week the two experienced every viral star's rite of passage when they were guests on The Ellen Degeneres Show, alongside Vincent and Hall, where the host bestowed upon them personalized Maryland boxer shorts.
Now several weeks into their sudden online stardom, Brantley and Nickens took a few minutes to speak with SI.com about their experience.
Sports Illustrated: What was the highlight of being on Ellen?
Jaylen Brantley: The best experience of the whole thing was just meeting Ellen. She was a great person, really cool. And getting the boxers that we got. I think they were really nice.
Jared Nickens: Yeah, meeting Ellen was great. That was really my first true time seeing Los Angeles so it was pretty cool, seeing all the different stars, going to Beverly Hills, taking a picture by the Hollywood sign.
SI: Have you guys worn your gifts?
JB: Yes, we both have.
JN: They're very comfortable. I need to get another pair in white, or in all colors.
SI: So you were on there with the kids who first came up with it. Did you know them before that?
JN: I didn't know them, but one of them sent me a DM on Instagram and we spoke a little bit, just about how crazy it is that it's gone viral. We got to meet them before we went on the show. They were good kids.
SI: How did you come across the video in the first place?
JB: One day we were in the locker room and I just put the song on. Jared came up to me and was like, hey, let me show you something. Some kid he knew from Jersey was doing the dance to that song. We were like hey let's just make a funny video and try to make people laugh. We made the first video, then I jumped out the bin, and ever since then we've never looked back.
SI: So Jared, you knew one of the kids?
JN: Not one of the kids that started the challenge. It was another one of my friends, from Jersey. It was their video.
SI: Was the goal for it to spread like it has? Did you have any idea it would do that?
JN: We were just playing around, being ourselves. We've been dancing for a year. We thought it was weird that this one video in particular went viral.
SI: Why do you think it has?
JB: People just like to have fun, and it's something that everybody can do.
SI: Do you guys have favorite videos that you've seen other people make?
JB: My favorite one personally was the Virginia Tech one that Seth Allen did, when he jumped out the hot tub. I thought that was pretty cool.
JN: My favorite one was Damion Lee from Louisville. He looked like he had just finished getting a haircut and he was in the barber's chair. Then he took the towel off him and started doing the dance. I thought that was cool.
SI: What's it been like for you guys in your everyday lives? Are you getting recognized?
JN: It's crazy. My freshman year, I would walk to campus and people would say good game or good season. This year I'm walking around and people are asking if I can do the dance. It's weird. But it's cool at the same time.
JB: It's been really exciting. It's cool to see, like when we walk on campus everybody coming up to us, "Oh, can you do the dance for us?!" It's brought our university very close in a matter of a few weeks.
JN: They even did a Running Man Challenge at one of the libraries on campus.
SI: Do you guys do it when people ask you to?
JB: Um, yeah. It's strange sometimes. They want to do it without music. You have to try to sing the song in your head.
JN: It catches us off guard. We'll just be walking to class at like 11 in the morning. Someone will just walk by—"Can I record you doing the dance?"
SI: Are you tired of doing it at this point?
JN: Every time I do it, there's just something about it that brings energy to me. From there, I just want to keep dancing. I just like to have fun.
JB: I still enjoy doing it. I feel like every time the song comes on, I'll be sitting there and get a boost of energy and really want to start dancing to it.
SI: After Ellen, have you guys been recognized more?
JB: It's actually gotten even more crazy on campus now. Everyone's like, "Oh, how was Ellen? Was she? Was she nice? We saw you guys!" It's just pretty cool that everybody is happy and supporting us.
JN: I didn't realize how many people on our campus watch Ellen. Everyone's like, "I saw you on there, good job." Actually one of my teachers sent an email to my class and told them to watch it because I was gonna be on there.
JB: The day we got back, that morning, I walked into class and everybody started clapping. I didn't know how to react.
SI: How long do you plan on making them? Is there anything more in the works?
JN: We've made dancing videos all year. Who knows what possibly could go viral next? We dance everyday after workouts and we post random videos. So we'll have to see from there.
SI: If you could pick anybody to do it, who would be the coolest person to see make a Running Man Challenge video?
Both: Odell Beckham Jr.
SI: Why him?
JB: Out of all celebrities he's the one that dances the most. I feel like he's one of us.