Two weeks ago, Kyrie Irving, one of the nation's top basketball recruits, co-hosted a video chat room via UStream.tv. while visiting a classmate's house. For an hour and a half, the two, sitting side-by-side in front of a MacBook Pro, took questions from viewers, ranging from the college-selection process to whether Irving has a girlfriend. "I like the fans to get to know me," he said. "This might become a trend I do every few days."
Irving, an affable 17-year-old senior at St. Patrick's (Elizabeth, N.J.), first opened the door to his world last summer when he signed onto Twitter, regularly leaving messages about workout plans, upcoming events and visits to colleges. His original inspiration for joining was to compete with a friend to see how many followers each could accrue. By Sept. 12, the 6-foot-3, 195-pound guard posted, "29 followers to 2,000; guys help me reach my goal lol."
One fan, whose registered name is IndianaAllForKyrie, Tweeted back, "Hey Kyrie, Bloomington, IN has your back. 2000 you want, 2000 you got. Peace out."
Another poster, corresponding under the name Hoosierslove, wrote, "pulling to get KI to lead us back to promised land."
Hoosier Hysteria for Irving soon dissipated. After he hosted Indiana's staff for an in-home visit, he wrote that it went "really well." Over the next four evenings, Irving's family welcomed coaches from Seton Hall, Texas A&M and UConn. By the end of the week, Irving eliminated Indiana from his short list of schools. He posted an appreciative note to the fans who had followed him: "I wanted to thank all you Indiana fans; you guys have been great," he wrote.
The exchange did not end there. Irving received inappropriate messages and responded: "I'm really sorry to disappoint you IU fans but please do not write negative stuff on my Twitter page."
That Friday night, Irving's father, Drederick, says his son told him one fan wrote that he "hoped [Irving] suffered a season-ending injury."
NCAA spokesman Erik Christianson said the comments do not fall under normal rules for recruiting, but that schools should work with fans to educate them on what is proper in contacting prospects. Regarding the comments sent to Irving, in particular, Christianson said, "[The comments] lack any civility or decency, especially considering they are aimed at high school students who are trying to decide where to attend college."
Irving's father, who starred at Boston University in the late '80s and played professionally in Australia, said the incident was another reminder of how drastically the recruiting process has changed since he was in high school. "The kids are so accessible via the Internet," the elder Irving said. "The phone and mail were the only way to communicate when I was coming up. I told Kyrie, 'Indiana was 6-26 last year. The fans thought you were their savior. Now you're not going there.'"
Social networking Web sites like Facebook, MySpace, Twitter and UStream continue to offer recruits a look into fans' psyches. TravisMcKie, a Wake Forest-bound forward from Richmond, Va., recently received a Twitter message from a fan under the name, DukeAllDay, that read, "should of went to duke, have fun getting smacked around whenever you come to play."
Hours earlier, the same poster pleaded with Irving, "come to duke! you can't beat the education and the awesome basketball team, please come to duke!"
"The fans have to realize we're just kids," says McKie, who noted he had not received any negative remarks from other fanbases. "Kyrie is ahead of the curve in terms of relating with them."
On Tuesday night, Irving and his classmate again hosted a 45-minute question-and-answer session on UStream. Two-hundred fifty viewers watched and wrote in their questions, asking whether Irving had ever spoken with influential facilitator William "Worldwide Wes" Wesley and whether or not he enjoyed hearing his name chanted on Duke's campus during his official visit last weekend. Irving's high school teammate, Michael Gilchrist, the nation's top-ranked junior, even made a cameo appearance by phone. "I just want you all to get a chance to ask me questions and understand things," Irving told the audience. "I'm just a normal kid."
In July, Irving -- who now has 2,367 followers -- decided he will announce his college decision via Twitter. Despite the flak from Indiana fans, he still intends to do so. Not all of the recent messages have been negative. Kelana Rivera, who posts under the name my_3_sonz, expressed her own thoughts, "I was looking forward to watching you play @IU. I hate the negative response you got from some. Good luck with your decision."
"It will probably be coming in early November," said Irving, who many expect to commit to Duke.
Until he signs, coaches -- and fans -- will be reading each Tweet with interest.