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Expanding on Terrence Ross, Pt. II: The Details

T Ross
T Ross

Now that we have the situation under control, let's examine it more in-depth, shall we. This post is absolutely massive, so set some time away if you want to read it.

Inside, we'll examine a few of the various theories related to Terrence Ross's decommitment. We'll look at why this is a big deal, examine the politics of shoe brands, Gary Williams's recruiting, and tampering allegations. Just like last time, plenty of the following is speculation. Reading Part I would be a good idea to get some perspective on the issues we will delve into here. Are you ready?

Why This Matters

To most, the Terrence Ross commitment represented a change in Gary Williams's recruiting. It was the best, most talented basketball commitment Maryland had received since the heralded class that was 2002. He was great, he was psyched to play to Maryland, we weren't a backup, and he was recruiting other great players to the school.

He was the masterpiece, the crown jewel, of the best recruiting recruiting class for Maryland.

And all of a sudden, everything changed. Not only did he leave, he switched from loving Maryland to considering their main rival. This is a really big deal.

The Meaning of a Commitment and Maryland Fans' Actions

First off: the way Ross handled this entire thing was surprising and wasn't really done well.

I understand he's a teenager whose mind changes fast. But I'm not angered that he backed out of his commitment - that was inevitably, I suppose. No, I'm more upset that he 1) put that he was a commitment in writing, and 2) decommitted through his mother via email.

First off, when you put something in writing, that really changes the equation. That's more than your verbal word, even if only metaphorically so.

Second, I really hoped he'd do it to Gary's face. Doing it through his mom is bad enough. Doing it over email is faintly ridiculous.

Of course, he's never done this before, so he doesn't know the way this is done too well. I would still expect someone to tell him to be a bit more professional than that, but so be it.

Yes, this sucks, and yes, it's unprofessional, but he's a teenager. Maryland fans that wrote on his Facebook wall were immature, and that was completely uncalled for. It might not've seemed negative, but it's still annoying and harassing. It's creepy enough that you don't know him and you're commenting, but when that comment is chiding him? Just poor behavior all around.

Coach K and the Possibility of Tampering

For those incredulous about Duke getting involved:

Duke's a Nike Elite school. Check.

A Duke commit (and player from my hometown whom I've seen more play more than once, sadly) is teammates and likely budding friends with Ross. Check.

They're an elite basketball school that registers on a national level and gives Ross a platform and a possible top 10 team. Check.

Ross is arguably a top 15 player in the country. Check.

Duke could use a natural wing. Check.

Duke has an open scholarship. Check.

Okay then, Duke makes sense for Ross and Ross makes sense for Duke. That, really, was never the question, but I figured I'd run through it anyway.

More than one person has seen the connection between Ross decommitting and Duke entering the picture - by the way, Duke wasn't involved in the recruitment before - and accused Duke coach Mike Chachef....Kryche...uh, Coach K, of tampering with Maryland's commitment. Others believe that tampering isn't K's M.O.. In my opinion, that's wrong on both counts.

The Washington Post article stated that two schools - Duke and Kentucky - contacted Ross before any official decommitment. Whether or not that is true is uncertain, and whether or not that constitutes tampering is a personal opinion.

It doesn't say if Calipari or K contacted first, or if he reached out to them (if he did...that won't be pretty). Regardless, I wouldn't believe Duke fans' assertion that K is in the clear here. He is likely, at the very least, in a gray area.

Personally, I don't see it as tampering. Ross was wavering and had been for awhile - that much was obvious. I'm of the opinion that, if Ross is a true commitment, he doesn't listen to K or Calipari anyway. If he listens, then he's not a real solid commitment anyway.

Of course, that's just my belief, yours may be different. Besides, it's verbal commitment. Verbal commitments are worth so little in this process. Now, that whole paper thing rubs me the wrong way, but that's another matter.

Oh, and K wouldn't have a problem with "taking" Gary's commit. I've always had a measure of respect for Coach K mixed in with my loathing, and he and Gary have always had some respect for each other. That's not to say they like each other, but most people think K's above taking his colleague's guy. I don't think so.

Not too long ago, it seemed Duke was headed down a dark road. They've been waning in terms of national relevance for years now, and recruiting is getting tough, Kyrie Irving or not. They went all in on Harrison Barnes and came up short, and they're reeling. It wouldn't surprise me if K's desperate enough to change his ways.

That is, if they require changing. He took Miles Plumlee from Stanford - by the way, that's his good friend and former assistant Johnny Dawkins - without too much trouble. Ditto for Austin Rivers. Those are different situations, yes, but the basis remains the same - he's not above "taking" a recruit from his good friends (nor should he be). The second he heard that Ross wasn't sure, he probably attacked, and had a clear conscience doing it. I don't really blame him. At that point, it's up to Gary and Stu Vetter to do their jobs.

For the record, this only inflames my hatred for him, but I wasn't shocked to hear it was K.

Also for the record, Duke seems to be the likely landing place. Dave Telep seems to think so.

The Process of Shoe Politics

Nothing in college basketball is more confusing than shoe brand politics. I've been reading up on it the past few weeks, trying to get a handle on something that goes on almost entirely underground. There aren't any (or at least many) books or movies exposing the process for what it is. It's plenty confusing to get a grip on for an outsider.

With that in mind, please consider calling this process shady is an understatement. I'm talking somewhat blind here. All I'm armed with are articles found on the internet and the occasional book excerpt. I'm not nearly as knowledgeable as some others out there, but I believe this is a pretty good intro.

Also keep in mind that we still don't know for sure if Nike has anything to do with this. It's entirely uncertain. Ross has a lot of possible reasons to decommit. This entire section may not apply, but it's something not enough fans know about, so I'll go in with it anyway. Warning: this is lengthy.

Anyway, moving on: Nike looks to be an influence here. Why? How?

Take Justin Jenifer, whom we can call a sort of Terrence Ross in the making. Jenifer had shoe reps - people representing Adidas, Nike, Reebok, etc. - on him since he was 9. Don't get me wrong, the kid can ball, but that's ridiculous and burnout very well could be on the way soon.

Regardless, there was an Adidas rep, the head of Baltimore Select (an AAU team which, unless I am mistaken, has folded), who gave Jenifer, and occasionally his friends, everything they could ever want (as long as it was Adidas, of course). Free shoes, free headbands, free sweats; take the Adidas store, and hand it to Jenifer free of charge. He had 20+ Adidas shoes from the rep. In return, the rep expected "loyalty". That loyalty would come in the form of playing for an Adidas AAU team, an Adidas high school, and eventually signing for Adidas in the league.

I don't know if Ross dealt with the same thing, but he very well might've, only in the form of Nike. And saying no to a guy who basically funded your young basketball playing career is a difficult proposition. It goes beyond just getting a shoe deal and going corporate, which does factor in. This is both personal and big time.

As for why Nike would go about it, that's more along the lines of a Sonny Vacarro side of the deal thing. You've probably heard of the guy, the king of basketball's underground. He made basketball recruiting what it is today.

For the brands, it's about loyalty, market share, and flexing their muscles. Do they want Terrence Ross to stay Nike for relatively altruistic reasons, such as a shoe deal down the road? Yes, absolutely. If Ross goes to UA's flagship school, the odds he becomes a UA athlete increase exponentially, and if he's UA, he can't be Nike.

There are likely other motivations, too, of course. These are harder to nail down and significantly more shady, but Keeping UA behind the game is a top priority - landing Ross gives them a huge boost. He's an example to others that the shoe brand switch can be done, especially to UA. He would also eventually provide a possible flagship athlete, a way to get a foothold. If they can prevent all that and screw over Maryland - who switched from Nike to UA - in the process, they wouldn't have a problem doing it.

I'm not saying Phil Knight and his board of directors are sitting in a giant building in Portland freaking out over this, but Nike does have grassroots people that handle this. At some level, someone's pissed off.

There's another problem here, too: AAU and HS coaches, for the most part, control recruitments on the recruit's part moreso than anyone else, including the recruit and the parent. They can steer players to and away from certain schools. They control access. They are among the most influential people in a player's life. And they, in part, answer to shoe companies.

AAU teams exist solely because of shoe companies at this point, who use them to maintain brand loyalty. HS coaches are outfitted by shoe companies, and often require their services to recruit players. The shoe companies simply turn to their rosters of players who owe them loyalty and suggest they go to X school, for "exposure".

Like I said, take all that with a grain of salt. Not all players fall to it, nor do all coaches. Keep in mind I surely don't have all the information, and that very few people do. Keep in mind I'm far from an expert, and we have no idea if Ross even did this in the first place.

Gary Williams' Recruiting

Ask anyone - I'm tough on Gary Williams. I love what the man has done, but he's had rough spots. That said, I'm not sold on this being either on Gary or not.

If it's mainly shoe-related, I don't know how it can placed on GW. He did what he needed to do by getting the commitment. If Nike comes calling, I don't know what Gary can be expected to do.

That's not guaranteed. Increasingly, it looks like Ross just never liked Maryland that much or he's flattered that K and Cal would have interested. If that's the case, then Gary is at least partially at fault. Coaches need to recruit their own commits. Yes, it sucks, but that's the situation now, and it's not changing any time soon. When other schools got in, it's up to Gary to right that situation as soon as possible. When Ross was wavering - we know he was - it's up to him to make him feel right - and that's not signing a piece of paper.

Then again, maybe Ross just didn't want to go to Maryland and committed too early. Is that Gary's fault? I don't know. We could use a lot more information than we currently have.

The Long-Term Impact

Did you think J.J. Redick was hated? Wait for Ross's trip to Comcast.

As for more, uh, real stuff, the Gary Williams recruiting revival is now in doubt. How he responds and moves on will likely make a difference in how most fans view him and the confidence level they have in him. For now, the goodwill he had earned with Ross is starting to wane.

Aside from fan support for Gary, this also makes a difference in how good Maryland will be in the future. Ross had NBA potential and could've been a day one starter. Now they need another wing in addition to a big man.

It further sets them back in 2010 and 2011, too. Because Maryland now needs two more commitments, they'll need more time to secure them. Then they have less time to get to 2011.

You can't really draw any positives from it, though how negative it goes depends on your outlook.

Remember, too, that Ross isn't done to not go to Maryland. It's a possibility, but not a probability.

Where Do They Go From Here?

Glad you asked. I already talked about this yesterday, but I've been doing some more thinking, and I'm feeling pretty confident that Pe'Shon Howard and Josh Langford will be top priorities. I wouldn't even be that surprised if Gary simply said "Forget it" and filled the two remaining scholarships before Ross did anything.

Here's the thing: at some point, Maryland needs to get to a recruiting class on schedule. They're a little bit behind in 2011 right now, but if they locked up the rest of 2010 right now, they'd get to 2011 with time to spare. That's very important.

We'll keep you updated when we know more. This will go quiet for the next few months, but it'll be a hot-button topic for awhile.