The kids say look, but don't get too close
EDITOR'S NOTE: This article appears in the June 18 issue of ESPN The Magazine.
Networking sites like MySpace and web video resources like YouTube are the new playing fields for today's young athletes. Whether it's a summer league dunk, a freak play in spring practice or an offhand, on-camera pose, the spotlight can now find the next ones anytime, anywhere. And that has taught the following standouts some hard truths about the influence of Al Gore's nifty invention.
MICHAEL BEASLEY, 18, Upper Marlboro, Md.
Incoming Kansas State forward
Lesson learned: There is such a thing as too much information.
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I used to have a MySpace page, but not anymore. It got too crazy, with students at colleges messaging me every day, saying, "Come to my school." And I got a lot of foul, negative stuff after I chose Kansas State over Charlotte and Kansas. I got so tired of it. I'm a keep-to-myself kind of guy. Besides, grown men and women are out there with bad intentions -- Dateline-type intentions -- about kids like me. I don't need them knowing where I am and what I'm doing. I've also seen a lot of fake Mike Beasley pages, people pretending to be me. What does it say about a person who goes out of his way to create a page about someone else? It creeps me out.
I do love to watch YouTube, though. It's great for kids like me because everybody in the world gets to see my highlights. Derrick Rose, who is going to Memphis, blew up because of it. I'd heard all the hype about him, but I'd never seen him play. Then I saw him on YouTube. That was some ridiculous stuff.
Of course, I don't need to see highlights of myself. I'm me. I'm present all the time.
DONTÉ GREENE, 19, Baltimore
Incoming Syracuse forward
Lesson learned: Control your image.
My MySpace page was private at first, but now it's open to everyone. Some guys feel like they're getting harassed by all the messages, but for the top players in the country, it's become just part of the territory. (By the way, Beasley is lying. He's still got a page. He's just made it private. I know because I'm on his friends list.) I have over 1,500 MySpace friends, a lot of whom are Syracuse fans now. I get dozens of messages every day. Soon, the whole student body will be on my friends list. MySpace also helps me keep in touch with people all over the world and makes new fans for Syracuse. I used to live in Germany and Japan, and a lot of people there found me through my page. Now they can follow me in college.
Of course, a guy who puts it all out there like I do is going to cause some controversy. I had a friend design my page because I wanted it to look good. She put up an interview I did with a local TV station. For some reason, people who watched the show felt like things I said about Carmelo Anthony were cocky. They thought I was saying I was superior to him. Truth is, I feel like I can be better than him, but I was really just saying he's my guy, my friend. He went to my high school. But people blew it out of proportion in their posts: "Donté says he's better than Melo, he's this, he's that." So I had to use the page to clear things up. In the end, it actually helped me because it gave me a place to straighten it all out.
I use what I find on the Internet as motivation. There are a lot of haters in Baltimore. When I'm on the court or in the weight room, I think about the people who say I'll never amount to anything, and it makes me work that much harder.
GEORGE HILL, 22, Corona, Calif.
Colorado State wideout
Lesson learned: Fame calls when you least expect it.
I've never been the star of the team. I work hard and I make a lot of good plays, but I'm not the guy on the front page of the paper. So I never imagined everyone would know my name.
It took a freak play in our spring intrasquad game. The call was for me to do a slant-and-up: I go across the field a few steps, the quarterback pump fakes, I take off upfield, he throws and I go after it. But the route ended up being the craziest I've ever run. As I tried to make the catch, I crashed into a 4-year-old boy who had wandered into the end zone. I tried to shield him as we both went into the wall, but the collision looked bad, much worse than it actually was. He had a little cut on his head and he was scared, but he was all right. I figured it would be a normal, get-him-stitched-up-and-it's-over kind of thing.
I was wrong. Sunday morning after the game, I went to the store and saw the play on TV; I thought that was kind of strange. Then on Monday, some friends called from California to say, "You're on YouTube!" I use YouTube a lot. I'm a big Lakers fan, and I don't get to see them much in Fort Collins, so I try to keep up with them, and I also like to check out the top-10 plays. Well, this time I typed my name into a YouTube search, and the play was the first clip that showed up. I thought, Of all people, me?
On Tuesday morning I got calls from reporters, and by that evening I was on a plane to New York. CBS and Fox flew me in for their news shows. I couldn't believe it. This was not how I expected to get famous.
People stop me now and say, "Hey, you're that guy." Yeah, I'm that guy.
RUSSELL SHEPARD, 16, Houston
Top QB prospect, Class of 2009
Lesson learned: Don't underestimate the power of suggestion.
It started over spring break. It rained the whole week, and there wasn't much to do. I was bored. Zak Salazar, one of our offensive linemen, gave me a Florida hat. I liked it, so I took a picture of me wearing it and put it on my MySpace page. I typed in a comment about how I'd love to play for Florida because I really like Urban Meyer's offense.
Well, things got out of control. My page got 200 views in 30 minutes, and they just kept coming. The next day, I decided to do a little experiment. I put up a picture of me in a Texas A&M hat, and after that, of me in Texas stuff and LSU stuff. In a matter of four days, I had 10,000 views. I was getting all kinds of messages -- people telling me they hoped I'd come to their school. I had reporters from fan sites calling all the time about the hats. Soon the folks at Rivals.com started to cover it. I got so many messages, I had to separate myself from it. I quit posting for a while, and it calmed down. Thank goodness -- I needed to focus on spring practice.
Now I know that if you play a sport at a high level, people are watching you all the time: recruiters, fans, alumni, everybody. And I'm just a sophomore!
BRITTNEY GRINER, 16, Houston
Top girls basketball prospect, Class of 2009
Lesson learned: A dunk is worth a thousand hits.
People say all the time that they saw me dunk on YouTube. My coach put together a clip and sent it to some college coaches so I'd be on their radar; somehow it got on YouTube and took off. Now I can't go to the store without people telling me they saw it. Occasionally they'll yell, "Hook 'em Horns" or "Go Vols."
My coach has told me not to get caught up in dunking even though it sometimes seems as if it's the only thing people care about, especially since the YouTube highlight surfaced. She says if I have a clean path to the basket, go for it, but if I have any doubt, I shouldn't. It's not worth getting hurt. Twice this year, I tried to dunk but got clipped. Both times I fell pretty hard. Anyway, dunking isn't the best part of my game; I'm better on defense. I hope the next time someone puts together a YouTube highlight of me, it's of my blocked shots.
I don't have a MySpace page, and I'm not on the computer much, but I do look at YouTube. I don't really get to see YouTube clips of my competition, though. Most high school clips are of the boys. We girls need more exposure, and not just those of us who can dunk.