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Courier-Journal Investigates Shoe Companies, Kentucky, and Louisville and Brings Forth A Mouse

Labeling this as a "watchdog" report is kind of funny. No, it's real darn funny.

Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports

Comes now the Louisville Courier-Journal, a paper which that if you believe Matt Jones is nothing more than a mouthpiece for Louisville and Turtleneck Tom Jurich, with a "watchdog" piece regarding the influence of shoe companies on recruiting. You’ll recall that Rick Pitino went on a rant the other day about the influence of shoe companies, primarily because of the butt-hurt in the first degree (BHIFD) he experienced when certain analysts pronounced the decommitment of hot-shot guard Antonio Blakney driven by Nike influence (Louisville is an Adidas school when it comes to apparel).

As if on cue, the Courier-Journal investigates. What does the "watchdog" uncover? This looks more like an exercise in how to bait-and-switch your readers. After suggesting that Pitino might have a point, the article goes on to say that all the relevant parties deny any allegiance to the apparel companies, or "shoe companies," and the data they provide doesn't seem to support Pitino's claim:

A Courier-Journal review of college signings shows that Pitino might be right in suggesting it is difficult to break amateur affiliations among the highest-rated basketball prospects, even as those athletes say apparel companies have little or no sway on their decisions.

Players, AAU coaches and parents interviewed for this story said shoe-company allegiances rarely influence recruiting. That includes former U of L commitment Antonio Blakeney, a Nike-circuit player whose withdrawn pledge to the Cardinals last month is seemingly at the root of Pitino’s frustration.

I suppose it’s worth pointing out that Blakeney himself denied any such connection to the Courier-Journal. I guess they just didn’t believe him.

The lede exposes the "news," which is that Nike is the bigger company by quite a bit, and that a lot of kids (particularly at the very top of the rankings) prefer the Nike brand, and their associated events, to those of Adidas:

Nike’s Elite Youth Basketball League features 40 clubs from across the country that compete throughout the spring, with 20 advancing to the prestigious Peach Jam tournament in North Augusta, S.C., in July.

The league’s events are can’t-miss stops for college recruiters. Recent alumni include No. 1 NBA draft picks Anthony Davis, Anthony Bennett and Andrew Wiggins, and hundreds of lower-profile prospects.

"The Nike circuit is the best thing going on, hands down, no comparison," said George Briscoe, whose son led his team to this year’s Peach Jam title. "Adidas can’t match it, Under Armour. That’s my opinion."

So what we have here is the Courier-Journal trying to create a cause-and-effect relationship where there is little to be found. It goes without saying that Pitino would probably be a lot less adamant about apparel company influence if Louisville were a Nike school and Kentucky an Adidas school, but I strongly suspect Calipari wouldn’t complain if the shoe were on the other foot. It’s also informative to note that Louisville signs more Nike athletes than Kentucky does Adidas athletes. Why isn’t that the news? Pitino is more successful, apparently, at recruiting across apparel company lines than Calipari is at Kentucky.  To be fair, more of Calipari's targets are from Nike schools, as the best players tend to be.

Mike DeCourcy amplified the incongruousness of Pitino's complaint the other day:

Point guard Terry Rozier played for All-Ohio Red, which competes in Nike’s Elite Youth Basketball League. Forward Wayne Blackshear played in the EYBL with the Chicago-based Mac Irvin Fire. Freshman Shaqquan Aaron attended events last summer run by adidas, Reebok and Nike. Freshman Chinanu Onuaku played for DC Premier, which was sponsored by Under Armour, but used to be DC Assault and sponsored by adidas. [SIC]

It would seem as though Louisville has had plenty of success recruiting athletes with a variety of apparel company affiliations, and Kentucky as well.  The Harrison twins, for example, were affiliated with Under Armor and Maryland, Kentucky's primary competition for them, is an Under Armor school.  We continue to believe that Pitino’s rant was little more than whining over his BHIFD, despite the C-J’s semi-transparent attempt to make it look justified.

The way this piece was written, that is from a pro-Pitino angle, does nothing but add credence to Jones’ insistence that the C-J is just a mouthpiece for Louisville athletics, especially when it comes to controversy. Myself, I’m not willing to go that far, but combined with the hit graphic on John Calipari (which the C-J apologized for), it’s hard to deny that evidence of the "mouthpiece" theory isn’t hard to find.

My take on this report is simply this:  Top players prefer Kentucky to Louisville, whether they be shod in Adidas, Under Armor, or Nike.  The C-J suggests that this is because of apparel company influence, but what it's really implying is that Nike successfully asserts influence and Adidas and Under Armor don't.  Buy that if you want, but it sounds like nonsense to me.  A more likely explanation is that shoe companies have little if any influence in school choice.