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The Daily Wildcat

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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat


    Heckling gone digital

    Incoming UA basketball recruit Kyryl Natyazhko flew into Tucson for an official visit on Friday. Typically, those private trips stay secluded to the coaching staff and the player.

    But hundreds of fans already knew about his visit, despite the lack of mainstream media coverage.

    And hundreds of fans already considered him a friend, too, before he even stepped foot on campus.

    Friends on Facebook, that is.

    On today’s ever-evolving social networking Web sites, fans have gained unprecedented direct access to their favorite players, specifically at the collegiate level.

    “”Right when I made my announcement, people were going crazy with support,”” Natyazhko said in a phone interview on Monday. “”I had like 300 friends before (the recruiting process).””

    And now he has more than 700 and an outpouring of wall posts and comments from Arizona fans across the country. The Dnipropetrovsk, Ukraine, native officially committed to become a Wildcat for the 2009-10 season on April 11.

    The four-star recruit, currently at IMG Academy in Florida, said he enjoyed his official visit with other committed incoming freshman cSolomon Hill and Kevin Parrom.

    But you already knew that, right friends?

    “”Just talked to Kyryl on Facebook. He said that he and Kevin Parrom are having an incredible time in Tucson,”” wrote a member of the fan message board on “”He said they both absolutely love it. … He also told me that he is staying at the Marriott and the coaches are taking them out to dinner tonight, obviously. Kyryl is a really cool dude and very easy to talk to.””

    Then another user posted this ensuing response in the tread: “”You talking (to) a recruit on Facebook is kind of weird.””

    As Facebook continues to remain the most overwhelmingly popular Web site for college students, privacy concerns continue to rise – especially when high profile student-athletes reveal personal information publicly available to everybody.

    By default upon creation, Facebook profiles can be seen by everybody. The exposure of personal information, photos and interaction with friends poses a threat to every user – not just student-athletes who write the headlines.

    But the difference between your average UA student and Chase Budinger is popularity, causing a potential liability of Arizona Athletics’ image.

    UA athletic director Jim Livengood said he knows the risks associated with his student-athletes’ Facebook pages, but in no way can control the information they choose to reveal about themselves.

    “”The Facebook police, if you will, don’t really exist,”” Livengood said last week. “”That’s the way the world is right now with the Internet. I think we have to understand a little bit more, deal with it, but in no way are we going to be able to stop it.””

    Persuasion through the fans

    After spending the weekend in Tucson, Natyazhko wrote on Sunday “”at the airport. on the way back to Florida,”” which gathered almost a dozen responses from fans.

    “”Tell Kevin welcome to the Wildcat family,”” commented UA fan John Mattes, referring to Parrom who is a three-star recruit and spent the weekend with Natyazhko and Hill.

    “”He’s wit us,”” Natyazhko wrote back.

    With Natyazhko’s nearly 400-friend increase throughout his recruiting process, the pressure to decide which school comes with the added pressure of each respective fan bases.

    Natyazhko, who originally gave ASU a verbal commitment, became a subject of attention and feedback after decommitting to become a Wildcat.

    “”Bad choice on the UA, hope you are ready to get beat by (ASU’s Rihards) Kuksiks and (incoming ASU freshman Ruslan) Pateev for a few years,”” commented ASU fan Tyler Weston Smith on Natyazhko’s wall.

    Just as fans trash talk in real life, the Duel in the Desert suddenly heated up right on Natyazhko’s very own Facebook page.

    “”BEAR DOWN KREAL! For those ASU fans who might give you shit, just point them in the direction of McDonalds,”” responded UA fan James Clark.

    Those are the types of comments that make the NCAA cringe. This month, one fan at North Carolina State created a Facebook group urging John Wall, the Class of 2009’s top-ranked recruit, to pick the Wolfpack.

    N.C. State’s compliance director Michelle Lee requested that the group’s creator, freshman Taylor Moseley, take down the Facebook group in fear of NCAA rules prohibiting Web sites that may influence a recruit’s decision.

    Moseley agreed to the terms and renamed the group “”Bring a National Title back to NC STATE!”” with photos of Wall posted in the group.

    “”I think nationally the NCAA needs to address further Facebook and how these groups play a part in recruiting,”” Lee told The Associated Press. “”Is it realistic for us to be able to monitor them? What harm is a group like this causing? But as the legislation stands right now, this is the position we have to take.””

    There are currently dozens of similar groups on Facebook regarding highly touted undecided ’09 recruit Lance Stephenson, potentially UA head coach Sean Miller’s next target.

    On Sunday, the New York Daily News reported that Miller would be a “”big-time push”” for Stephenson, who would give Arizona its fourth incoming freshman for next season.

    But on Facebook, the bluntly titled groups such as “”Memphis Wants Lance Stephenson!!”” and “”Lance Stephenson Maryland wants you”” are still in tact, acting as an outside recruiting tactic designed by fans.

    Whether those groups actually make an impact on a recruit’s decision remains to be seen. Orlando Sentinel columnist Iliana Limon said after interviewing more than 100 prospective NCAA football and basketball players, none of them said Facebook had any affect.

    Current players also find danger

    Last April, current UA football player Josh Lewis found himself at the center of attention when an inappropriate video leaked onto the Internet.

    In the video, which received more than 100,000 views on YouTube, Lewis appeared to be reaching up a female’s dress at a large Starr Pass apartment complex pool party. The video became highly publicized after it was posted on the popular gossip Web site

    UA football coach Mike Stoops indefinitely suspended Lewis.

    “”If I do something bizarre at a party that I know is going to be not very good, I might get pictures taken,”” Livengood said. “”When I figure out the next day that it can be harmful, it’s too late. That’s the scary thing.””

    Livengood said every incoming student-athlete receives an extensive orientation that informs them of the dangers and potential harm of posting something regretful.

    While it’s illegal for a public university to punish student-athletes for expressing an opinion, which includes the dangers Facebook, Livengood has been extremely sensitive when advising his athletes to take down photos.

    “”We’ve done that before. We’re very careful about doing that,”” Livengood said. “”We’re also trying to be careful not to manage the student athlete’s entire life. That’s not right.

    “”There have been a number of student-athletes who have not gotten jobs for doing some of those odd things posted on Facebook. It’s just impossible to control it. I think the only thing we can do is with every student-athlete, make sure people are aware of the dangers.””

    Awaiting a decision

    On Nic Wise’s new Twitter account, he writes “”Get paid $225,000 tax free overseas next year or be top 5 best PG’s in the nation next year….””

    With his decision out in the public – one that certainly will impact the 2009-10 season – can fans potentially influence him to come back?

    “”It’s not a factor,”” Miller said last week. “”Some people like attention, some people want to be recruited, some people love drama. And then there are others who don’t want to take part in that. Each kid’s different. Nic is going about it in his own way and I respect that.””

    Commented Stephen Diener on Wise’s Facebook page: “”You’re good, but need to step it up to a whole ‘nother level for those 3 letters (NBA). And if it doesn’t pan out, you’ll have a degree to fall back on.””

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