Khem Birch teaches lesson about Twitter-era opinion makers

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This piece isn’t really about Khem Birch. More or less, he’s just the latest example.

In the first few months of his college career, the Pittsburgh transfer is learning about the power of suggestion.

After a 15-point, 10-rebound double-double performance against Penn in his first start of the season, it looked like Birch could be the post asset that the Panthers needed to make a push in the Big East.

That was the power of suggestion, then.

Now, in an attempt here to neither defend nor chastise Birch, that same phenomenon has worked against him, since his decision to transfer.

First it was former Pitt guard Brad Wanamaker, who tweeted, “Guess everybody ain’t built for tough coaching and competing for minutes.”

Then another former player, Jermaine Dixon: “If he think some just going be giving to him cause of who he is than he went to wrong school…..not going happen under Coach Dixon n#PITT[sic]

From that alone, rightly or wrongly, one begins to form an image of Khem Birch.

Follow that with a report from CBS’ Jeff Goodman that Pitt would deny a release for Birch to attend Missouri, evoking possible tampering allegations, and the plot thickens, all putting Birch and his situation in a negative light.

Welcome to the very emotionally-driven and highly reactive world of 21st-century social media. Everyone has a voice and, if there are enough that lean in one direction, it quickly forms a pattern and a pattern turns into an image, and an image can be passed off as character.

This unfortunate, new-age cycle has not reached completion with Birch but, with former players chiming in and Birch narrowing his list of schools, it asks a bigger question.

In the age of Twitter, who sets the tone?

In the past, media had the advantage of an outlet. They had the byline and the newspaper job and the title of “journalist.” They spoke with sources and players and were the gatekeepers of public opinion. Now, those floodgates have been blown open. The power of suggestion, with one click, can reach millions, with no accountability.

It was suggested that Birch left Jamie Dixon’s program at Pitt because of his feeling of entitlement, as Wanamaker and Dixon tweeted. Birch countered by saying it was a basketball decision.

“I want to play more (power forward),” he told CBS. “That’s one of the main reasons I went to Pittsburgh in the first place. I know I don’t have the four-man skills yet, but I want to develop them.”

But which rationalization holds more weight and resonates more in the public forum: the straightforward response from Birch, or the snowballed, more inflammatory opinion of Wanamaker and Dixon?

Don’t get me wrong, freedom of information is a beautiful thing. It keeps people honest. It can reveal the truth.

But, to quote a famous comic book series, “With great power comes great responsibility.”

People will never stop giving their opinions, which means the onus falls on the reader to sift, mine, and aggregate viewpoints before expressing their own.

It’s difficult, especially when that “retweet” button makes it so easy to pass it along and wash your hands clean.

Who is Khem Birch? Really, who is he, as a young man? There are some who hold that he is a self-centered player, a guy only looking out for “number one.” Others hold that what’s been said is misleading about his character. Is it one or the other, or somewhere in-between?

Unfortunately, that’s for Twitter to decide.

Daniel Martin is a writer and editor at JohnnyJungle.com, covering St. John’s. You can find him on Twitter:@DanielJMartin_

Clemson lands 2017 guard

Brad Brownell
AP Photo
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Clemson landed a quality commitment on Tuesday as Class of 2017 guard A.J. Oliver committed to the Tigers. The son of Clemson women’s head coach Audra Smith, Oliver is regarded as a three-star prospect, according to Rivals, although some others view him as a top-100 caliber player.

The 6-foot-4 Oliver attends nearby Daniel High School and should have some time to get acclimated with the players and coaches before he sets foot on campus. A versatile guard who plays hard, Oliver showed that he can make plays with the ball in his hands this summer with the Upward Stars.

Oliver is Clemson’s first commitment in the Class of 2017 and it’s a strong start for head coach Brad Brownell.

Arizona’s Tarczewski out 4-to-6 weeks

Kaleb Tarczewski, Sean Miller
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Arizona will be without senior center Kaleb Tarczewski for 4-to-6 weeks, the school announced on Tuesday. The 7-foot Tarczewski suffered a stress reaction and strained muscle to his left foot and he’ll have some time to heal before the main portion of the Pac-12 conference schedule.

The experienced Tarczewski was averaging 8.6 points and 7.2 rebounds per game before going down with injury. Without the senior in the lineup, Arizona fell to Providence in the Wooden Legacy last week. Without Tarczewski in the lineup, the Wildcats could turn to center Dusan Ristic while forward Ryan Anderson has had some solid outings this season.

Missing Tarczewski for the rest of non-conference play will hurt but he’ll get to rest and recover for the stretch run while the Wildcats can mix in some new frontcourt pieces.