Likely the most closely followed recruitment of the 2013 class will come to an end Thursday, when Aaron and Andrew Harrison, “The Harrison Twins,” will reveal the school to which they will pledge their names.
It’s down to Kentucky and Maryland, one option the defending national champion and the undisputed recruiting heavyweight champion of the nation, John Calipari, against Maryland, coach Mark Turgeon, and one other big factor in this decision: Under Armour.
The Under Armour affiliation, shared by Maryland and the Harrison Twins’ AAU team, the Houston Defenders, has been the conversation piece du jour since news broke that a commitment would be coming Thursday.
But why? Are there really no other factors? Of course not.
Much of the conversation has omitted a few key points:
The twins, from Texas, have close ties to Turgeon, who previously coached at Texas A&M. The twins’ father, Aaron Sr., is from Baltimore and family members still live in the area.
Harrison Sr. is also close friends with Maryland assistant Bino Ranson, who has been integral in the twins’ recruitment. Shaquille Cleare, a 6-9, 285-pound freshman at Maryland, played alongside the twins with the Houston Defenders.
So why the focus on Under Armour? Without a doubt, it’s the appealing part of the conversation, it goes beyond the realm of “traditional” relationship-based recruiting and into something that, on the surface, feels like a different kind of recruiting.
But it’s nothing new. We seem to have just had this conversation in the spring, when Shabazz Muhammad committed to UCLA, a team that shares the adidas logo with Muhammad’s AAU team, Dream Vision.
The reason that this recruitment, in particular, should be so interesting is not because it could involve the politics of basketball shoe companies, but because of which shoe company it involves.
The basketball shoe market in the United States is nearly a Nike monopoly. According to Forbes, Nike owns 92% of the market share, followed by adidas with 5%, Reebok (owned by adidas) with 2%, and Fila, And1, and Under Armour sharing less than 1% combined.
The real point is that Under Armour’s focus on grassroots, evident in anything from their influence on the AAU scene to the tone and style of their recent marketing campaigns, takes a big step toward success if the Harrison Twins commit to Maryland on Thursday.
Here would be a company, headed by Kevin Plank, that made a commitment to grassroots basketball and got its first big, consistent brand loyalty shift from the AAU scene to college.
Phil Knight took Nike and used local school Oregon as its flagship. Under Armour is now trying to do the same with Maryland.
As the numbers show, it has a long way to go to crack into Nike’s share of the shoe market, but a pledge from the Harrison Twins would be a big victory for Plank & Co. Thursday night.
Daniel Martin is a writer and editor at JohnnyJungle.com, covering St. John’s. You can find him on Twitter:@DanielJMartin_