For all of human history, dating back thousands of years, when it came time for a high school football or basketball player of some note to sign a National Letter of Intent with the school of his choosing, that player’s teammates, friends, family and coaches would gather up in the school library, and there would be a short announcement, and the young prospect would sign on the line which is dotted, the local press would publish reports of the occasion, and that would be that.
That was until about the late 1990s. Since then, the Signing Day press conference has evolved into its own sort of spectacle. There is drama, suspense, production value, trickery.
So how did we get here? A brief look back at the evolution of the Signing Day press conference:
Baron Davis Invents the Hat Ceremony
If it is not true that Baron Davis was the first high school athlete to have a hat ceremony at his Signing Day press conference, I hope someone will alert me so the record can be corrected. Because as it stands now, Davis is the apocryphal inventor of the modern Signing Day stunt.
The hat ceremony is the go-to maneuver if you want to make a show out of it but don’t know what else to do. Usually, the idea is you lay out the hats of your finalists, and grab the one you’re choosing, though in 2015 Luke Kennard kept the hats hidden.
This is a stock hat ceremony commitment video. Recruit says a few words, puts on a hat, the crowd cheers. When Davis did this, it was considered cocky, but now it’s just the way these things are done.
Under ideal circumstances, this is a perfectly acceptable Signing Day maneuver, but sometimes the circumstances are not ideal, which brings us to …
Bryce Brown Takes the Stand
Sometimes a recruitment gets controversial, and that was the case with Bryce Brown, a running back from Wichita, Kan., whose handler was at one point selling updates on Brown’s recruitment for $9.99 a month. Pretty soon the NCAA was digging around, but he got all cleared, and committed to Miami. Instead of signing on Signing Day like everybody else, Brown re-opened his recruitment and eventually held this awkward press conference in 2009:
After a year, then-Tennessee coach Lane Kiffin left UT, Brown transferred to Kansas State, and played in the NFL from 2012-15.
It isn’t often that a player signing a letter of intent is on the defensive the way Brown was that day, which is good, because he looked utterly miserable.
Terrence Jones’ Does a Hat Fakeout
A dozen years after Baron Davis did the hat routine, when Terrence Jones was ready to sign, the hat ceremony had gotten stale.
So Jones, who had already broken a commitment to Washington, set up the hats of his finalists — Kansas, Oklahoma, Oregon, UCLA, Washington and Kentucky.
On a live internet stream, Jones reached to his left for the Kansas hat before switching directions, passing over the Washington hat, and picking up the Kentucky one. It was diabolical.
Cliff Alexander later copied this move in devastating fashion for Illinois fans (LANGUAGE WARNING).
Harrison Barnes Goes Professional in Something Other Than Sports
The recruitment of Harrison Barnes of Ames, Iowa was another dramatic affair, but unlike Bryce Brown, Barnes was never on the defensive. He kept Iowa State in his list right up to final moments, when Barnes stood up there like a presenter at a banking conference and Skyped Roy Williams to say he was committing to North Carolina. It was a very Roy Williams way to go about things, so it was obvious Barnes would be a good fit there.
This hasn’t spawned many imitators, because it was unbelievably dorky. But there is sometimes now a certain professionalism to these things that didn’t exist back when they were being done in the school library.
Take the live interview Jahlil Okafor and Tyus Jones did with ESPN as an example.
Professionalism is good, but artistry is better, and what better example of Signing Day film making than this:
Michael Thompson, Jr., is Diagnosed a Sooner
Today, we see a lot more production value. Take this announcement from Michael Thompson, Jr., which can only be described as a short film in which a medical diagnosis is replaced by a commitment to Oklahoma.
That was a bit Black Mirror-ish, and an obvious sign of our times. But nothing — and I mean nothing — is better than watching somebody else’s mom get mad at them, and for that we can thank Jacob Copeland for choosing Florida this year.
As this genre of film making develops, I anticipate advancements in script writing, production value and general weirdness.