Doneal Mack didn’t understand why so much of what he wrote on Twitter got back to his coach. It was his senior year at the University of Memphis, and though he spent most of his time talking to coach Josh Pastner about defense and three-point shooting, their conversations sometimes deviated from basketball to the definition of Mack’s oft-used, slang Twitter adjective, “trife.”
“When I would tweet something, people were going back and telling Pastner or emailing him,” Mack said. “He’d be on me asking, ‘Why’d you tweet that?’ or ‘Everybody wants to know what the word trife means,’ or something like that.”
It wasn’t really that there was a problem with what Mack was saying — one UrbanDictionary.com entry defines “trife” as simply a synonym for “undesirable” — it was the fact that anything he could have tweeted would be completely unfiltered, yet so very pervasive in the Tiger basketball community.
It was the dawn of a new age for Tiger basketball — one where thoughts and conversations could be shared over the internet, free of mundane public relations speak and “one-game-at-a-time” sports clichés.
This was the start of The Tiger Twitter Revolution.
Twitter Gains a Following
It didn’t take long for the rest of Tiger Nation to catch on to the 140-character phenomenon. On board came veterans Wesley Witherspoon and Will Coleman, and as Pastner signed star recruit after star recruit, future Tigers like Will Barton suddenly found themselves communicating with not just coaches, recruiting gurus and teammates, but the average Tiger fan with an Internet connection or an iPhone. The same went for sophomore DJ Stephens. After he saw all of his teammates were tweeting, he created an account of his own.
“My teammates were on it and having fun with it, and it gave them a way to interact with the fans to let them know what we’re doing,” Stephens said. “I thought it’d be kind of cool, so I got a Twitter account, and then I started to like it. As soon as Tiger fans found out I had a Twitter account, I started getting shout-outs from them. The next thing you know, I had 1,400 followers.”
But unlike when they’re swarmed by reporters or prodded with questions about why they shot a certain percentage from the free throw line, some players legitimately enjoy this new level of exposure and interaction.
“For the players, it’s their chance to speak for themselves and not necessarily have their media handlers telling them what to say,” said Carrie Brown-Smith, an assistant professor of journalism at the University of Memphis. “I think initially, that was part of the appeal — that and to interact a bit with the fans to see what they’re talking about. Self expression, regardless of what we’re into, is something that we’re all interested in.”
Mack is known for live-tweeting each Tiger game as he watches from overseas. Former Tigers Chris Douglas-Roberts and Antonio Anderson have started to contribute their share on game days. Junior guard Charles Carmouche is beloved by some Tiger fans simply because he sends his followers an
@reply when they mention him in a tweet. Coleman doesn’t just enjoy being on Twitter, but he thinks being on it and communicating to the fans is his responsibility as a player.
“If somebody @replies me, I’m sure to talk back because I love the fans,” Coleman said. “I do this for the fans. All the fans and all the season ticket holders — they pay to see us play. So, why not give back? That’s why every time I see someone, I make sure to say hi to that person and to the next individual. It’s part of what I owe the fans, and I think Twitter is a part of that, too.”
A Fine Line
To Mack, though, the work he had to put into managing a Twitter account as a player wasn’t worth the trouble. After enduring a repetitive barrage of questions about his tweets, he decided to delete his Twitter account until he finished college. Dealing with it was too “trife,” if you will.
This represented an obstacle that would grow along with Twitter’s popularity among the Tigers, both for the players and their coach. Simply put – Is Twitter worth it and when does it become a problem?
“I don’t want to micro-manage,” Pastner said. “I like to give guys freedom. As long as there’s nothing on Twitter that is detrimental to the individual, the program or the university, I’m OK with it. If there’s anything detrimental in any of those areas, consequences will happen. And depending on what is said, that’ll determine how severe the consequences will be.”
Though Pastner does his best to educate players on being careful with what they post, 18- to 22-year-olds are bound to have a different idea of what’s acceptable. That’s when you get something like what Coleman tweeted on Oct. 24, 2009, in reference to Tulsa’s heralded seven-footer, Jerome Jordan: “Put that on my momma Jerome Jordan get shut down when he see Memphis..Coleman ain’t havin it.”
To Coleman’s credit, he backed it up on the court and out-played Jordan both times Tulsa and Memphis met in the 2009-10 season. In November, amid an early-season slump, Coleman took to Twitter again, this time saying, “Bout to hang my sneaks up……real talk!!!!” The post was deleted just minutes later.
“I was talking to Wesley earlier in the season and he told me Will Coleman had tweeted something, and Pastner made him run for it,” Mack said, referring to Coleman’s post.
Though Coleman was quick to apologize for what he wrote, both instances went to show the power of Twitter. Fans and members of the media had already retweeted him and offered their share of commentary.
“Players need to be smart about Twitter,” Brown-Smith said. “They need to realize that this is public, and if you put it out there, it’s there. There isn’t any taking it back.”
So players must continue to walk a tightrope, and perhaps fight an urge, of what’s OK to say and what isn’t. Coleman said he thought his tweet about Jordan “made it more fun” as long as he backed it up. Mack, who had a back-and-forth with former East Carolina guard Sam Hinnant when the Tigers and Pirates met earlier this season, agreed.
“To me, things like that make it more fun,” Mack said. “It makes Twitter more fun for everybody. What people have to realize is that for players like me, Twitter is mostly entertainment. You get out of it what you put into it. The thing is, though, a lot of people run with it, and you might see your tweets in the Commercial Appeal or something like that.”
If anything, Twitter seems like not just a risk more and more high-profile athletes, teams and coach are willing to take, but one that they have to take. Of the 15 players on the Memphis roster, 12 have Twitter accounts — more than double the number of players who had it during the season a year ago.
Melrose senior Adonis Thomas, a highly-touted 2011-12 Tiger commitment, is approaching 3,000 followers, and he hasn’t even graduated high school. Preston Laird, a Memphis walk-on who rarely sees the court, has almost 1,000.
With Twitter swirling in popularity and seemingly everyone with access to a computer or a phone with a Twitter client, Pastner and the Tigers aren’t going to fight back. He’ll continue his “be smart with what you say” policy, much to the liking of his players.
“I really like that (Pastner) gives us freedom,” Stephens said. “He says make sure you don’t say anything bad negative or use profanity. It’s really cool to be able to express yourself.”
And so, here we are — a massive, passionate fan base so obsessed with each win and loss, each statement by the 33-year-old coach, and now, each player’s 140-character tweet.
“It’s just the way it is now,” Pastner said. “It’s just like Facebook. With Twitter and that stuff, you can only do so much as a coach. You can’t control every aspect of it unless you ban it, and I’m not going to do that.”
Preston Laird posted the following the day before a 76-73 overtime win at UAB: #palaird Correct me if I am wrong but there is nothing sweet or homey about Alabama. Let’s go get this win. #getinandgetout #pause
Charles Carmouche tweeted this one after Memphis’ 77-61 victory over UCF on January 26: #carmouche14 Jus looking at my mentions from before, during, n after our game today n we have #CrazyFans lol S/O to #Tigernation
On a night when the snow was falling in Memphis, Drew Barham posted this one:
#dbarham12 Me and @YaDeej30 almost had a meet and greet with his car and a big oak tree!!! #tooscared glad God was watching over us!
Hippolyte Tsafack proclaimed his opinion of himself to the twiitersphere back in September: #hippolyte9 i am the man
Antonio Barton tweeted this one after a 91-86 win over Tennessee State: #ttbarton2 overall good performance today, the win is the only thing that makes it great tho, we getting better watttup memphis!!!
During Memphis’ 77-61 victory at UAB, Trey Draper posted this: #treydraper3 UAB HAIRCUTS MESSED UP LOL
The day after Charles Carmouche nailed a game-winning three-pointer on the road at Southern Miss, DJ Stephens posted this complaint: #yadeej30 My teammate @Carmouche14 got cheated outta #top10 plays. Smh…
Will Barton considered his hairstyle while on a winning streak: #thrilliam5 Thinking abt not cutting my hair until we lose & only exception is 4 valentines day. Gotta ask mom dukes abt this. Wat y’all think?
Written by Brandon Harris, this article originally appeared in the February/March 2011 issue of Memphisport.