In 140 characters or less, Gonzaga basketball players have experienced boundless praise and stinging criticism from their followers on Twitter.
One game, even one play, can generate tweets from both ends of the spectrum in a matter of seconds. It goes with the territory on the seven-year-old social networking site, which allows friends, family and fans a way of connecting online with their favorite athletes. Athletes can send unfiltered messages to their followers.
“I’m not sure how I feel about it,” junior forward Kelly Olynyk said. “Sometimes it’s great, sometimes you want to get rid of it. It’s cool to keep in touch with people, but sometimes it’s a little over the top.”
Case in point: Gonzaga’s 64-63 loss to Butler on Jan. 19. The Bulldogs led by a point when David Stockton’s inbounds pass intended for Olynyk was intercepted by Butler’s Roosevelt Jones, who made a game-winning shot just before the buzzer. The feedback on Stockton’s Twitter account was instantaneous.
“I got a bunch of hate,” Stockton said. “Just stuff like, ‘You suck,’ basically.”
And Saturday night, after Stockton had a key basket and two assists late that helped GU hold off San Diego?
“It was, ‘Good shot,’ or ‘Way to play,’ ” Stockton said with a shrug.
The volume of negative post-Butler tweets prompted responses from several Bulldogs.
Tweeted senior forward Elias Harris: “I’m not a huge Twitter guy, but anybody blames my bro David for the loss is a big disappointment in my eyes. On to the next one!”
Every GU player is on Twitter, but their level of involvement varies greatly. Guard Kevin Pangos has the most followers by far, with 8,843, but his 2,118 tweets rank behind several teammates. One Zag has less than 500 followers. Stockton is somewhere in the middle with 2,246 followers, but he’s an infrequent tweeter (202).
“It’s good and it’s bad,” Stockton said. “It gives you something to do when you’re bored, but I’m not checking it every second of the day or tweeting that much. I think some people care about it a lot, especially some of these freshman sensations. These guys are young and they don’t know what they’re getting into.”
Several Zags said they read the tweets but don’t put much stock in the opinions.
“As much as people praise you and love you, they turn on you in a second, as you saw after that Butler game,” Olynyk said. “For us, it’s more important to stick together as a team. We trust in ourselves and we trust in our teammates more than anybody in this world. That’s what we draw on and feed off.”
There are countless stories of athletes getting into trouble with offensive tweets. At least two athletes were sent home from the London Olympics for racist tweets. GU athletes are reminded constantly by coaches and athletic department staff to be careful when using the medium.
“They talk to us a bunch,” forward Sam Dower said, “about what we can do, what we can’t do.”
Pangos, who picked up 1,000 followers on the night he made nine 3-pointers against Washington State in his freshman season, said Twitter helps him stay in touch with friends and fans, but his primary motivation is promoting Canada basketball.
“It’s growing and I feel it’s a good way to get everyone following it,” said Pangos, who is from Ontario. “If they follow me and what I’m doing, I feel like they’ll follow Canada basketball.”
But he remains cautious.
“There’s so much to worry about with the scouting report and everything within the team and what the coaches are saying,” he said. “You don’t really worry about what the average fan might say to you.”