|Kentucky's John Calipari and Maryland's Mark Turgeon are both aiming to land the Harrison twins. (US Presswire)|
At some point late Thursday afternoon, live on national television, Aaron and Andrew Harrison will stare into a camera and tell the world -- or at least the part of the world that cares enough to tune in -- where they will play college basketball next season. They might say Kentucky. They might say Maryland. Nobody seems to know for sure.
"I think it's Maryland," one source told me.
"I still think it's UK," another source told me.
"I'm hearing it's 50-50," yet another source told me.
And is this going to be a fun next 24-plus hours or what?
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The Harrison twins are consensus top-five national prospects in the Class of 2013 who live just outside Houston. They are both guards. They are both future lottery picks. They are good enough together to make just about any program a contender for the 2014 Final Four, which is why they've long been Kentucky and Maryland's primary recruiting targets. But that doesn't mean they're actually picking between Kentucky and Maryland. I mean, technically they are, I guess. But the reality is that the names and locations of the schools are less important than the man coaching one of them and the shoe company supporting the other. The truth is that this is about John Calipari vs. Under Armour, and that's why this soon-to-be-decided recruiting battle is this year's most fascinating by a wide margin.
So who's gonna win?
Will it be the biggest and baddest recruiter the sport has ever seen or the still relatively young shoe company that A) was founded by a Maryland graduate, B) now outfits the Maryland athletic department and C) spent the past two summers funding a summer team led by the Harrison Twins and run by their father? Will it be Coach One-and-Done or the school connected to a company that employs somebody named Chris Hightower, whom Aaron Harrison Sr. acknowledged to USA Today is the only adult who was allowed to directly contact his sons throughout most of their recruitment? Will it be The Swoosh or We Must Protect this House?
I'm honestly not sure.
But what I am sure of is that it would be Kentucky if all things were equal. Yes, I know Maryland's Mark Turgeon has known the Harrisons for years because he coached near their home (at Texas A&M) before moving to College Park. And yes, I know the Harrison Twins' father grew up in Baltimore. And yes, I know Maryland is a tradition-rich program with a national championship banner.
But let's get serious.
"Without Under Armour supporting the Harrison's [summer] team and making friends with the family, there's no logical way for anyone to think Maryland could compete head-to-head with Kentucky on two people like this from Texas," said former Nike, Reebok and adidas executive Sonny Vaccaro, a man who knows a thing or two about influencing with shoe-company money. "There's no way Nike and John Calipari, in a head-to-head fight for recruits they seriously target who don't have an umbilical-cord connection to another school, should ever lose a guy. It's illogical to think it could happen. But in the world we live in it's very logical, and it might happen here because there's a new player in the game."
That new player is Under Armour.
"But this isn't a new game," Vaccaro said. "We've been playing this game for a long time. All you're seeing now is a new player -- a very strong commercial entity in Under Armour."
It's worth highlighting Vaccaro's point: What's happening here is juicy, but hardly a fresh development in recruiting. Nike has been either directly or indirectly influencing college choices for years. Adidas undoubtedly played some role in Shabazz Muhammad's decision to attend UCLA. The unconfirmed stories I could tell you about moves one shoe-company executive or another have pulled or tried to pull would blow your already cynical mind, and they usually begin with Nike, Adidas, Reebok or, in this case, Under Armour deciding to fund some team or program featuring elite talents. The idea is to create an advantage with money, build and nurture a relationship with the principal parties and hope it all pays off when the time comes for those elite talents to pick a school.
That time has come for the Harrison Twins.
So who's gonna come out on top?
Under Armour is trying to protect its Maryland house.
Nike and Coach Cal are trying to break in.
This whole thing is a fascinating look into the highest levels of recruiting.
May the strongest brand win.