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Pete Thamel on Nerlens Noel, sans Nerlens Noel

Discussion in 'Journalism topics only' started by Versatile, Mar 12, 2012.

  1. Versatile

    Versatile Active Member


    Pete Thamel's 4,500-word story on recruitment of high school basketball star Nerlens Noel appeared as the only story on the front page of the sports section in Sunday's New York Times. The story is most interesting because Nerlens Noel declined to speak to Thamel for it.

    Thamel instead turns his attention to the shady world of handlers and family and community influences on the recruiting process. He devotes 2,500 words specifically to Chris Driscoll, the shady handler who was an assistant coach at Providence for Keno Davis' last year at the helm after an usual hiring. Driscoll also didn't speak for the story, aside from denying allegations of wrongdoing.

    Still, Thamel does a lot of reporting and digs up a lot of good material on Driscoll. On the other hand, he has very little meaty information about Noel. That he spends more than half his story discussing Driscoll is no coincidence. The best part of the story is the section about riscoll's handling of Will Blalock, the former Iowa State star. Noel isn't mentioned during that section — Thamel goes about 900 words at one point without mentioning the titular character in this story.

    I don't inherently have a problem with a story about the shady side of recruiting through the lens of one stud player. I think my biggest issue comes in the packaging. The headline, "Everybody Wants a Piece of Nerlens Noel," and the portrait photo used in the print layout and shown second online led me to thinking this would be the story of perhaps the most gifted high school basketball player in the country. In that context, I hated the lead, which seemed too dry and without color. And I was shocked when I got to the point where I saw Noel declined interview requests.

    But the lead and the entire Noel background is all a setup for a deeper discussion on modern recruiting and shady handlers. Driscoll is the star of the piece. It's a question of packaging, to me. The piece was misrepresented by designers and copy editors. It may be that they thought they were getting a very different story, of course.

    Either way, I'm interested to know what people think about the story. Not getting interviews with the two key characters seems like a major blow, and the story was a bit one-sided because of their unwillingness to participate. On the other hand, there's some solid reporting in this story. Providence athletics director Bob Driscoll (no relation) sure sounds like an ass.
  2. BillyT

    BillyT Active Member

    Versatile: I thought about posting it here myself.

    Though not always a fan of long form, I found this story compelling, and it pulled me right through to the end.

    I noticed they didn't talk to him, but it didn't stick in my head the way it did with you. I am not sure why.

    I do not think you "don't do" a story because someone won't talk to you.
  3. dooley_womack1

    dooley_womack1 Well-Known Member

    Yeah, if that were the tipping point for doing or not doing a story, then anyone not wanting light shed on them would just choose not to talk. And the hed said "everyone wants a piece of..." So that part of the design indicated it wasn't going to be a personality profile. I think the biggest block was on Driscoll because his part of the story was by far the most eye-catching. I would read a few thousand words on his slimeballery; to dictate a line of coaching succession takes some brass ones. What was written about Noel makes me wonder why he's so highly touted.
  4. Versatile

    Versatile Active Member

    You're right, the headline works. I guess it's just a false-expectations issue. The New York Times' big Sunday sports feature is something I look forward to reading almost as much every week as the bonus piece in Sports Illustrated, and this piece surprised me in its spot. That's not to say it was bad, just unexpected.

    As far as access, I agree that you can't consistently determine stories by access. But I don't recall many 4,000-plus-word stories without quotes from the main characters. Fairness has to come into play, though I suppose you have a great out if you say, "We asked him to talk three times and he declined."

    And I'm with you on the matter of why he's so highly regarded.
  5. Boom_70

    Boom_70 Well-Known Member

    I thought it was a great story regardless of whether they talked to Noel or not.

    What might have been under reported was the Providence
    College / Driscoll connection. They signed 2 top 25 prospects for next season - Ricardo Ledo and Kris Dunn.
  6. JimmyHoward33

    JimmyHoward33 Well-Known Member

    The story had very little to do with Nerlens Noel. Realistically, could they have done a couple interviews with the former high school of prospect X, plugged that into the top and the headline and not changed the rest? And if so, then did they not bury the lead a little with the Driscoll stuff?

    Seemed like that was the original stuff and overarching theme. That Nerlens left Everett and people there hold it against him....well its not news in Boston and I have to imagine that's pretty common with big-time recruits around the country.
  7. writingump

    writingump Member

    Still a good read, even though Noel wouldn't talk. Pete Thamel could write 4,500 words on dog turds and make it interesting.
  8. Boom_70

    Boom_70 Well-Known Member

    I will always read a Pete Thamel by line.
  9. BillyT

    BillyT Active Member

    Boom: Here's an excellent Kris Dunn piece for you.

    I always wondered if his desire to go to Wilbraham & Monson had something to do with an agent.

  10. Boom_70

    Boom_70 Well-Known Member

    That is excellent. Thanks for the link. The most interesting part might have been his connection to the "infamous" Jack Cochran( of The Cochran rule fame).

    Sounds like Dunn was also a good football player. New London just missed going to state final. He might have put them over the top.
  11. Della9250

    Della9250 Well-Known Member

    The other fun thing about the Providence connection is that they are going to have to run guys off. They already have three guys signed, plus a transfer from Arizona, no seniors and not enough spots, especially if they keep going after the guys they are chasing, like Noel.
  12. BillyT

    BillyT Active Member

    Boom: I covered Jack when he was in high school and at Norwich. I was not around a lot for when he was coaching.

    His son's going to UConn for football, though you may know that.
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