As the bizarre story involving Notre Dame linebacker Manti Te’o and his fictional girlfriend was making national headlines last week, Virginia coach Tony Bennett had a little fun with point guard Jontel Evans. The senior was walking out of the weight room at John Paul Jones Arena when he was stopped by Bennett.
“He said, ‘You don’t have no online girlfriend, do you?’” Evans recalled. “I said, ‘No, my girlfriend’s real!’”
Following the win over Florida State on Saturday, that was a point that several Virginia players jokingly drove home.
“I know one thing – I’ve seen my girlfriend,” said Virginia junior Akil Mitchell, smiling. “I’ve met her. She’s a real person and any of these guys can attest to that.
“I’ve seen all these guys’ girlfriends, so we won’t have any scandals coming out of the Virginia locker room.”
A grinning Evans was also quite confident that he was not a victim of a “Catfish” – a person who creates fake profiles online and pretends to be someone else by using someone else's pictures and information (the term is derived from the recent movie, “Catfish”).
“I know for a fact my girlfriend is real,” Evans said. “That’s all I can say. She’s alive and in person.”
Evans says he doesn’t understand how Te’o, who finished second in the Heisman Trophy voting and is a projected NFL first-round draft pick, could have gotten himself into such a mess.
“It’s kind of wishy-washy,” Evans said. “I believe him, but it’s kind of crazy...
“If I was ever caught in a situation like that, I would just tell the person to Skype me – if I was single. Common sense would tell you to Skype her.”
With a television in the Virginia training room, junior Joe Harris says the team was able to follow the story pretty closely.
“Everyone was talking about it,” Harris said. “It’s crazy. Everyone’s been asking whether they believe him or not and that sort of stuff.
“I don’t know what to think of it. It’s crazy that [it] happened to somebody. Guys were joking about how they don’t believe anything they see on the Internet now and how they don’t even know if their Facebook friends are real.”
The vast majority of Virginia players have both Twitter and Facebook accounts.
However, some players are much more active than others.
Freshman Teven Jones has a team-leading 23,865 tweets, while Harris has just 674.
“I don’t really put too much thought into the social [media],” Harris said. “I don’t get on very often. I guess when I do, I’ll pay a little more attention to it, be a little more cognizant of [potential dangers].”
Mitchell says he will definitely be taking that approach, too.
“Just be careful, be careful man,” he said. “There’s weird people out there. There’s always someone out looking to [take advantage], especially since our faces are out there and are known.”
Evans, who leads the team in Twitter “followers” with 3,242, says he is approached on Twitter and Facebook all the time by people he doesn’t know.
“They tweet me, but I just say, ‘Thanks’ and don’t build a relationship with nobody.
“You got to be [careful] because you never know who’s out there. You don’t know if that person is who they say they are. You got to be cautious.”
Unlike a lot of coaches, Bennett prefers not to have a personal Twitter account.
“We've got a great group supporting our Virginia basketball Twitter account and we'll do it as a group project, put it that way,” said Bennett, during his radio program earlier this season.
There is, however, a fake Bennett Twitter account known as "Phony Bennett."
Bennett says he doesn’t mind because it’s being done in an upfront and humorous way by a Virginia fan – the complete opposite of what transpired with Te’o.
“I'm OK with 'Phony Tony' or 'Phony Bennett' or whatever it is [called] ... as long as he's respectful,” Bennett said.
In the wake of the Te’o fiasco, Virginia freshman Justin Anderson says he won’t be making any knee-jerk reactions regarding his Twitter use.
“It depends who you are and how you use social media,” said Anderson, when asked if any lessons could be learned. “I hope the situation works out for him and his family because this is a tough time for them. Whatever happens, I hope it works out for the best for him.”
Added Evans: “He’s a heck of a player and hopefully he’s able to put it behind him.”
UVa player, No. of Tweets/Followers
Teven Jones, 23,865/1,572
Jontel Evans, 15,690/3,242
Doug Browman, 13,072/754
Akil Mitchell, 5,533/1,710
Taylor Barnette, 2,929/868
Paul Jesperson, 1,983/1,270
Evan Nolte, 1,859/1,720
Justin Anderson, 1,099/1,667
Joe Harris, 674/2,387
Mike Tobey, 482/681