For a long time, Kevin VanDam was the model for building a bass career. Not only was he exceptionally gifted and ruthless on the water, but he simultaneously seemed to understand the media and business side of the sport as well. He was able to focus on each individual event without losing sight of the long game. Whether he knew it or not, he served as a template for the next group of super-successful pros – the Ikes, Swindles, AMarts and even Skeets.
But today’s young guns can’t build upon his example so easily, because while he hasn’t lost much zip off of his fastball, none of the twentysomethings remember KVD’s early years. He broke into the sport in the early 90s, when most of them were either in utero or in diapers.
More than any time that I can remember in Elite Series history, this has been a year dominated by youth. The rookies haven’t always won – Dustin Connell is the only true rookie to have won an Elite event this year – but there has always been a Jesse Wiggins, Alton Jones Jr. or Jamie Hartman nibbling around the edges. Hartman may be an outlier because he’s older, but for most of them, even for non-rookie Jordan Lee, VanDam has always been a veteran with a fully formed persona and career.
That’s another reason why it was cool to see Brandon Palaniuk win last week. While it would be unfair to compare him (or anyone) to VanDam, he is the pied piper for this next generation, a “complete package” who is simultaneously able to “build a brand” and win blue trophies. Seven years into his Elite Series career, the new car smell may be gone, but his engine his still getting broken in, and even Lee – who has the Classic trophy in his possession, which BP does not – would be wise to follow in his tracks. A few months shy of his 30th birthday, Palaniuk is in a strong position to be the model for the next generation.