25 November 2012

What a basketball debut!

I got a thriller Saturday night in my first ESPN3 college basketball game, as the College of Charleston shocked 24th-ranked Baylor 63-59 in Waco. I really enjoyed the broadcast alongside former DePaul standout and NBA veteran Stephen Howard, and I walked out of the Ferrell Center both exhilarated and satisfied.

The workday started with team shootarounds in the early afternoon, and they were even more helpful than I anticipated. Charleston went first, and we watched from the side with Director of Athletics Communications Marlene Navor and the radio crew of Jeff McCarragher and Everett German. Our familiarity with them would pay off later.

On the Baylor side, the big story was that sharp-shooting guard Brady Heslip would miss the game while recovering from appendicitis. We found this out at the shootaround, but we could not get anybody from Baylor to confirm it on the record, even though we tried right up to tip-off. Of course, much to our frustration, it ended up in the Associated Press recap of the game, so it was definitely not a secret.

We returned to the Ferrell Center for a late-ish tip-off, and despite my (needless) search for a proper credential and Stephen's (fruitless) search for a functional pen, we were ready to go in plenty of time. That was in stark contrast to Baylor radio announcer John Morris, who made a mad dash from the Bears' football game in Arlington, Texas, back to Waco in time for the game. That's what I call a full day!

The game itself was fascinating - Charleston rained 3-pointers early and led at the half, then survived Baylor's revved-up defense in the second half despite getting just one point from leader Andrew Lawrence. He instead turned provider, setting up teammate after teammate for key baskets. The Cougars had six of their eight players contribute at least eight points, and sophomore center Adjehi Baru hauled in 15 rebounds. The key man was his frontcourt partner Willis Hall, who went 8-for-10 from the free-throw line (his teammates were 4-for-10) and hit his only two field goals in the final minutes for the 63-59 win.

Up close and personal, shortly before tip-off.
Behind the scenes, basketball moves so fast that there were some great efforts to aid the broadcast and keep us on top of things. We got an outstanding performance from our statistician on this day, Jeff, who provided helpful notes all game and constantly helped me keep track of individuals' foul trouble. His biggest play, however, came when No. 13 checked in for Baylor. This player was not listed on the roster and had no last name on his jersey; luckily, Jeff knows the program and alerted us that it was freshman Taurean Prince wearing a different uniform, and we were able to introduce him quickly and pass that on to the CofC radio crew.

Finally, as we got into the final five minutes with College of Charleston still in the game, I used my phone to email Charleston's Navor, who was sitting diagonally across the court from us, and I asked her for the date of Charleston's last win against a Top-25 team. I had noticed earlier that the season (2009-10) and opponent (North Carolina) were in the notes, but not the exact date. I never figured it would come into play! I could see Navor across the court, rifling through records, but I was still worried she hadn't gotten the message. In the final minute, my phone finally buzzed with the crucial email, telling us the exact date (Jan. 4, 2010) and the fact that this win was only Charleston's second ever on the road against a Top-25 team and first since 1993. I let Jeff relay the message to the graphics crew, and we were able to get it on the air at the final buzzer. Perfect execution!

Stephen even has a height advantage in post-game interviews.
After we went off-air, Stephen interviewed Doug Wojcik to provide material for the ESPN family of network, and we also filmed a web segment that you can see here. We actually shot a second take that was a little smoother, but the one currently online is our first effort.

Basketball never ceases to make me feel short.
All in all, I really enjoyed my first basketball game of the year and hope it leads to a few more here and there. I'll definitely be keeping an eye on Baylor and College of Charleston as the season heats up. It'll be back to football next Saturday, though, with a little bit of soccer thrown in during the week. I'm very thankful to be this busy.

18 November 2012

Great day of college football

Getting set up in Lafayette.
I'm feeling good tonight after Forrest Conoly and I called Louisiana-Lafayette's come-from-behind win over Western Kentucky at Cajun Field in Lafayette. Good broadcast, good game, and we got to watch the entertaining end of the two big upsets at dinner afterward. How can you argue with a day like that?

This was our second trip to Cajun Field and our third broadcast of the Ragin' Cajuns, while we were seeing Western Kentucky for the first time. Still, I felt through research and talking to coaches from both teams, we had a good handle on both teams. It was nice to see some familiar faces before the game, and the staff from both sides did a good job of preparing us for a few things - Louisiana-Lafayette's black jerseys, some WKU lineup changes, etc.

Nobody warned me about the details of the Cajuns' black jerseys, however! They had a giant fleur de lis on the front, rather than numbers, which is a nightmare for broadcasters. There were mini numbers on the front up by the shoulder pads, but seeing those from a camera well is virtually impossible. It created a few challenges. The jerseys also had French words on the name plate, so I did my best to translate them on the fly. I got combattre (to fight), croire (to believe), and unité (unity), but I wasn't sure on fierté, which turned out to be pride. My bad.

Our open airs shortly before kickoff.
The open is the part of the broadcast where the focus is most on us as hosts. We're on camera and we're singling out storylines, rather than taking from what the game gives us. So naturally we take some pride in putting together something presentable. Our open wasn't 100-percent flawless, but it was definitely the best we've done this year. We ran through it once to get an idea of timing of graphics, and then we knocked it out. We laughed and had fun with some nicknames (Forrest dubbed UL receiver Harry Peoples "The Peoples Choice," which we used throughout the game) and, hopefully, established the game as a battle for bowl positioning. I said "blocked field goal" instead of "blocked punt" in reference to the Ragin' Cajuns' loss last week to Florida, but otherwise I thought we got our facts straight.

The game lived up to our expectations, with Western Kentucky controlling the ball through its dominant ground game and tailback Antonio Andrews (300+ all-purpose yards for the third straight game, leads the country.) Louisiana-Lafayette was effective too, largely thanks to the versatility of quarterback Terrance Broadway, but it looked like four turnovers would undo them. Leading by three late in the game, WKU elected to punt and pin Louisiana-Lafayette in its own end rather than go for it on 4th-and-1, which seemed uncharacteristic for head coach Willie Taggart. Seemed like a decent move when the punt was downed at the 7, but Broadway led the Ragin' Cajuns on a dramatic drive and scored the go-ahead touchdown on a quarterback draw in the final minute. (ESPN video)

A good night to work in college football.
That was exciting enough to call, with Cajun Field going nuts - the crowd noise in our headsets was crazy! But then Western Kentucky got into position for a pretty decent Hail Mary, but it was at the back of the end zone, and the receiver (actually the starting safety) was ruled out of bounds. WKU asked for a replay review, but for some reason it never came, and the only angle we saw was, unfortunately, not very clear.

A dramatic night and two teams that are very fun to call - I'll be rooting for them down the road.

09 November 2012

MLS Cup Playoffs Best 11 (+7) so far

My apologies for the lack of posts - I've doing some mix of working and procrastinating, and I'll leave you to determine which has won out. I've also been watching as much of the MLS Cup playoffs as possible and have enjoyed the ridiculous drama, even though I'm often watching on delay and could simply open a new tab to find out who won.

Rather than a whole, long, drawn-out, "I told you so," I'll just point out that one team will have a huge competitive advantage in the MLS Cup final (home field) based on a difference of five points or fewer over its opponent, one which may have played a more difficult regular-season schedule. As long as that schedule is unbalanced and the final is a single game, I believe it must be played at a neutral site, purely for competitive reasons.

But I digress.

Today, just for fun, I'm picking a Best 11 from the first 10 playoff games of 2012. Why? Because I want to inspire an official all-tournament team for the MLS Cup Playoffs. It's gotta start somewhere, right? Unlike most Best 11s, I will use the Arabic numeral 11, rather than the Roman numeral XI. And unlike most Best 11s, I will choose a starting lineup with players in their actual positions. Groundbreaking, I know. OK, here we go:

MLS Cup Playoffs Best 11 (+7) (conference semifinals and knockout round games only)
GK - Nick Rimando, Real Salt Lake - I'm actually not a huge Rimando fan, because I prefer a 6-foot-plus goalkeeper who can control the penalty area, but a shutout with a broken nose and that exceptional save on Brad Evans early in the second half Thursday night make him a must-choose. Honorable mention to Michael Gspurning and Tally Hall.
RB - Robbie Russell, D.C. United - I know he only played one game, but it was a great game, and all the other right backs who played both games did very little. Seriously, count them. Sarkodie, Myers, Franklin, Beitashour, Lade, Johansson, Beltran. I really like some of those players, but Russell's 90 minutes stood out more than their 180.
CB - Omar Gonzalez, LA Galaxy - This guy is a giant. Not only that, he's really good. If LA wins the title, people will complain about how low a seed they were, but LA was 7-2-3 during the regular season when Gonzalez started, and he was excellent against Wondo and Lenhart. How many center backs were secretly pleased when he elbowed Lenhart in the face?
CB - Jeff Parke, Seattle Sounders - The Sounders didn't allow a goal in 180 minutes against a very good team, and while some of that is on RSL's pathetic execution in the final third (they finished the year being shut out in their last five games), Seattle's defense has to get credit, and Parke's the man for that. Honorable, honorable mention to Bobby Boswell.
LB - Seth Sinovic, Sporting KC - I know, I know, you think I'm picking a defender just because he scored a goal, but really I'm going with Sinovic because Boniek Garcia was relatively quiet in both legs for Houston, none of the Dynamo goals came on Sinovic's side, AND he was the only KC player to find the net. With a diving header. Hard to beat. Honorable mention to Corey Ashe, who was outstanding in the knockout round against Chicago.
RM - Landon Donovan, LA Galaxy - This is tricky, because he did play forward in this series, but I thought this was the best spot for him. He silenced a lot of doubts with a two-assist performance on Wednesday, and I never pick against Landon in the playoffs.
CM - Osvaldo Alonso, Seattle Sounders - This guy works his butt off, and even though it seemed like he was fouling Javier Morales every five minutes in last night's game, the Sounders rarely got pulled out of position against RSL's very tough midfield, and he deserves a lot of the credit. Honorable mention to his partner in crime, Brad Evans.
CM - Ricardo Clark, Houston Dynamo - He has been everywhere in the Dynamo's three playoff games, sliding to break up a play and set up the game-winning goal against Chicago before frustrating Roger Espinoza in Houston last week. His range has reminded everybody of why Dom Kinnear's 4-4-2 was so successful from 2005-09.
LM - Mike Magee, LA Galaxy - All he does is score big playoff goals. And occasionally play goalkeeper really well. But really, it's the clinical playoff goals that put him here. Honorable mention to Nick DeLeon.
FW - Robbie Keane, LA Galaxy - Duh. I enjoy disagreeing with statements made by Bruce Arena (he wants you to disagree with most of them), but when he praises Keane as the best player in the league this year, you can't really argue. Especially when Thierry Henry won't take a last-minute free kick with his team down a goal in a playoff series.
FW - Will Bruin, Houston Dynamo - Clinical, clinical finishes. Three of them. Two of which are not the type usually scored by Houston forward. Easy choice here. Honorable mention to his wingman, Calen Carr.

Bench (these players were actually used as replacements in the postseason)
GK - Joe Willis, D.C. United - If he can come off the bench and save a PK, it's good enough for me. Might be better than Bill Hamid right now anyway. He's definitely more composed.
CB - Andre Hainault, Houston Dynamo - He had really struggled in the second half of the year (and he was on the field for Honduras 8-1 Canada), but he looked confident and competent when called upon against KC.
CB - Tommy Meyer, LA Galaxy - I'm cheating a bit here, but the guy had only started 4 MLS games since May, so I don't consider him a full-time starter.
DF/MF - Lewis Neal, D.C. United - Surprise under-the-radar pick-up who helped Orlando City to USL title last year. Makes you want to promote them straight to MLS, doesn't it?
MF - Oriol Rosell, Sporting KC - He got to play with lower-than-usual pressure because of the situation, but I was impressed with his composure and ability to keep things simple from that deep-lying midfield slot.
MF - Mario Martinez, Seattle Sounders - Yes, I'm picking him just because of his one, series-winning shot. It was that good.
FW - Alan Gordon, San Jose Earthquakes - Goonies never say die. Even when they sprain an ankle.