As we transition from the end of the college football season and the end of the NFL regular season to the college basketball season, this seems like the perfect time to interview a college hoops writer. So we peppered soccer fan/Giants fan/Knicks fan Andy Glocker of Sports Illustrated with assorted college basketball and ESPN questions. He once worked in Bristol.
Q: As a soccer and basketball fan, let’s start here: March Madness or the World Cup?
GLOCKNER: They’re both incredible spectacles, but I think I have to lean World Cup because it’s on an Olympic cycle rather than an annual one, there are fewer mediocre teams in it, and I actually have a stronger rooting interest with the U.S becoming pretty capable. Penn’s not making an NCAA title run anytime soon. Club soccer has really dampened international soccer as the money and prestige of club titles has exploded, so the World Cup is the only occasion where there are no excuses for a national side’s performance. There’s a bit of an All-Star Game feel to international soccer and the best club sides play better quality soccer because of the familiarity, but no trophy means more worldwide than winning the World Cup. I had tears streaming down my face after Landon scored against Algeria. If the U.S. ever won a World Cup, I would probably sob in happiness for days.
Q: You’re a smart guy who went to Penn. You played college sports (kicker on the football team, which is a story everyone would like to hear). I’m going to assume you had other options after college. Why write about sports?
GLOCKNER: The kicker story is basically soccer-player-makes-good. When I didn’t make Penn’s soccer team as a walk-on, I coaxed a tryout as a placekicker for the following year. That staff was fired after that season, but the new head coach — Al Bagnoli, who’s still doing great at Penn — honored the promise. I did well at the one-day tryout that spring and was invited to camp and it went from there. I did well my first season until I badly sprained an ankle, was poor my second season and had a really solid final year. Plus, we went 26-3 and won the league twice during my time there. It was a blast.
I actually did do other stuff for awhile after college. I spent my first eight years as a working adult in investment banking and internet strategy consulting/operations. I always loved sports and writing, though, so when the internet consultancy I was working for went bankrupt in 2001, I offered my help to a fellow Penn grad (Jake Wilson, on Twitter as @TheSomervillain and a Manchester City fan pre-oil money) who had launched an independent website that covered Ivy League basketball. The two of us (and later a couple additional contributors) ran the site without pay essentially as full-time jobs.
It was utterly crazy, but probably the most fun I have had working. We reported, analyzed, did all our own coding and website design, etc., and incredibly, we actually developed an audience. I think we had something like 6,000 unique users a month and hundreds of thousands of page views thanks to the message boards. That was pretty strong in 2002, well before non-traditional media really established any type of legitimacy. The league office had no idea what to do with us, but the coaches, players and players’ families all quickly grasped that we actually had some pull and really bought in to cooperating. We heard some really amazing stories, 95 percent of which we couldn’t run for obvious reasons.
The experience that year emboldened me to apply to the Columbia School of Journalism’s new media program as a career switch. I was lucky enough to get accepted and, upon graduation, was extremely fortunate to land a job at ESPN.com on their night and weekend edit desk. I will always be grateful to Sandy Padwe, my sports journalism professor at Columbia who also advised ESPN on enterprise stuff, who put in a good word for me there. We also kept the site running while I was at Columbia, where I had the “pleasure” of covering the 2002-03 Lions, a truly horrible.
Q: What was your time like at ESPN? Since you’ve left, their college basketball staff seems to have dwindled a bit and the focus seems to be more on TV faces – Katz, Gottlieb, Bilas – than writing. That seems to be a trend in college football, too. If you can get trot out college basketball talking heads every night from December-March, who needs the online product? Do you think that might be the way ESPN is leaning?
GLOCKNER: I really enjoyed my first four years at ESPN.com, first on the night/weekend desk and then as the college basketball editor. My last year there, when I transitioned to a full-time writing opportunity, did not work out at all for a variety of reasons that are not worth detailing here. Nonetheless, I’m grateful for all of the opportunities they gave me and I have some strong friendships from my time there.
The experience at ESPN taught me how to handle myself better as a writer working with editors and management, and I think that has really paid off with SI.com, which has been terrific to me in my four seasons there. I owe gratitude to hoops-turned-soccer scribe Grant Wahl for putting in an initial good word for me and assistant managing editor B.J. Schecter for giving me a chance. It’s worth noting here that SI is my side gig; I work full-time doing operations and strategy work for Advance Digital, which owns newspapers and websites in 11 markets across the U.S. Their kindness in indulging my basketball jones has been a blessing.
As for your other question, TV certainly wags the dog at ESPN (and rightfully so), but I’m not sure I’d agree that they are ignoring the online product. For college hoops, they just hired Jason King, Myron Metcalf, Robbi Pickeral (to do UNC stuff) and others and will be expanding their team-specific recruiting/coverage initiative. That doesn’t even include contributions from their TV analysts or their bloggers. Overall, nobody saturates coverage like ESPN does, in any sport. They can write 10 columns to other sites’ one on a topic if they choose to do so. My only critique of their cbb coverage would be that for all of their strengths — Andy Katz with news, Dana O’Neil and Jason with feature-type stuff, etc. — I think they are short on actual basketball analysis, but that’s created an opportunity for SI.com (and other sites) to develop in that niche.
The best part from a fan’s standpoint is that increased competition in the college sports space has led to a world of quality options online. The variety of good content you can get from mainstream sites and the best blogs is remarkable. If you read several sites regularly (and, of course, follow on Twitter), you’ll get everything in amazing depth.
Q: During the Kentucky-UNC game, I said I’d rather have Michael Kidd-Gilchrist than Harrison Barnes. At first there was outrage and I was bombed with “your an idiot” (misspelling intentional) on twitter … by game’s end, many had changed their mind. Your thoughts on MKG and Barnes?
GLOCKNER: I am very lukewarm on Barnes’ pro prospects, at least in terms of where he’s expected to be selected (very high lottery). I don’t see the explosiveness or will to regularly beat guys off the dribble and get to the rim and he doesn’t have the dead-eye jump shot of a quality catch-and-shoot guy. Everything he does well at the college level is off one or two bounces and a pull-up, which is fine if you want a complementary piece on a good team at the next level. MKG needs some work on his shooting technique, but he has a lot of other things that should translate well to the pro game as he matures. It wouldn’t shock me in the slightest if MKG ended up being a better pro player than Barnes.
Q: Three favorite college basketball announcers. And your least favorite.
GLOCKNER: For PBP, I enjoy Dan Shulman, Sean McDonough and Brad Nessler. For analysts, you have to go with Raftery and Bilas (but separate in two-man booths, not working together, where Bilas gets overshadowed) as well as Fran Fraschilla. In studio, I love Doug Gottlieb. Prefer him there than on game broadcasts. Bob Knight is not my least favorite, but he may be my most disappointing. He has a remarkable amount of knowledge to share with viewers but doesn’t do it nearly enough. He should be in first class on Jimmy’s Jet, but he elects to hang out in coach most of the time.
Q: Hey Knicks fan, is there a better frontcourt in the NBA than Melo, Amare & Chandler? You’ll be disappointed if they don’t make the Eastern Conference Finals, right?
GLOCKNER: On paper, it very well may be the best frontcourt in the league, but basketball is played by five guys and the Knicks’ backcourt currently is comprised of Toney Douglas, Landry Fields and Iman Shumpert. More notably, we have no idea if Amar’e and Melo can actually play with each other, and this 66-game sprint with no training camp and no days to practice between games won’t be the best breeding group for them to figure things out. If they make the second round this year, that’s pretty good.
Q: John Calipari wins the title at Kentucky this year. He bolts for the NBA. Does he take the Knicks’ job or the Nets’ job, and for the sake of argument, let’s assume New Jersey is able to pair Dwight Howard with Deron Williams.
GLOCKNER: Anyone who knows anyone seems to think Calipari would love to land the Knicks job, but I’m not the guy to confirm or deny those rumors.
Q: Just how bad was life in Connecticut when that storm knocked out your power for a week?
GLOCKNER: Our house was without power for nine days. We spent a lot of the time down on Long Island crashing in my mom’s 2BR condo apartment, with seven people staying in it, including three young kids who didn’t have school or daycare. It was … patience-testing, to be sure. My street in CT looked like a tornado had come through it, save for the houses being mostly untouched. There was debris everywhere.
Q: Division I coaches: The best game coach, the best recruiter, the worst game coach, the nicest coach, the coach who is the biggest jerk, the coach you’d most want to shadow for a day.
Best coach: There are obvious answers (I may lead with Izzo as far as maximizing talent), but I think John Beilein continues to be underrated. He builds programs — from Canisius to Michigan — like clockwork. I’ve really enjoyed our couple of conversations, too.
Best recruiter: Calipari, without argument.
Worst coach: They’re obviously not “worst” in a literal definition, but I think Josh Pastner and Bruce Weber both should be feeling some heat about what they are extracting from their teams. Pastner’s still very young as a coach, so maybe he gets a bit more of a pass. Illinois should be better than it has been.
Nicest coach: From the heavyweight division, I think Thad Matta is great. And perhaps this would surprise some readers, but Jim Calhoun has always been very accommodating. If you get into the mid-majors, you’ll find a ton of nice guys.
Biggest jerk: I had a terrible interview once with Bob Huggins, but he probably wasn’t excited about my asking him repeatedly about his first game back against Cincinnati. Others vouch for him, so I don’t really want to judge off one instance.
Coach I’d most want to shadow: Calipari, just to see the full extent of the craziness.
Q: Proudest moment as a writer: Getting my first short piece in Sports Illustrated (the magazine) and seeing my byline. As a part of the last generation that grew up revering the magazine, that was amazing. I was also excited that my online feature on Houston Baptist and the Key family came out pretty well. Getting Emma’s message out to the masses has been part of the Keys’ coping with the tragedy and I was glad to play a small part in that. They’re really good people.
Q: Proudest moment as a kicker: On field, making my first career FGA at Dartmouth in 1992 (against Jay Fiedler’s Big Green). Off field, making Academic All-Ivy my senior year. To me, that was the pinnacle of playing sports at an Ivy League school: getting it done on the field and in the classroom.
Q: Proudest moment as a father: Three-way tie (since I have three amazing children).
Q: Best non-sports book you’ve read this year: Most of my reading is sports-based, but I did read a pretty interesting history of In ‘n Out Burger.
Q: Person you’d most like to follow you on twitter: Jay Bilas. Someone has to be his first.
Q: At this moment, who is your No. 1 pick in the 2012 NBA draft? Anthony Davis. He has all the upside and wingspan NBA folks love.