Evaluating our UK coverage ... it's a tough job

November 23, 2004|JOHN NELSON

Floor-level seats at a University of Kentucky basketball game are hard to come by, even for the press, even for games which promise from the very beginning to be boring. They're so valuable that the media is now seated along the endcourt, behind each basket. Still, not bad.

When Larry Vaught asked me last week to fill one of the two seats on press row that we typically occupy, I had to give it some thought. It was Coppin State, for cryin' out loud.

Eventually, I decided it was time for Larry's performance evaluation. Sometimes I need to make sure he is efficient, fair and balanced. And it would be double duty. Two birds. One stone. I could also keep an eye on photographer Clay Jackson.

It would be a Saturday at work, though, and there would be no guarantee that I would be home in time to watch "Cops."


Oh, well. It's a tough job, managing these people, and someone has to do it. So I went.

The beginning

You, too, should know how hard they work. So I'll start from the beginning.

They park behind Rupp Arena and enter through a lower level back door. There's no waiting. It's about an hour before game time. After signing in, they proceed to the "Media Room," where they meet up with their counterparts, mostly radio and TV folks, share Friday night high school football stories and make fun of each other.

Radio talk show host Jim Tirey, for example, took a multitude of heat over his black and white winged-tip shoes. (There were no cleats on the soles.) He brought sunglasses for everyone to look at them through, sunglasses that he kept on his shaved head. The reaction was brutal.

And Channel 18's Alan Cutler fielded grief over his admission that he spent a significant amount of time standing in one spot at the Danville-Holy Cross game, a spot away from the sidelines he likes to say that he "walks."

Refreshment for this mixer includes popcorn, soft drinks, hamburgers, chips and cookies. The entertainment is provided by a television tuned to the Tennessee-Vanderbilt football game. Above the TV is a digital clock counting down to game time, the game we were there for, that is.

The Williams sisters arrive

Some of the writers, and a row of television cameras, hang around for a pregame interview with tennis greats Venus and Serena Williams, and Anna Kournikova, who are in town for a benefit tournament the next day. They arrive just minutes before the game.

It becomes apparent that the handful of reporters who stayed in the interview room did so just to see the celebrities and to ask them lame and obligatory questions. Everyone else wanted to get to the floor, including Larry and Clay. I made note of that on their evaluation forms.

By the way, I, too, stayed in the interview room to get a close-up look at "V" and "S" who I was certain would be asked by cheerleaders to form a "Y" sometime during the game. I was right.

Our seats were under Kentucky's basket for the first half. I prepared myself to watch Larry feverishly taking notes and keeping stats.

But I found out that they do that for him. There was a computer screen on the table right in front of us. We could watch the stats as they happened. And UK staffers marched down press row at halftime and at the end of the game with printouts of the official stats, a copy for each reporter.

Along with the handouts in the Media Room, there was hardly a fact left unresearched. So, during the game the trick is to make note of the score and times that certain things happen - in between trying not to act like a fan (we're not supposed to be biased), or trying not to be distracted by the pom-pom girls who circle the floor during every timeout.

The photographers

Then there are the photographers. They have to sit on the floor in front of our table. Some of them have designated positions. Clay does not. But they all have more than one incredibly long lens, which means they don't have to move from their spots.

Most of them apparently have a little difficulty with a squat or kneel, so they have these folding pads which allow them to lean back and get comfortable. I have got to get Clay one of those so he'll fit in. Maybe then they'll assign him a spot.

Postgame, everyone files back into the Media Room for refreshments and interviews. First, a UK official points out important tidbits, like how long it has been since the Wildcats started two freshmen. That way, nobody has to look it up.

Then comes Tubby. He slam dunks a couple of lobs and then leaves.

At last, players with whom interviews have been requested are escorted in, seated in a director's chair and surrounded by cameras with bright lights and reporters with microphones and tape recorders. Funny, you can almost predict the questions and the answers.

Clay is already on his way back to Danville to download his photos. Larry and I make it back by 8 p.m. After this game, stories and photos need not be filed from Rupp. There is plenty of time before deadline.

And plenty of time to get home in time for most of "Cops."

But I think I'm going to have to do more frequent evaluations in the sports department.

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