Dear Anders of March 30th, 2017,
First of all, how you been? Haven’t seen you in a full six days. I know, pretty crazy that we already need to go back and talk. But such is the nature of the business you’re in right now — the journalism world is always changing.
So to recap: around 6:00 p.m. on this day you are boarding a plane to Phoenix, Ariz. with The Record’s Sports Design Editor, Liv Ade. You two have been commissioned by your newspaper to perhaps one of the broadest assignments of your life: cover the Final Four. But it’s also the most exciting assignment you’ve ever had. With 70,000 people expected to attend and four teams all from different states represented, the possibilities feel endless. If you only knew the full truth of that statement.
That’s where you are at the moment. Now let me tell you where you’re going in the next few days. Buckle up and grab a pencil, you’re going to want to remember this.
After meeting your extraordinarily amazing hosts, the Barbosas (parents of ‘19 Wheaton student Emily) — who will welcome you into their home and life within the first few hours despite never having met them or their daughter before — you’ll unpack and catch some hours of sleep before an early morning.
In the morning, you and Liv will head over to the state-of-the-art University of Phoenix Stadium where an NFL team, the Arizona Cardinals, play. You’ll be treated to an hour seminar hosted by USA Today reporter Nicole Auerbach, United States Basketball Writers Association President Ed Graney and MLB.com assistant managing editor Bill Hill. After that, it’ll be time to get to work.
The organizer of the seminar will put a press pass in your hand, giving you access to almost anywhere inside the arena. Then he’ll set you loose. Just like that. You’ll look around and see fellow collegiate journalists, mostly from the state of Arizona, scampering away, all in different directions. As the only two journalists from the Midwest, you’ll look at Liv who will mirror your blank expression of confusion that says, “Now what?” You’ll both shrug your shoulders and come to an agreement to go down to the basketball court.
As you take the elevator down to the court level and walk through the massive tunnel leading to the court, you will really begin to grasp the enormity of it all. Having a basketball game in a football stadium will do that.
After some pictures on the court, security will shoo you off and you will be left to wonder where to go next. Reporters will scurry to and fro around you and the click of camera shutters will fill the air, as well as the squeak of basketball sneakers and the bounce of the basketball.
You will wander back through the massive tunnel in the corner of the stadium that teams use to enter the arena from the locker rooms, and find yourself in front of South Carolina’s locker room. You know that there are press conferences going on somewhere, but with the limited knowledge you’ve been given, you aren’t sure where they’re taking place.
The security guard outside the locker room will look at the press passes you have and be confused as to whether you are supposed to have access to the locker room or not. You’ll convince him to let you and Liv in, and you will enter a small locker room filled with other reporters and the South Carolina Gamecocks team, except for the team’s starters who are currently in a press conference.
You will look around and realize that you are having a hard time knowing who is who just based on faces. As you and Liv attempt to figure out which players you want to talk to, security will come in and clear the locker room of all media. Unbeknownst to you and Liv, this will be the only time you’ll have locker room access since the security guard wasn’t actually supposed to let you in.
After walking out of the locker room, you will regroup and get your bearings. You’ll figure out a consistent schedule where you can go out to the main court and take pictures and videos of the players as they enter the arena and begin their practice. Then you’ll run back to the press conference area and spend 20 minutes talking to the five starters from each team. Once those are finished, you’ll race back out to the arena to collect any other pictures or videos you can as the team finishes their practice.
This will give you a consistent plan of attack to maximize your time and you’ll do this for each team. This is one of the trickiest tasks you’ll have to tackle during the day of practices.
Undoubtedly, though, here is a fair warning: the hardest part of coming from a small Division III school in the Chicago suburbs will be the fact that you have no experience of doing anything on this scale of importance.
The Arizona State reporters you talk to will be in awe of the experience, too, but they are able to cover Pac-12 games for their schools including teams like UCLA, Arizona and Oregon — all of which have future NBA players and stars on their rosters. They’re used to these extremely bright lights.
You, however, are not.
At first, the grandness of it all will catch you off guard. But you’ll soon refocus and remember that you are there for a job. However, only a few minutes later, you’ll be taking pictures of a team and look to your right and see ex-NBA player Grant Hill standing next to you watching the practice. And then you will look to your left and see legendary announcer Jim Nantz sitting a few feet away preparing to go live for CBS.
Your heart will race faster than the beat of the basketball on the court, and it will take every fiber of your being to not become basketball’s biggest fanboy and ask men you’ve idolized your entire life for autographs, pictures, hugs and high-fives. Trust me, when the legendary coach of North Carolina, Roy Williams, walks right past you, everything you’ve been taught at Wheaton for the past four years will kick in.
Intentional community is not something that can apply in this situation. I know, it’s a bummer, but you can’t ask Coach Williams to “grab a meal sometime” or “tell you his story.”
And it won’t just be on the floor, either. Back in the press conferences, being the young, ambitious reporter you are, you’ll be sitting in the front row of the small room only a couple feet in front of Final Four superstars like North Carolina’s Justin Jackson, Gonzaga’s Nigel-Williams Goss or Oregon’s Dillon Brooks. Yes, all are future NBA lottery picks. No, you can’t freak out and let your fanboy flag fly here, either.
Don’t worry, as the day goes on, walking next to and interacting with these celebrities will become “natural.” I know, it’s hard to believe now, but it’s true. You’ll even calm your fanboy heart from beating out of your chest long enough to ask some insightful questions during the press conferences.
In the end, what I want you to know, “past Anders,” is this: you’ll be just fine.
Cover this huge and historic event just like you would any Wheaton game. They are, after all, just people. The players run up and down on the same size court as King Arena and shoot on a 10-foot basketball hoop, just like the Thunder. The coaches still run similar plays and write X’s and O’s on the same kind of white board as Coach Schauer and Coach Madsen.
Above it all, enjoy it and take advantage of this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. Because trust me, it’s going to be the time of your life.
Future Anders of April 6, 2017