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ISSUE 120 VOL 11 PUBLISHED 2/14/2007

T-Wolves behind the scenes: Mess editors share experiences as NBA media

By Matt Tiano
Sports Editor
and Ryan Maus
Staff Writer

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

What is the difference between Ole center Jon Bain ‘'07 and Minnesota Timberwolves' All-Star forward Kevin Garnett? As it turns out, a lot more than just six inches, 40 pounds and $21 million in salary.

Throughout the 2006-2007 NBA season, Messenger Sports Editors Matt Tiano and Ryan Maus had the opportunity to attend multiple Timberwolves contests not just as fans, but as credentialed members of press row. Working with “colleagues” from Timberwolves.com, the Minneapolis Star Tribune, KFAN radio and Fox Sports Net television (among others), Matt and Ryan enjoyed pre- and postgame locker room access, attended press conferences and interviewed players, coaches and other media members. Their experiences gave them an appreciation for the behind-the-scenes efforts of the media members who report on the games we all enjoy.

In part one of this feature series, Matt and Ryan take you through their game day experience from a December 22 match-up with the Milwaukee Bucks.

5:00 p.m. – Just days removed from a crushing finals schedule, we pulled into the Target Center parking garage in downtown Minneapolis. Only a few diehard fans have made their way into the building thus far, but the press gate is already open. After giving our names and affiliation (Manitou Messenger) to the pressroom receptionist, we receive our official credentials and meal tickets.

5:15 p.m. – The Target Center media room is unspectacular, but serves its purpose well. Before tip-off, it is set up as a cafeteria of sorts: media members, team employees and league officials dig into a catered meal (tonight's menu features barbecued chicken) and exchange small talk. Connected is a media workroom, with computer stations and an information window to pick up media clippings, game day information and media materials from both teams. We find an open table and peruse the recent team headlines to get ready for the night's action.

5:30 p.m. – With the help of Timberwolves Public Relations Assistant Kristen Schowe, we had previously scheduled a “job shadow” session with Timberwolves.com beat writer Mike Trudell for the night's game. After meeting up with Mike outside the locker room, the three of us made our way up to the team's main offices. This is where the real business of professional sports takes place, but other than the prevalence of T-Wolves merchandise, it looks similar to the floor of any other office. After meeting a couple of interns, we chatted with Timberwolves.com interactive services manager Scott Spiridigliozzi, who is in charge of layout and overall direction of the team's website.

“"Generally we give Mike a lot of freedom with the content on Timberwolves.com,"” Scott says. “"We try to do many different things and really give the fans an insight into the team.”"

On the way out, Mike is kind enough to give us some free Wolves gear – who can turn down a commemorative keychain?

6:00 p.m. – As a Wolves employee, Trudell has been hard at work for most of the day, but official pre-game media functions don't begin until now. We enter the locker room for a round-table session with head coach Dwane Casey in his office. Standing behind representatives from the Star Tribune, Pioneer Press and KFAN radio, we listen as Casey addresses the media rumors that his job is in jeopardy.

“"They [the rumors] don't bother me,"” Casey says to the small group gathered. “"Dealing with things like that is a hazard of our business and I don't pay attention to it.”"

As it turns out, we're present for a rare treat tonight: Wolves owner Glen Taylor makes an impromptu appearance in the middle of the pre-game huddle. At the time, he says all the right things in support of his coach ("“I'm always asking Dwane if there's something I can do to help,"” Taylor tells the media), but the writing is already on the wall:– Casey would be fired exactly one month from that day.

6:15 p.m. – Media members are granted NBA locker rooms for about 45 minutes before the game begins (at Target Center this is between 5:30 and 6:15 p.m.), so Mike takes us on a stroll through the dressing quarters of the rich and (sometimes) famous. First up is the home team. The Wolves' clubhouse is relatively small (only 12 players are on the active roster) but comfortably furnished:– a large Samsung HDTV plays game footage, and there are plenty of cold drinks and snacks to be had. Mike jokes with fashion-savvy center Mark Blount about his wardrobe choice (is he going with the green tie for the holidays?) and greets a couple of other players. Reporters mill about, asking questions and talking amongst themselves as the team prepares for game time.

Next, we head down the hall to the visitor's’ locker room. It sports a slightly more utilitarian look, but still easily accommodates the Bucks' modest traveling party. Mike approaches Milwaukee center Brian Skinner and asks how his squad plans to handle Garnett, who scored 24 points and brought down 14 rebounds in the two teams' previous meeting the week before.

"“A key part of my job is about building and maintaining relationships with these players,"” says Trudell, who is in his first season as the Wolves’ official beat writer and worked previously with the Baltimore Ravens and NFL Europe. “"Even if I don't use every bit of information I collect, it's important to continue building trust and developing contacts on different teams,”" he says.

6:35 p.m. – As game time nears, it is time for a quick dinner. We go through the buffet line alongside various front office members (Matt grabs the last piece of carrot cake just in front of general manager Kevin McHale), TV personalities, other media members and team staffers. After chatting at a table with three college interns, Scott and Mike, we make our way out to the court.

7:05 p.m. – We take our assigned seats in the third row of the press section, located next to the home bench and almost spitting distance away from the court. The first couple rows belong to the Associated Press and television reporters, while the back rows are normally manned by local publications (the Star Tribune's Sid Hartman is a no-show in his reserved seat on this particular night). Player introductions come to an end and it's finally time to play ball!

7:40 p.m. – The Wolves, in the midst of a three-game slide, are engaged in a see-saw battle with Milwaukee as we start the second quarter. A thunderous dunk by Garnett brings the crowd to its feet, but fate (and the officials) may be conspiring against Minnesota tonight – Coach Casey is called for a technical foul while arguing a call in the second quarter, and the Timberwolves are down by seven points (59-52) entering halftime. Mike's game story, on the other hand, is coming along nicely. He already has two possible leads and plenty of notes about the first half written down.

8:25 p.m. – Two epic blocks by Garnett raise the intensity of a previously-quiet crowd, but the Wolves still trail (despite owning a significant rebounding edge, a fact Mike is keen to point out in his story). A Ricky Davis jumper ties the game at 79 late in the third quarter, but the Bucks score the last four points of the quarter and regain their lead.

8:55 p.m. - Rookie Craig Smith's lay-up with 9:46 to go erases what was once a 10-point Milwaukee advantage and gives Minnesota their first lead of the night. However, officiating miscues signal the beginning of the end. A blown call (clearly visible from our courtside view) leads to another technical for Casey, and 30 seconds later a shoving match erupts between Garnett and Bucks’ center Andrew Bogut. Four technicals are called (three on the Wolves), drawing howls of protest from the now-excited crowd.

Meanwhile, the tone of Trudell's story quickly takes shape. He focuses on the physical and intense nature of the contest and points out the impact of the technical fouls.

"We've gotten screwed on three straight big calls,"” he mutters while typing. The Wolves keep the game close during the remainder of the fourth but ultimately fall 113-107.

9:30 p.m. – Deadlines loom as both the players and media make their way back toward the locker rooms after the game. The media room has been converted to a press conference setup, and a haggard-looking Dwane Casey steps up to the podium to answer reporters’ questions. Casey responds in his typical no-nonsense fashion, praising his team's offensive efficiency but citing a need to improve defensively.

“"Offensively, we're getting the shots we want – 107 points is more than enough – but we've just got to get our defensive intensity back,"” he says. “"I think that's something we've lost in the last couple of weeks.”"

9:45 p.m. – Casey's press conference ends and many media members shuffle into the home locker room next door. Mark Blount is talking to a TV camera for the 10 o'clock news, and reporters corner the well-spoken Mike James (who scored a season-high 28 points) at his locker for a quote.

Yet all activity shifts to the corner locker as the towering presence of Garnett emerges from the training room. Garnett, according to Trudell, is one of the few NBA superstars who can be counted upon for more than just sports clichés;– the 12-year veteran regularly provides reporters with genuine game analysis and insight into the team. Tonight, he seems to be taking the Wolves' fourth straight loss especially hard, and echoes Casey's sentiments about the team's defense.

“"We don't promote offense.… Right now, we're promoting defense and trying to be more efficient with our offensive possessions. This team is a work in progress,"” says an obviously-frustrated Garnett.

10:05 p.m. – With plenty of quotable material to choose from and deadlines fast approaching, many writers retreat to the press workroom to type out and submit their stories. Mike also has a deadline, and we thank him for his time before parting ways.

It has been an eventful night for these two young journalists, and an extremely fascinating one at that. As shown by our behind-the-scenes look into the world of professional sports, at the NBA level, basketball is far more than just a game.





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