Behind the Scenes at College GameDay
Updated: Apr 19, 2020
I know I’ve been slacking with writing blogs lately, but after last weekend I have no other choice, this story must be shared. For those who don’t know I’ve been back at Duke since September rehabbing hard trying to get ready for this upcoming WNBA season. In the meantime, I’ve been doing a variety of things off the court, one including being a color analyst for Duke Sports Radio covering the Duke Women’s team. I can write a whole other blog on the experiences that have gone along with that, both hilarious and embarrassing, but for now I’m going to write about my experience at College GameDay last weekend shadowing Jay Williams.
Being at Duke for what seems like a century now, I’ve seen Jay around from time to time. He covered my McDonalds All American game in High School, the College 3pt Shootout I participated in at the Men’s Final 4 last spring, then, of course, I see his jersey hanging in the rafters every time I walk in Cameron. The guy is one of the best Duke players of all-time, now a rock-star ESPN basketball analyst and just a genuine “good dude”.
I saw him again a few weeks ago when he was in Durham with College GameDay for the Duke vs. UVA game. I was just finishing a workout, looking super ratchet but we ended up chatting and I told him how I was giving commentating a try. He said I should meet his “ESPN guys” and hang with him for GameDay sometime. For those who don’t know, College GameDay is a huge deal in the sports world and covers the biggest college basketball games of the season.
A couple weeks go by and I found out GameDay would be covering the Duke @ UVA game. Meanwhile, the Duke women played @ UVA the day after, meaning I’d be in Charlottesville already with them. Lightbulb! I didn’t have Jay's number, and I have never used DM’s to contact someone in my life, but figured why not. A few days before the game I “slid in the dms”, with something like…
“Hey Jay, I’ll be in Charlottesville this weekend, saw you’re there for GameDay, would love to connect, etc”. About 15 minutes later he responded, “Yeah roll with me this weekend”. After much thought… I said... OK COOL!
Fast forward to Saturday, I woke up at 4:30am for the 3.5 hour drive to Charlottesville. I knew I was in for an epic day, but it ended up exceeding my expectations. Jay was awesome. He got me set up with credentials and I got to be right in on all the action. I watched him do his thing for GameDay, casually do a set live on ESPN, interact with fans, then come over and ask if I had any questions.
Most of the day I got to hang in the back room with the “ESPN guys”… aka Jay Bilas, Seth Greenberg, Rece Davis and the rest of the behind the scenes ESPN crew. Jay Wil gave me the rundown on the crew, but after seeing them interact it became obvious their contrasting personalities.
Jay Bilas, aka “Bald Man #2”, is the lawyer of the group, serious, analytical but at the same time brings dry humor and dad jokes to the crew. Though slightly intimidating, Jay was super nice and showed me his thick stack of game notes and how he prepared for each team he was going to cover giving tips on certain stats and tendencies to look for.
Rece Davis, aka “The Voice” is the calm, cool, collected moderator of the group. He keeps it professional, spending most of the day going over stacks of text-dense notes, but at the same time shooting out witty jabs at his partners. At one point Bilas and Reece got into a heated debate about whether salad dressing should be served on the side or tossed in all together. Rece had a persuasive argument, but I had to agree with Jay… tossed, evenly distributed, equally coating all elements of the salad. Just seems right.
Then there’s Seth Greenberg, aka “The Coach”. He’s the animated debater who can sit down to watch a game and talk to himself the entire time… “Are you kidding Calipari?! Tyler Hero doesn’t even get a play drawn up for him at the end of the game? What are you thinking!”. Kentucky still won that game… but coach couldn’t let that one go.
After the GameDay show ended, the guys had to do two halftime segments covering various college basketball games before the 6pm tip time of Duke vs. UVA. I was curious what went into the prep for that, and was surprised how casual it was. Granted these guys are basketball geniuses and have been doing this for years, but they literally just leaned back, turned on some games and watched casually while cracking jokes at each other.
There’s also a “stats guy” in the room, whose sole role is to research stats all day long to find those unique nuggets, that stand out. For example, X team shoots X % better when player X is in the game and it’s 55 degrees outside and they serve chili cheese dogs at the concession stand. He then feeds this to the guys and they proceed to head to set and absolutely nail it.
After watching the guys do their thing, Jay Wil, his buddy Joey, and I went to get some shots up. I told Jay I wasn’t trying to sweat, but I was down to challenge him to a shooting contest. Midway through my successful sweep (3 for 3 baby), UVA Head Coach Tony Bennet walks in aka “Silver Fox”. Jay introduced me and I did my best not to blush… he was just as nice as he seems in the media.
Although slightly rattled, we went back to hooping and started a game of HORSE. Jay probably upset at taking the L, started throwing some ’01-’02 Jay Wil moves in there, putting my athletic abilities to shame. All I can say after seeing those… is that my money is on the Home Team in the Celebrity All-Star game Friday. He’s still got it.
Jay ended up trying to break down the moves for me, which then turned into a full-on workout and my vow to not sweat went out the window (once it starts, it doesn’t stop). We ended up doing some cool stuff, subtle movements you don’t think about but make a huge difference. The James Harden sidestep move, different options off a pin-down screen, certain jabs that buy you extra space from your defender. Footwork is not my friend, but with repetition getting those different movements down could make a huge difference in my game.
After a much needed shower, Jay got ready for his halftime set and I tagged along ESPN Emmy Award Winning Producer, Aaron Katzman. We headed to the TV truck where I got to see where the production magic really happens. Full of TV screens, miles of wiring, different camera angles and people giving directions and commands. I listened as Aaron gave the ESPN guys direction throughout their set.. “And more flavor in 3, 2, 1”, then Rece Davis proceeds to come up with something funny on the cuff. While most of the prep work is done ahead of time, still a lot of it is unstructured and on the whim, which I found most impressive.
Another set done and it was time for dinner back with the crew before the game. As I’m hurrying to build my taco as Jay Bilas patiently waits in line behind me, Maria Taylor walks into the room. I admit, I had a small fan girl moment. I went to introduce myself, “Hi Maria, I’m Becca Gre…”. She cut me off halfway through… “Greenwell, girl I know who you are, I covered Women’s Hoops!”. OH… COOL…THANKS! Or something ridiculous along those lines is how I responded.
She let me tag along with her throughout the game which was the most casual, un-casual thing. I’m used to getting stopped by 10+ security guards on game days at Duke, and am certainly on “Cameron Indoor’s Most Wanted” list due to my many failed attempts to get into Duke Men’s games ticketless over the years (I’ve now matured, thank you). And now, I was weaving in and out around the guys as they warmed up 15 minutes until Tip. If only the Duke security guards could see me now!
We hung out courtside before the game where she answered a lot of my questions, showed me her notes and set me up with an earpiece so I could hear Jay Bilas and Dan Shulman commentate the game. During the game, she had a set up in the corner with a monitor and live stats, but she was up and on the move most of the time, listening in on each team's huddles, giving Bilas and Shulman updates, and flawlessly doing interviews all while remaining her laid back, nonchalant, cool self. The environment was absolutely insane and what was most impressive was Maria’s level of comfortness, she made it look so easy and never changed who she was on or off camera.
As I’m watching the game live, I hear Bilas say, “LEBRON is in the building!”. As if the day couldn’t get any better. I look at Maria with wide eyes, “you have to interview him…”. Though surrounded with security guards, at halftime Maria went to talk to Lebron and I tagged along of course. Despite my mother’s request, I did not attempt to talk or get a picture with him, but instead settled for rapid fire pictures of him, sorry mom. Looking back, I wish I would have at least snagged a selfie...
Although Lebron respectfully denied an interview, Maria did a great job talking to him. I never would have known they had never met before. But that’s what makes her great, she’s super down to earth and can vibe with anyone.
After Duke got the Win, I said my goodbyes and headed to my car feeling extra thankful despite my knees being swollen from standing all day and ankles blistering from my uncomfortable shoes I decided to wear. Once I hobbled to the near empty parking lot, it didn’t take me long to realize my car was gone, and in fact, towed.
After consulting with a nice police officer, he helped me track down my car, and not only that, but gave me a ride to it. I did not expect my day to end with me having friendly conversation in the back of a cop car, but then again, I didn’t expect a lot of things that happened that day. My GameDay experience exceeded all expectations and more, and I couldn’t be more thankful to everyone I met and especially Jay for the opportunity. It was an incredible experience and definitely worth the $50 parking ticket.