As part of a new series, Bourbon Meyer will get to know a few of the writers and bloggers who cover Gator athletics. Today, Dan Thompson sat down with Kevin Brockway, staff analyst/reporter from the Gainesville Sun to discuss how Kevin got into journalism, his outlook for the women’s lacrosse team, men’s basketball, and ends with some advice for young journalists.
DT: Kevin, if you explain briefly why you wanted to get into journalism and how you ended up at the Gainesville Sun?
KB: I had a paper route when I was 11 years old. I delivered the Rockland County (N.Y.) Journal News after school and on weekends, sometimes in the snow or sub-freezing temperatures (now you know why I live in Florida). But growing up in suburban New York City, I was a huge sports fans and I read the New York papers voraciously. I looked up to a lot of the writers I read, Mike Lupica, Jimmy Breslin, Dave Anderson, Dick Young. I thought it would be neat job, getting to travel the country and write about what I loved.
I landed in Gainesville in 2003 after spending a decade at other papers in Florida, starting with the Key West Citizen, moving on to the Northwest Florida Daily News and then the Naples Daily News. Arnold Feliciano, the sports editor now in Gainesville, hired me in Northwest Florida and then left the day I got there in 1999 to come to Gainesville. I still joke with him about that. But Arnold was familiar with my work throughout the state and gave me a tremendous opportunity to cover Gator basketball and Gator athletics. I’m thankful to him, to this day.
DT: You have been all over the state of Florida, where has been your favorite place to live?
KB: Wow, that’s tough. I should probably say Gainesville, right. Key West was zany. It was my first job out of college and I often call it my extended spring break. But I worked hard there, was fortunate enough to win some awards. I worked hard and I played hard. There is great passion for sports on the island and I had a chance to fish with world-class guides covering outdoors sports. Each place stands out. I really like Gainesville as well because of the youth and energy of the town, it being a college town. So I’d probably say a draw betweenKey West and Gainesville.
DT: Obviously having worked in sports for 20 years you have experienced a lot. What are a few of your favorite memories that you have experienced on the job?
KB: My favorite memories are when I can write stories that make a difference and touch people’s lives. Obviously the 2006 and 2007 national championship seasons at Floridawere magical. Not just because of the success that Florida had, but because the players were so open and had so many great stories to tell. Looking back, we were pretty spoiled as reporters to have the chance to interview Al Horford, Joakim Noah, Corey Brewer, Taurean Green and Lee Humphrey. Adrian Moss, Walter Hodge and Chris Richard were great, too. There was no pretense about them. They even understood our role, when they were struggling at the end of February and we were questioning things and writing some things that could have been perceived as negative, guys like Noah would say, “you’ve got to take the good with the bad.” They got it, and I think that’s why they are having success at the next level.
But I also look back to a story I wrote in 2000 when I was in Naples. It was titled “Why They Called it Staver Field.” I used to jog at the Naples High football field and saw the plaque of Pete Staver, a former Naples High player who died in the last quarter of his last high school football game. He took a blow to the head on a tackle and died of a cerebral hemorrhage. It was the 25th anniversary of the tragedy and I was able to track down his former high school teammates who lived in Naples, his sister, his parents, his former high school coach, the reporter who covered the game and even his former high school sweetheart. I was able to weave together a story that captured the spirit of Pete Staver and took readers back in time to what Naples was like in 1975. It was a delicate subject, but I tried to be honest with the facts. The feedback was overwhelmingly positive, from my bosses, my colleagues the readers and from Pete Staver’s family.
When you can do that, you feel pretty good about the work that you put into it.
DT: Who are some of your journalism inspirations?
KB: “Guys I look up to in the business include Mike Lupica, Bob Ryan, Dan LeBatard, Gary Smith, Lee Jenkins, Chris Ballard, Pat Forde, Mike Bianchi, Bill Plaschke. All are excellent writers with strong opinions who aren’t afraid to tell it like it is. I’m not a big fan of reporters or columnists who buddy up with coaches and managers all the time just so they can get on their good side to get extra stories. You can be fair without being a sycophant. At the end of the day, I think it’s more important to be honest with your readers.
DT: Switching gears for a moment, you cover quite a few sports for the Gainesville Sun, notably basketball, lacrosse, basketball, olympic athletes, and more. What particular story sticks out and who have been your most favorite interviewees?
KB: In 2004, I wrote a story about former Gator guard Vernon Maxwell and his paternity issues and failing to play child support. I tried to make it as balanced as I could, talking to former high school coaches and even his former agent (who still spoke on his behalf despite the fact he owed him money). According to the one of the mothers of one of Maxwell’s children (he had seven from six different mothers), he not only financially neglected his son, he emotionally neglected him as well, failing to respond to his calls and letters. I thought it was important to point that out. I’ve been told since that Vernon has at least tried to establish more of a relationship with that son, who still lives in Gainesville. I gave Vernon every chance to speak for the story, but he declined interview requests though his attorney. Again, you would like to think the story helped make a difference in that situation.
Joakim Noah has to go down as my all-time favorite Gator to cover, though any of the 04s would rival him. Chandler Parsons also was up there, accessible and quotable. David Lee and Matt Walsh in my early years on the beat were both great to deal with in different ways. I think Patric Young has a chance to be that kind of athlete, too. He’s a telecom major and I think he understands the role of the media better than some athletes.
DT: The lacrosse team recently captured the number one seed in the ALC tournament, how do you think they will do and could they be the next sport to capture a National Championship?
KB: You have to be impressed with what Florida has done with lacrosse. In three years, they’ve proven they belong with the elite programs in the country. Florida made the financial investment by building one of the best lacrosse facilities in the country, and coach Amanda O’Leary has done an excellent job recruiting top-flight talent to a new program. The Gators still may be another year away, but I wouldn’t be surprised if they make to the Final Four or the national title game.
DT: Moving on to basketball, UF has found itself in a position to have to one again replace its best player. How do you think UF will respond with the loss of Bradley Beal to the NBA?
KB: I think it needs to be done collectively. Beal is the kind of player you get once a decade. It’s a shame Billy couldn’t convince him to stick around another year, but being a projected lottery pick, the money is just too much to pass up.
But it was important that Patric Young and Kenny Boynton both stuck around. I think both made smart choices, they need another year. You still have three starters back from an Elite Eight team, which makes this a Sweet 16 caliber team next season. From there, it comes down to breaks. I liked how Erik Murphy progressed at the end of the season, he improved both defensively and rebounding the basketball. Casey Prather finally showed some promise in March. And don’t forget Will Yeguete, who I think could have made a big difference late in the Louisville game because of his defensive ability. You’ve got to keep everyone healthy, but I think they have another chance to make a deep run in the NCAA Tournament next season.
They should be deep in the frontcourt, with or without Anthony Bennett. And I truly believe you win games at the rim. Perimeter-oriented teams, which Florida was last season, can only make it so far. Florida won national titles 2006 and 2007 because it had the best frontcourt in the country (Noah-Horford-Brewer). Kentucky won this past year because it had the best frontcourt in the country (Davis-Jones-Kidd-Gilchrist).
DT: UF is currently a major player in the Anthony Bennett sweepstakes. Do you think that Billy Donovan will land the coveted big man from Nevada?
KB: Bennett is actually from Toronto, but he played basketball this past season at Findlay Prep in Las Vegas. Findlay is somewhat of a pipeline for UNLV, which puts the Running Rebels in play. Anytime you are recruiting against Kentucky, it’s also tough. Like it or not,Kentucky coach John Calipari has a track record of getting players to the NBA. So does Billy Donovan, but Cal seems to get players to the NBA quicker. It will come down to Florida and Kentucky. But I don’t see a hard lean either way. If Bennett winds up at Kentucky, though, look for the Gators to jump on 6-10 big man Bradley Hayes from Jacksonville. He really wants to be a Gator. Hayes is less polished than Bennett, but has good size (6-10, 245 pounds). You can’t teach 6-10.
DT: Finally, going back full circle. What advice can you provide to aspiring journalists out there?
KB: Read as much as you can, and set the bar high. Read the classics, like Hemingway and Updike. Love writing as much as you love sports. Invest time in research and coming up with intelligent questions, your credibility is on the line every time you ask one. Get involved with as many platforms as you can, learn to shoot video, WordPress for blogs, HTML coding, learn to link stories and use TinyUrl to link on Twitter. Establish good relationships with sources and let them know you care about them as people. Ask about their families from time to time. Oh, and have an outlet. Mine is karaoke, helps release the stress that comes up after trying to hit a tight deadline.
DT: Thanks for sitting down with me Kevin, it has been great!