On Thursday, January 26th, I had the chance to sit down with Percy Allen, Washington Huskies Men’s Basketball beat writer for the Seattle Times right before the Huskies 60-54 victory over Arizona State in Tempe. We had the chance to talk about his job, how much he enjoys covering basketball, and some of his observations of the Huskies both past and present. In addition, I was able to ask him some questions from you the fans. Percy gave some really honest and interesting answers to the questions. Let’s get right to it…
Jeff Taylor: Percy, thank you for meeting with me to answer some questions of the fans of Washington basketball for Husky Haul. You’ve certainly seen a lot of ups and downs over the past three years of covering the Huskies. From beating #3 seed New Mexico to advance to the Sweet 16 to difficult stretches of inexplicable losses. Is your job easier or more enjoyable when the team is winning or is it really about the same no matter what is happening?
Percy Allen: I’d say it is mostly the same. You try to maintain yourself as a neutral observer. There are certainly differences in the kinds of answers you get in post-game interviews, how forthcoming they are, depending on how things are going which can make your job easier or harder. In fact, when the team is struggling it is sometimes easier to get them to express themselves more and give you information they might not have otherwise. Sometimes when a player is frustrated, whether it be a lack of playing time, losing some games, upset at teammates or the coaches, they have this nagging need to tell someone. Sometimes as a reporter, you are the first person they talk to, even before they get a chance to call their mother or girlfriend, and they have a need to get it off their chest. Often they simply want to tell someone “it isn’t my fault!”
When teams are doing well, they will often crow about how good they feel. But, the real insights and stories are harder to get. So, I tell young journalism students who are worried about walking up to players and asking tough questions right after a loss that they should look at it as an opportunity for a good story.
Jeff Taylor: How do you decide how to use the information you get in writing stories?
Percy Allen: When it comes to the type of information you get and what gets published, that depends on what team you are covering. When it comes to the Seahawks or the NBA, everything that comes out of their mouth is a potential story. These guys are professionals. How they deal with the media is in their contracts. They are grown men who know how to deal with the media, or at least should. If Marshawn Lynch or Matt Hasselbeck says something remotely negative about the coaches, other players, the ownership, then that is a story! But, when it comes to college kids, it is a bit different.
These guys are not paid atheletes. They are just kids. In many cases, they are just one step removed from high school and their maturity level is not always quite there yet. Sometimes players will say things they will later realize they really shouldn’t have, but they said it out of frustration. As a reporter, there is a bit of a filtering process.
Jeff Taylor: Yes, I teach high school and have coached high school basketball, so I understand what you are saying. At that age, they usually do not want to take responsibility for their actions, whether in the classroom or on the court, and want to blame someone else. So, how do you deal with that as a reporter?
Percy Allen: Well, you cut them a little slack. You look for patterns and try to see the bigger picture. Sometimes what they say provides insights into the team chemistry. But, often they are just venting and you have to decide whether it is something worth putting out there to the public. I mean, these are just kids and kids sometimes say things they shouldn’t have.
Jeff Taylor: You’ve indicated many times that you are not a “Husky Homer”. But, you say you try to cover them as a neutral party with a goal of pointing out their flaws and their strengths. But, do you in the course of the beat, ever find yourself secretly or unexpectedly rooting for them when they go on a run or are playing in a big game? Is it easy or difficult to separate emotions from the job?
Percy Allen: It’s pretty easy to keep yourself from getting involved in the game. I am from Cleveland, I am a midwestern boy. I have no connections to the University of Washington. But, I’ll say this. I don’t root for the Huskies, but I root for good people. I’ve gotten to know Lorenzo Romar a little over the last couple of years. We’re not buddy buddy or anything, but I respect him and what he is doing with the program and I wish him well.
As for the players, in college it is harder to build up an attachment because they come and go. In fact, I don’t think most fans are really attached to the players as much as they are attached to the institution, to the brand. Most fans are fans because they grew up in an area or attended the school, not because of the players who currently go there. Players come and go, but the institution is always there to root for.
Jeff Taylor: I have to agree with this statement. After graduating from UW I went to graduate school at Michigan State. I went to games there, really like what Tom Izzo has done there, and witnessed the campus after they won the national championship. But, that being said, I grew up in Washington and my loyalties lie there. I still occassionally watch MSU and hope they do well, but I am not a big diehard fan.
Percy Allen: The fanbase of colleges and the pros are a bit different, especially since players will often stay in a city for many years and become a legend there. Fans can really build up a connection to one or a few players who come to represent the entire organization.
Jeff Taylor: But, do you ever find yourself getting into the moment? Do you ever find yourself rooting for the team you are covering when they go on a big run, make a big comeback, score on a spectacular play?
Percy Allen: While I may not root for the team, as a reporter I certainly root for big moments. When Isaiah Thomas went on that incredible run last year in the Pac-10 tournament, when this 5’9″ guard put the entire team on his back and willed them to victory, yeah you can’t avoid not getting caught in the moment. That was a big story! That cold blooded shot against Arizona was huge and as a spectator you get excited to see something like that.
This is the conclusion of Part I of the interview with Percy Allen.
Look for Part II to go up in the near future…