Sunday, February 28, 2010

ESPN's O'Neil: Here's How To Write About Sports

Dana O'Neil is a writer, not a TV reporter as this photo would suggest.^

As a former sports writer (17 looooong years), I subscribe to the oft-stated notion among these journalists that they are most often the best writers in the profession. As today's evidence of that bromide, I offer one Dana O'Neil of ESPN, a woman who writes smashingly about basketball.

Yesterday's column focusing a couple of disgraced and run-off coaches from major programs (former UNC coach Matt Doherty and ex-Iowa State coach Larry Eustachy) is compelling, whether or not you have a dog in the fight.

Presented here are the cases of two former national Coach of the Year winners who rested at the very top of their professions--Doherty at his alma mater--just a few years ago. Eustachy, a recovering alcoholic, got drunk and got fired; Doherty simply lost too many games to suit one of the elite programs in the country.

They have found happy homes in Conference USA (Doherty at SMU; Eustachy at Southern Miss), a bottom rung of the big leagues of college basketball and one of the reasons this story is so compelling. Read it if you're in need of a good writing fix. Here's a sample (the lead):

Your first thought as you approach Southern Mississippi's Reed Green Coliseum: The Golden Eagles play in a yurt.

Your second thought, as you enter the gym: The environmentally conscious, amenity-eschewing people who live in actual yurts would be aesthetically offended. The walls, presumably, were once yellow but now sit on the color spectrum somewhere between dirty mustard and old oatmeal. Three-quarters of the seats are old wooden bleachers that have seen a few decades worth of derriere wear and tear.

The lighting would be welcome in prison.

Thirty minutes before tipoff, 19 people are in the stands -- a pack of kids behind the basket, a collection of older folks toting their own chair backs opposite the benches, and a handful of locals spread across the rest of the building.

Student section? Haven't found it.

Pep band? No sign.

Cheerleaders? Not yet.

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