By Katy Winge

About nine months ago, I said my goodbyes to Medill’s downtown Chicago newsroom.

When I read that out loud, it sounds like such a short amount of time. But then again, the sports journalism program I graduated from — with my sparkling new master’s degree — wasn’t much longer.

It feels like just yesterday I was carefully crafting studio shows overlooking Navy Pier, preparing for live shots on Wacker Drive, and spending a good chunk of my time in the gyms of the Windy City.

Almost a year later, it’s amazing how much of my life is still the same.

I’m still crafting shows and preparing to go live — except now it’s during pregame and halftime at the Pepsi Center in Denver, and I’m still spending the majority of my time in gyms, just now they’re in the Mile-High City.

Nine months after my completing my time at Northwestern, I just finished my first season as a full-time NBA reporter for the Denver Nuggets. So I guess what’s even more incredible is how much of my life is different. 

As the in-arena team reporter, I produce my own show, Courtside Countdown, which is live on the jumbotron during pregame and again at halftime. The goal is to inform and entertain the in-house fans — to set the stage and provide context to why the game matters.

I write my own scripts, do all the research and reporting for the stats and features, and get interviews. Then, on game days, I’m the live host, presenting all the information I put together. I also host Facebook Lives on the Denver Nuggets page, occasionally will be an on-site reporter at various events for the Colorado sports network, Altitude, and contribute as a guest on various radio shows and podcasts.

Working in the NBA is everything I hoped it would be — a basketball world filled with interesting, unique people and stories to tell that’s growing and changing every day. It’s dramatic. It’s extra. It’s at times over-the-top. The league is about so much more than just the game — but the sport is where the beauty stems from for me. In my first season, I learned more than I could possibly imagine.

Being a former basketball player myself, I’m an x’s and o’s type gal — a stats nerd. In the NBA, there is a statistical breakdown that (typically) explains why a team is winning/losing — it’s called the Four Factors. Simply put, those factors are shooting, taking care of the ball, rebounding and free throws.

What better way to layout my personal takeaways from my experience with the Nuggets? Here are the “Four Factors” of my Rookie Season:

1. Shoot Your Shot.

Be your genuine self. And be confident being you. When I took over this position, it was mostly entertainment based. Because I know and love the game as a former player, I transformed it into a much more basketball-focused role. It was crucial for me to recognize that I didn’t have to be the same as the person I replaced, but my ideas and vision could add a different dimension for the audience.

2. Sometimes, you’re going to have turnovers.

You’re going to make mistakes, but bounce back and learn from those mistakes quickly. There were countless times when what I wanted to say didn’t come out the way I planned. But there’s literally no time to get upset, because the next element or story or feature or breakdown is up next. Don’t beat yourself up. Instead, recognize what happened, and use it as an opportunity to grow.

3. Create Extra Opportunities and Put in the Extra Effort.

I made sure I was at every media availability, even if I didn’t have an assignment or story to put together. Being around and in front of the team and the coaches helps build relationships and trust, and there are few things more vital in this industry than that. Ask about topics other than basketball. Get to know individuals as people not just players.

On that same note, because I immersed myself in basketball and this world, I earned credibility and asked for more responsibility — and got the green light to make it happen. I was asked to be involved in other roles. I worked with the digital and social media department, had opportunities to jump on the sports network in Colorado and simply presented new ideas.

Don’t be afraid to ask or bring something different to the table. The worst thing that can happen is they say no!

4. Prepare, Practice, Repeat.

Game is on the line, and you get sent to the free throw line. You’ve been to the charity stripe multiple times already in the game. You’ve practiced your shot thousands of times. You’ve gone through this situation in your head since you were a kid. So, you confidently step up to the challenge.

This same mentality is a game-changer in the broadcasting sphere as well. The more you prepare, the more you practice putting yourself in uncomfortable situations, the easier it will be when things don’t go exactly as you planned (which is 99% of the time). Not only will you be ready, you will be confident in your ability — and that makes all the difference.

Here is a quick personal example. This season was the 50th anniversary of the Denver Nuggets franchise. All season long, we had former players come back to thank them for being a part of the foundation. I had my eyes set on the 2000’s era, because I knew there was a possibility Allen Iverson would be in attendance.

He was.

I knew this would be an incredible opportunity to shoot my shot — to ask him about his impact on the NBA and his (short) time in Denver. I was told he wasn’t going to do interviews. Well, I made it known I wanted to interview AI. Who knows if I would ever get another opportunity. My coworkers recognized this. And there he was, sitting courtside, no more than 50 feet away from me. So, my crew asked. And they got the answer I was desperately hoping for.

I knew there was the slightest chance this might happen, so I had prepped a few questions I wanted to ask if I somehow got the chance. I had a lot of interview experience and practice. Because of that, I was confident. I was ready.

This was one of my favorite parts of my rookie season. Heck, it’s one of my favorite moments of my career thus far. Did it go perfectly? No. Were there things I would do differently looking back? Of course. And I applied those adjustments to each interview that followed. But I still pinch myself sometimes when I remember I interviewed Allen Iverson.

Nine months ago, I walked out of the downtown Chicago newsroom for the final time as a student — with no idea where I would land next. I landed a mile above sea-level, with a dream job covering the sport I love, on cloud nine. And even after finishing my first season, I’m not coming down anytime soon.