`GameDay' jumps through hoops, too

ESPN: From peanut butter breakfasts to bad graphics at night, the cast faces its own shot clock, but it barely breaks a sweat, thanks to Makeup Lady.

College Basketball

February 15, 2005|By Ray Frager | Ray Frager,SUN STAFF

COLLEGE PARK - The trailer feels a little cramped and, at 8 on a February morning, kind of chilly inside, too.

However, hot coffee is brewing, and there on a collapsible table, next to the pot and a basket of chocolate candy, sit a few loaves of bread for a breakfast of do-it-yourself peanut-and-jelly sandwiches.

Welcome to big-time sports television.

On Saturday, ESPN's College GameDay originated from the University of Maryland's Comcast Center, site of the Maryland-Duke game that night. This season, for the first time, ESPN has taken its GameDay football concept - bring the program to a college campus and let the surroundings and fans be part of the show - to basketball. Saturday marked the fourth basketball GameDay.

With shows at 11 a.m., 8 p.m. and midnight, ESPN's crew had a long day. Here's a behind-the-scenes look at how it went.

8:10 a.m.: Inside a trailer behind the loading dock at Comcast Center, jammed into a small room made smaller by the presence of a square table for work space and a long one to hold four television monitors, sit the on-air faces of GameDay - host Rece Davis, analysts Jay Bilas and Digger Phelps and reporter Andy Katz. All of them are perfectly coiffed and wearing crisply pressed white shirts and ties. Given the temperature in the trailer, they can leave their suit jackets on.

Producer Lee Fitting takes them and other producers through a rundown of the 11 a.m. show. Almost everyone is typing on laptops, except Phelps. He flips through a pile of notecards, writing down information and then highlighting with one of three different-colored markers.

8:21: As in most workplaces, teasing and needling mix with the business of business. Phelps keeps a straight face most of the time, but he isn't above the fray. During a discussion of the Big East, Katz tries engaging Phelps about the Irish, but Phelps, who coached at South Bend for 20 years, cuts him off with: "Notre Dame is my school. Where'd you go to school?" Wisconsin, Katz replies. "You take care of Wisconsin," Phelps says.

8:31: Everyone in the room casts about for teams to use in a segment about upsets. Barry Sacks, a robust, gregarious fellow who is ESPN senior coordinating producer/studio productions, offers that St. John's could knock off Seton Hall. Bilas seems unimpressed. Could it be the Dalmatian tie Sacks wears is undercutting his authority?

9:04: First crisis of the day. Where is the Makeup Lady?

9:14: Phelps, projecting calm despite the missing Makeup Lady, talks with a reporter about how much he enjoys this job. "I get to watch 400 games," he says. "It's a hobby."

9:50: Bilas, who looks fit enough to still play on Duke's front line, has gone inside Comcast Center, which already contains enough students to fill nearly half of the lower sections. Standing inside what a lesser Dukie might consider the belly of the beast, Bilas schmoozes with the students and signs autographs. A student shouts out, "Jay, Duke even got a shot?" His friendly manner has overcome his Duke pedigree. He walks away to applause from the student section.

9:55: The Makeup Lady has made it. She works on Phelps.

10: Davis introduces SportsCenter, and the fans are on live, shouting and hopping and waving while the Maryland band plays the show's theme.

10:19: Bilas, Davis and Phelps tape a segment for SportsCenter. The first try is found wanting. So is the second. Third time's not the charm. No. 4 works. The band plays and students cheer each time.

11: GameDay comes on the air. The crowd responds with its loudest noise of the morning, especially liking when the ESPN cameras catch a poster showing a young Duke fan crying after Maryland's Atlantic Coast Conference championship victory last year.

11:11: While Phelps stands on the court, a Terps cheerleader hands him a Maryland red tie to replace his teal one. "Put it on! Put it on!" chant the students, to no avail.

11:39: Phelps, ever the coach, notices how Katz's cheekbones look shiny during his courtside report. He dispatches the Makeup Lady.

12:02 p.m.: The early show over, Phelps turns to the crowd and asks the fans to stay for a few more minutes while they tape a halftime segment.

12:10: The first part of the day is over. Time for lunch, rest or a workout. Or maybe all three.

5:45: Back in the trailer, it's another rundown. Phelps has those markers in high gear.

6:24: After the meeting, Bilas stands next to a young woman tapping at a laptop, answering questions for ESPN.com.

6:33: Davis, seeking some information, summons a producer named Nick by calling out: "Hey, Caner-Medley."

7:46: Back on the set, the Makeup Lady dabs at Bilas, Davis and Phelps. If GameDay is going to shine, it won't be because of their foreheads.

8:01: Moments after the show begins, Dick Vitale makes his way to the platform next to the set. If there were a happier man inside Comcast Center, Vitale probably would beat him in a smile-off.

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