February 13, 2010 11:57:00 PM
Adam Minichino - [email protected]
STARKVILLE -- There''s no doubt Cara Capuano and Robin Muller love sports.
Capuano grew up the daughter of a sports fan. Some of her earliest memories involve sports -- watching pitcher Fernando Valenzuela with the Los Angeles Dodgers in 1981 and attending the AFC Championship Game between the Los Angeles Raiders and the Seattle Seahawks on Jan. 8, 1984, in the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum with her father when she was 10 years old.
Muller can appreciate those memories because she has been a part of just as many as a longtime college basketball coach and college administrator.
That bond with sports helped them hit it off when they met the first time on a plane the day before they were scheduled to broadcast the University of Tennessee-Mississippi State women''s basketball game on Jan. 10 at Humphrey Coliseum as part of the SEC Network package of games on the ESPN family of networks.
Capuano also has worked for Fox Sports Net and at KCOP in Los Angeles and at KCTZ in Bozeman, Mont. She said ESPN does a good job finding people who work well together. She said the people she has worked with typically are "sports nerds" who have the same love for the craft and enjoy being part of the games.
"I could see in Robin''s face the same kind of enthusiasm when we were talking to the coaches," Capuano said. "I think it starts there. They hire the right people that can immediately get along with people."
Capuano will be Starkville again at 4:25 p.m. today with LaChina Robinson as part of ESPN''s February Frenzy game between the University of Mississippi and MSU. The game is one of eight Sunday and two Monday ESPN will broadcast to support the Kay Yow/Women''s Basketball Coaches Association Cancer Fund for women''s cancer research in partnership with the V Foundation.
The Cancer Fund is named for Yow, the former North Carolina State women''s basketball coach, who died Jan. 24, 2009, after a courageous battle with cancer.
Yow''s impact and influence on college basketball, and that of former N.C. State men''s basketball coach Jim Valvano, who helped create the V Foundation, an organization that raises money for cancer research, likely will be part of the storyline for all of the games, which can be seen on ESPN2, ESPNU, and ESPN360.com.
Valvano won a national championship at N.C. State in 1983, and later became known for the inspirational speech he gave at the ESPY Awards eight weeks before he died of cancer.
Last month, though, Capuano was in Starkville with Muller to work the Tennessee-MSU game. After immediately hitting it off on the plane and meeting producer Matt, they set out to formulate their game plan for the broadcast. They tapped into their passion for sports and talked about what stories they wanted to tell the viewers and the best ways they could tell them.
Capuano said broadcasters, who are called "talent," typically work with multiple partners in a week, so it can be a challenge to develop a rhythm with someone and learn their speech patterns and likes and dislikes.
But a love for sports makes it easier to find common ground.
"My role is to be able to get both Robin''s fan part of it but also Robin as a former coach, Robin as a former player," Capuano said. "I want to be the voice of the fan at home and ask, ''Why is this happening?'' "
Capuano spent the fall as a sideline reporter working ESPN''s SEC Network package of football games. She worked with analyst Andrew Ware, the former University of Houston quarterback who won the Heisman Trophy in 1989, and with former University of Georgia and Oakland Raiders and Tampa Bay Buccaneers offensive tackle Matt Stinchcomb on SEC Weekly, a studio show dedicated to the Southeastern Conference. Even though she considers herself to be "an educated fan," she said she learned more about football in those four to five months than she knew existed.
"The opportunity to work hand in hand with analysts has taught me more about the sports I loved growing up than I might have been able to learn as a player," Capuano said. "When you''re a player, you''re a child and it is a maturing process and it takes a long time to really get a game, any game, at the level of a professional athlete.
"It really is a gift that the best analysts are great teachers and they show us a little perspective or something we might not have thought of before. If I see something I think they can develop into a teaching point that not only will wow me but also the fans at home, I try to get that from them."
Muller, who has a full-time job as associate athletic director for compliance and student services and senior woman administrator at Newberry College, has been a broadcaster since 2001. She spent seven years as head women''s basketball coach at Winthrop University and five years as director of operations for the University of South Carolina women''s basketball program.
Muller said women''s basketball is her passion, and she tries to pour that enthusiasm into her TV work. She said watching games with her mother helps her understand the questions that fans might ask as they watch matchups.
"I feel my role is to explain the picture and explain what you''re seeing," Muller said. "If something is happening on the floor, why is it happening or how does it come about? It is more of why, how, the whats of the game."
Capuano and Muller said they go back and watch games to evaluate their broadcasts. They said the chemistry between broadcasters develops with time, but a love for all sports helps build that spark faster.
"I am just a sports fan first," Capuano said. "Joy is one word, but what an incredible experience walking the sidelines of SEC football games this season. Thirteen straight regular-season games at these places I had only dreamed of visiting. The fan passion, the energy, the intensity, and the product on the field was so superior. What a delight. On the sidelines, I try to think like a fan and what am I seeing that they would love to see right now and how can I tell them about that."
All broadcasters try to do the same thing when they are courtside or in a booth. They try not to use the same phrase multiple times in a game and feel they are at their best when they enhance the broadcast with informative storylines and insightful commentary and analysis. Their goal is to let the viewers at home feel the energy in a venue and to let the action play out.
"When you go back and watch and feel like as a team you enhanced instead of detracted, that is a positive broadcast," Capuano said. "If I use 7 percent of what I have prepared, that might be the most. I need to know all of the stats. I want to have everything on hand, and a lot of it is preparation you might not use it.
"Even if what the fan at home is seeing looks a little bit unpredictable and shaky, as long as you can try to communicate and enhance it, not sounding unpredictable and shaky, that is a big plus. Sometimes it is easy to get caught up in seven straight turnovers and what''s going on and I am speechless. Having a good game is a nice foundation, and we have the pleasure of covering some of the best teams (in the SEC)."
Adam Minichino is the Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.