Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Under Further Review No. 2: Aaron Bracy

Philadelphia is known for its passionate sports fan base, and right up their in the long line of sporting tradition in the city is college hoops. With the Palestra oozing with basketball lore and the historic Big 5 -- and Drexel constantly trying to nudge their way in to make it the City 6 -- Philadelphia makes a convincing case as the most exciting college basketball city in America.

Aaron Bracy has had a hand on the Philly college hoops pulse for years. A veteran of the newspaper industry and current school teacher, Bracy is the founder and editor in chief of -- a website dedicated to coverage of the City 6 men's basketball teams. We spoke to him about the beginnings of Philahoops, the role of college hoops in the city and how to become a good writer.

On Friday April 11 on the way to the Phillies game...

Kevin Rossi: This was the third, fourth season of Philahoops?
Aaron Bracy: This was the fourth season.
KR: I should probably know that since I wrote for you for two of them. The site has grown really big for the Philadelphia area college hoops scene, obviously with Philahoops and what has now branched off of it. At the beginning, what was the competition like and where did you think Philahoops could go?
AB: I thought it could be what it is now and even more than what it is now. I tend to be a bit of a dreamer. I wanted to get back involved with something so I could keep my hands on Philadelphia and the sports media. I had tried doing a blog, which was called Philly Sports Beat, and I was just trying to be a one-man operation. It really didn't have much traction, so I gave it up after a month or so. I've always loved college basketball, and I just looked around and really it just wasn't being covered that closing. At least in my opinion compared to what the interest was. So, I thought, "If I could get this up and running, I bet you a lot of people would read it." I always felt in Philadelphia obviously the Eagles are huge and then the other pro teams -- the Phillies, Flyers and Sixers -- are big. College basketball in Philly is big, but I didn't think the coverage matched the interest. I knew I had enough contacts to get credentials, which was really the big thing that I thought could make it work. I had been thinking about it for a while and then I went away with my wife to a wedding, and I had some down time for once. I thought, "You know what, I'm just going to throw this together." Honestly, one weekend at a wedding, I stayed up all night down in the lobby of the hotel on the computer, and I just kind of threw it together. Then it went from there, especially once Joe (Federowicz) got involved. Joe got involved quickly after that, probably a month or so after. Once he got involved, it really helped. When I first started, I was trying to go to the games by myself and it's hard enough for me to go to any games with a family that has grown since then. That was really where it started, and I think it's really just the tip of the iceberg even today.
KR: One of the keys was finding somebody as crazy as you were in Joe.
AB: Joe has been so valuable in the fact that he loves college basketball as much as I do, but his technical knowledge was really what has been able to make the site go. I have journalistic knowledge, many connection and the drive and determination to make it work, even with all that, I didn't know the first thing about HTML. Joe has really been the guy behind all of the technical stuff. I don't think the site would really work without him because he's really the face behind the site making it work and answering technical questions. Also, he covers La Salle and serves as another voice. I really think you can't do things in life without someone to help you, and as far as Philahoops, I don't think the site would really work without Joe.
KR: With things like this, it's always ever-evolving, but I think the one thing that's been constant throughout -- and this isn't just my bias from writing for you -- is there are always opportunities for people to start up a blog online and just write away. But what really sets the Philahoops experience apart is it really gets young, aspiring journalists out there in the industry covering games and really figuring out if this is what they want to to and if they can do it well.
AB: That's the huge component here. I've always been grateful to people who have helped me along the way in anything, not just journalism. I was just thinking today about some guys who helped me along the way in golf. Anytime I have the opportunity to help someone out, I want to do it. I feel like the site is a great platform for young journalists who want to get their foot in the door and make some connections, learn how to write, cover games and meet people. I've been blessed to find some fantastic people like yourself, Chase (Senior), James (Hill) and Josh (Verlin) in the beginning. And lots of other guys who really make the site what it is. No matter how much I love to write and love to do this, I have a full-time job and do a lot of other stuff on the side. It really wouldn't work without the writers. They're the essence of the site. Just being able to find people who are interested in doing this, I think is really great. And if I can be some kind of a help to them, that makes me really feel good because I like to give back and help people. Because of the situation of the site where I'm not able to pay people, I'm happy to see that it benefits you getting jobs at Drexel, Comcast (SportsNet) and Temple and Chase getting a job at Comcast and others. It has been very gratifying that way, and I hope to be able to continue to do that.
KR: I always think it's funny that people think the site is your full-time job. Then you're like, "Oh yea, I'm also a teacher and I also do that whole dad thing too."
AB: Yea, that's the hardest thing from my standpoint is trying to figure out how to make it all work. How do I do the best that I can at my full-time job? How do I be the best dad and husband I can be? As well as keep the site going and focus on other freelance work. It's tricky at times. This year, as you know, I had to cut back a bit because I had to prioritize. Not that I don't love the site but because I had to. I was lucky because when I looked at it, it was kind of covered. I had people who were doing it, and the site was just going. People know we're there and the site continued, and that was really important to me because I want to keep it going.
KR: It helped having a lot of returning guys writing. You were able to take a step back, and we kind of knew the ropes already.
AB: The other thing that's cool is that the site is recognized throughout the city. People know who you are. Anybody who follows Drexel basketball knows who you are. Temple basketball people know who Chase is. Saint Joe's people know James. La Salle people know Joe. And the coaches know us. The fans know us. That's been cool that people really know the site and the site is credible. That's why it's so important to find a way to keep it going.
KR: And I'm sure you would have loved to see one of the Philly teams in the tournament make a run.
AB: Most definitely. As a journalist, you don't root. It doesn't matter to me one way or another who wins and loses, but as far as getting people to see the site, it helps when the [Philly] teams are doing well.
KR: I thought it was funny how Saint Joe's makes the tournament, gets knocked out in the first round in a very close game they were a rebound away from winning, but their legacy followed UConn as UConn made their run to the championship. Even though they weren't in it, Philly was still getting some love.
AB: You know, I was watching the semifinal games on Saturday night, and they were really making a big deal about how Saint Joe's was right there and it could have been Saint Joe's. It shows a couple things. It shows that Saint Joe's team was a good team. I felt like they were good the whole season and right form the beginning they were a good team. They had their warts, particularly with their lack of depth and their free throw shooting, but I thought it was a good team. And I think it also shows how much better UConn played throughout the tournament. That was not the same UConn team that scraped by Saint Joe's in the opening game. They were confident, continued to build. It wasn't just (Shabazz) Napier either. I looked at those numbers so closely before the game, and I was on Comcast Lunch Break with Rhea Hughes and I prepared for it by looking at the stats. Their stats didn't really jump out at you, they were nothing special on paper. They got beat by 40 a couple of weeks before the tournament by Louisville. They lost to SMU twice. To me it was a toss up game that could probably go either way. Besides that early season win against Florida, there was nothing in that UConn to make people think they could win the national title unless they were UConn fans. It just shows that when you get hot and have a great player, anything can happen. The other thing is, there are a lot of good teams, but let's be honest, college basketball isn't what it used to be in terms of powerhouse teams. One-and-dones have just changed the game.
KR: UConn kind of had the perfect storm of everything coming together at the right time.
AB: And it helped that they played at the Garden for a weekend, which was like Storrs South.
KR: From the outside as a writer you look at that team and those story-lines and you wish you were covering that team.
AB: No doubt about it.
KR: I know you're at the Phils game now, but I was wondering if there are any new projects that you're working on.
AB: Well, I'm always thinking. My mind is always working. I'm probably 6,000 words into a book I'm working on that really has nothing to do with sports.
KR: I thought there was a rumor about that floating around. That's what I was hinting at.
AB: Yea, I'm 6,000 words into the book, a novel that I've really been inspired by from reading with my students. As I read the books, I think "I can do this." So my hope is that I can really put a lot of time and energy into this summer when I have off. I'm always thinking about things that I can do. I always feel like I'm a click away from the next big thing. The biggest thing I'd like to accomplish is to write a book. I've always wanted to do it. One of the things I have on my bulletin board above my desk is the top 100 sports books of all-time, and I'm trying to read them all. I've gotten through a lot of them, but I'd really like to write one and it's really a goal of mine. Obviously I love sports, and I would love to write about it, I figured with my time the way it is and instead of starting with hours and hours of interviews, let me try this first. I'm hoping that by the end of the summer I have 50,000 words written and get published.
KR: One of the best pieces of advice for a writer that I've ever heard is that you can learn how to string a sentence together, but to be a good writer, you really have to be a good thinker. I think you've got that going.
AB: You really want to be a good thinker. I think to be a good writer you also have to read a lot. If you want to be a good writer, I think a good place to start is to read good writing. It's interesting because before I started teaching I had only read sports books. That's all I ever read. Now we're reading novels, like middle school and young adult novels. I always try to read the Newbery Award winning novels, all of the best novels. It's been helpful for me to develop my own writing style and figure out what makes an interesting story. To be a good writer you have to read a lot, write a lot and think a lot.

Thank you to Aaron Bracy for sharing his wisdom with us! For more from Aaron and Philahoops, follow @Aaron_Bracy and @Philahoops on Twitter.

Under Further Review:
No. 1 - Adam Hermann

(Editor's Note: Kevin covered Drexel basketball for Aaron's Philahoops for two seasons.)


Kevin Rossi is a senior Drexel Sport Management major with minors in Communications and Business Administration. Since joining the SMTSU, Kevin has worked his way up the ladder to President. Currently, Kevin is serving as the Sports Information Assistant for Drexel Athletics and will also intern at Comcast SportsNet in web production later in the spring. Kevin has writing experience with, The Triangle, Temple University, and various outlets in a freelance capacity. Follow Kevin on Twitter @kevin_rossi.

Connect with Kevin Rossi on LinkedIn.

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