First Step Into A Larger World

BY ADRIAN JARDING | Ball State Sports Link | 2017-18 NCAA Digital Extern

I have always been of the notion if you want to go far in life, you need to take chances. This could mean stepping out of your comfort zone, moving to a new place or taking on a challenge which you never would normally take on.

For me, this was my NCAA externship for the women’s basketball social media strategy.

When I first came to Ball State in the fall of 2015, I was not a basketball fan, nor was I familiar with the world of social media. My instructor and mentor Chris Taylor set out to change this. He essentially handed me over to our then-graduate assistant Torey Fox who took me under his wings to learn about social media.

I worked my tail off the entire year, clipping late basketball games, learning new tricks on Photoshop and following various accounts like NASCAR and Clemson football.

2016_WFF Group
My first Women’s Final Four in Indianapolis in 2016.

By the time March rolled around, I suppose I proved myself enough because I had the opportunity to work the 2016 Women’s Final Four social media accounts in Indianapolis. This experience completely changed my view not only of social media, but of basketball.

While I still wasn’t a diehard basketball fan, I had a newfound respect for the sport and especially appreciated how much it meant to the women, since they don’t get the same coverage as men.

The next year I helped live-clip every game I could for the women’s side as they advanced to the Final Four in Dallas.

As the tournament progressed, the games of course were cut in half, so the Sports Link staff had to choose who would work the Final Four. I was chosen as one of two students to clipped the Final Four games.

I was fortunate enough to clip Morgan William’s game-winning shot against UConn, which ended its 111 game winning-streak. The clip quickly went viral.

During these two years Fox, and our extern during the 2017 Women’s Final Four, Kaitlyn Young, convinced me I should try to apply for an NCAA externship my junior year.

Fox was the first ever extern for Sports Link. I talked about it during the summer with my mom and we both decided this would be a good opportunity for my career.

The externship was different this year because for the first time there was one specifically for the men’s basketball strategy and one for the women’s basketball strategy. In the past they put the externs wherever they were needed week-by-week.

I applied specifically for the women’s not only because of my familiarity with the strategy, but I actually prefer the women’s side because I’ve watched these coaches and players for the past two years. As I said I didn’t watch any basketball growing up, so I don’t have any allegiance to the players or schools, so the women’s basketball became my favorite to watch.

I had plenty of doubts about myself, but I pushed myself throughout my externship to work in Columbus.

I fortunately got the externship, but once it started I had no idea what to expect. The first two months were rather slow for me because the person in charge, Jared Thompson, said the account didn’t focus too heavily on the regular season.

I was doing various research topics because we wanted to spread the awareness for women’s basketball. I started a project on the best players based on their jersey number and it was going to be a year-long product leading up to the tournament.

Then, on the first week in December, I was thrown a curveball.  I found out Thompson was leaving.

At this point I didn’t know what to expect going forward since we had less than four months until the tournament started and they needed to find a quick hire. When I came back from winter break in January, I was forced to grow up extremely fast.

The NCAA was searching for a hire to take over the women’s basketball strategy. Meanwhile, I was the bridge between essentially creating everything for the account. I started covering the regular season heavily, doing tune-in graphics for nationally televised games and creating hype videos which was not normal for the account.

We scrapped my best-by-number project which I was pretty far along on. I started to get very frustrated at the direction we were going because the strategy was not going as it was originally planned.

By the time the new hire came in early February, I felt like we were rebooting for the third time which was extremely hard for me to come to grips with. At this point I almost felt like the year was lost and I let everyone down at the NCAA. Thankfully the hire, Taylor Brasher and I gelled and rapidly started getting ready for March.

Taylor Brasher (left to me in the blue) pushed me in ways which have helped me immensely.

Brasher pushed me to limits which I never thought I could ever reach throughout the past two months. It was definitely the hardest challenge I’ve ever had in my very young career, but I’m confident to say I’ll look back and say it was the start of something special.

We worked hard all of February to reach March, and by the time it rolled around I felt prepared. Little did I know how hard it would actually be.

Selection Monday was the very first day after I got back from Spring Break. Brasher and I stayed at the Hyatt Hotel in downtown Indianapolis for 12 hours, working our tails off to create content for this important day. I helped create 40 graphics that day and was exhausted by the time it ended.

The tournament started on Friday. Fellow Sports Link student Quinton Zielke and I traveled to the NCAA headquarters the first three days to help Brasher create content for the first two rounds. We stayed in Muncie for the fourth day, but by the end of it we logged over 42 hours during the first weekend of the tournament.

By the end of the tournament I created 289 total graphics and lost track of how many hours I logged working, including my time in Columbus. A SAFE estimate would be 150 hours.

The most rewarding part to me was going to Columbus to work the Final Four. Through everything I had been through this year, this was the ultimate payoff. I still had to do a lot of work ahead of me, but to experience this event in person was one of the best moments of my life thus far.

I arrived on Tuesday night and immediately got to work. UConn and Mississippi State had already arrived to their hotels by the time I arrived, but Louisville had not and I went to go run Periscope of the arrival.

Wednesday was easily my favorite day outside of the games for me. We arrived to the arena early to do candid shoots with the athletes, and to our surprise the coaches as well. Everyone was so gracious and excited to be there, which was awesome for us. Getting to work with Kia Nurse, who is one of my favorite players, and Notre Dame Head Coach Muffet McGraw was unbelievable.

Later we covered the inauguration of Nancy Lieberman’s annual “Dream Court” dedication to the host city of the Women’s Final Four. Visiting the Beatty Community Recreation Center was extremely humbling and was a reminder of how fortunate I am. It also helped me appreciate the former players who want to give back to the game which helped shape them.

Going from that to a private red-carpet event held for all of the teams was incredible and easily my favorite part of the whole experience. Very rarely in sports do you see athletes off of the field or court. This is especially true on the women’s side because they don’t get this kind of exposure anyway.

For me to see the best basketball players dressed up, dancing and having a good time was so special because it was a reminder they are humans too. It was all so surreal, especially because the only people who attended this event were the teams, the local Columbus media and our social media crew.

Thursday was press day and this was really unique for me. When I heard Geno Auriemma’s now famous speech two years ago in Indianapolis, he became one of my favorite people in all of sports. To hear him again in person was amazing because I am a big fan of him and philosophies not just of coaching, but of life.

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Friday was gameday and it was such a special night for the sport of basketball. To have both games go to overtime and for Arike Agunbowale to hit a game winner, while I’m a UConn fan, was the best thing the sport could have asked for. I’m fortunate enough to say I was there.

Saturday was a quiet day because there were no games, but it featured a memorable morning for me. Similar to “Dribble” for the men’s site, the women’s site featured an event called “Bounce” where kids bounced a specially made basketball down the streets of Columbus. I walked the streets with them capturing the happiness and joy in their faces, which almost brought me to tears.

It was another one of those moments which made me appreciate just how much an event like this means to the people and to the city. The community events the women’s game brings is unlike anything else any sporting event can boast.

“Bounce” was an incredible event to see kids have some happiness and joy.

To cap off this entire journey was the epic thriller on Sunday between Notre Dame and Mississippi State. The Irish fought all year through injuries and many people doubted them, including myself, yet they became National Champions for the first time in 17 years.

I had a chance to reflect that night and thought about how the women of Notre Dame had to grow up faster than they thought they would, yet they did and pulled through. It eerily mirrored my image to get to this point of my journey as well.

Through everything I went through on this externship, I learned there is nothing I cannot do as long as I put my best foot forward. No matter how hard life may seem or how many challenges are presented, you can get through it. I had plenty of days where I wanted to quit and move on, but if I had I would’ve missed out on one of the best experiences of my life thus far.

This experience also made me appreciate the things I do have and taught me to not focus on what I don’t. For this, I am beyond thankful.


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