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View from the Baseline: A Photographer’s Reflection on A-10 Tournament Coverage

For college basketball fans, tournament time means excitement, hope and many times heartbreak. For sports photographers it means preparation, anticipation and more often than not long, painful days.
In preparing for the A10 conference tournament, I realized that this marathon photography assignment would be a challenge like I’ve never taken on before. The two days of coverage at the Barclays Center would include eight games showcasing the A10’s best. 
(Photo by Jeff Auger - Double G Media)

(Photo by Jeff Auger – Double G Media)

Prepare for anything. How much gear do I need to bring? Do I have enough batteries? Do I have the proper lenses? Do I have too much gear? This is always a battle for me. For this trip, I kept it “basic” with one camera body along with my trusty 70-200 and 24-70 lenses in the bag. Not to mention plenty of snacks and Tylenol for later.
The media’s day starts long before the doors are open to the public. You pack your bags and head to arena in hopes of finding the media door. This is not the red carpet or velvet ropes treatment that many believe it to be. An unmarked door at the back of the building…that must be it! The first moment of anxiety hits when you see the security guards checking your bags and not being so “friendly” with your precious equipment inside. (I must add…the security team at the Barclays Center does a great job and has been one of the nicest groups I’ve met along the way). That brief moment of equipment breaking passes quickly and you receive your credentials and proudly place that lanyard around your neck. The day has now officially begun. Now on to the media room to get ready. Where the heck is the media room? Easy they told me…down the hall, turn left after the vending machine, then down the stairs, turn right at laundry room, then right again at the bus entrance…wait, where was I going? Oh right, the media room was finally in my sights.  I unload my gear under the cubicle desk which would be mine for the next few days. It was two hours before game time and the room was already bustling with activity.  Writers studying the matchups and potential story lines. TV crews checking their AV connections to trucks. And like me, the photographers scrambling to put their names in small boxes on a hand-drawn diagram of the arena floor taped to the back of a door. This would be our designated spots on the floor for the next two games. Once a spot is secured they would quickly work on trading spots with other photographers to make sure they get their shots. My lucky number was #9.
Then we wait. There is a countdown clock in the media room alerting us how much time is left before we are needed to take our positions. Ten minutes to go. Time to start out making my way to the court. As you walk through the corridors you hear the teams getting fired up in their locker rooms, you hear the bands tuning up down another hallway. Then all of a sudden, you hear footsteps and yelling. Then that feeling of being really tiny as one of the teams sprints past you towards the court. But I’ve made it. You stop for a moment and take in the sights as you first walk beyond the giant black curtain which leads courtside. The crowd is in a frenzy as their teams warms up. The bands are playing their school’s fight songs. The national anthem is sung. I find my box marked #9 along the baseline. It is now time for tip-off.
Buckle up for the ride. During the game the action on the court is fast and furious. And it is the same for me as I adjust to get the proper camera settings for the action. While the benches are worried about Xs and Os, I am more focused on F-stops and ISO readings. It is a constant adjustment and many times getting the right shot is lucky. As prepared as you may be, you can only hope that that perfect shot doesn’t get blocked out by the ever wandering official. You almost feel like yelling “down in front” but that wouldn’t go over so well. If you miss the shot, all you can do is prepare for the next. It may not even be near the ball. Many put their cameras down after the ball has shot or the whistle blown. Don’t’ do it…you may miss that next big moment. It takes patience and practice both of which I’m still working on.
You have 15 minutes. One of the challenges in the fast paced world of digital media is having game images ready before the next person.  Now it was the photographer’s turn to be on the clock. At the end of each half of play, photographer’s row would all rush back to their cubicles, plug in their SD cards and start uploading as quick as possible. With the hundreds of photos you may have captured, find the top 10 worth getting into circulation. Now just a few touch-ups, upload to the servers then get your gear ready for the next half/game.
A unique perspective. Sitting on the baseline is a unique place to watch a basketball game. Being only feet away from one of the benches, you see and hear everything being said, most of which I can’t not repeat here. Being so close to the action you also get to witness the tremendous size and speed of these athletes. But I warn you, your reflexes must be quick. Your depth perception from behind the camera is can be a bit distorted. Countless times I buckled backwards thinking the ball was heading my way, but in reality it was still 5 feet away. But then other times, the ball and/or player was heading directly for me. I did fairly well totaling only 2 balls flying inches over my head and 3 players running into me.
Recouping. It was been a few days since the last game of the tournament and the feeling is finally coming back to my legs. I am not in the walking humpback mode any longer.  Even with the achy bones and bags under my eyes, events and opportunities like this make me realize how much I love what I do. However, I am glad tournament time is only once a year!

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