Day one of the Big Ten Media Days and Kickoff Luncheon started early - 5 a.m. to be exact. I made it to the Varsity Room parking lot a few minutes before 6:30 and just after I pulled the Google Maps directions (no GPS on my phone for me; I'm one of the last people I know who is holding out on the smartphone craze.) out of my laptop case, Tavon Wilson and A.J. Jenkins both walked up to the car.
Once we got their luggage put in the back, we got on the road and headed for the south side of Chicago. Before we knew it, we were unloading our gear outside the Hyatt Regency McCormick Place.
We met up with fellow SID Derek Neal and Jeff Allen, who made the 10-minute trip from his home, and headed to the second floor of the convention center, where all of the players sat down for one-on-one interviews with the Big Ten Network, ESPN and CBS College Sports. Meanwhile, head SID Kent Brown helped Coach Zook navigate his way to the ballroom where the coaches all gave their press conferences, which I'm sure a number of fans watched on the Big Ten Network and ESPNU.
After that first round of interviews were finished, Derek and I showed the trio of players the way to the ballroom where they - and Coach Zook - would rotate through five stages while fielding questions from local TV affiliates that cover all the Big Ten schools. It was great reconnecting with a lot of other Big Ten SIDs and media members that we hadn't seen in a while as we made the trek from the convention center to the hotel where the rest of the day's activities were held.
While it wasn't much fun getting up as early as we did, it was nice being the first school going through each of these stations because you aren't waiting for anyone else to finish their turn. That was especially nice in this rotation, since we could move to the next station when the reporters finished all their questions. All three players did a great job of fielding those questions and portraying themselves and the Illini in a positive light.
The next segment of the day was new to Big Ten Media Days this year, a radio row. A number of radio outlets from across the conference footprint, including WDWS AM-1400, the flagship of the Illini Sports Network, were set up at tables and were interviewing a variety of conference players and coaches. While Kent had set up a number of interviews for Coach Zook during this time, Derek and I were able to direct the players to a bunch of different interviews. All three guys spoke with Adam Rittenberg from ESPN.com and our own Derryl Myles from Illini Productions, and Jeff was interviewed by Gail Fischer from Comcast Sportsnet Chicago and the ESPNRadio outlet in Madison, Wis. Tavon and A.J. also did interviews with 1620-AM The Zone, from Omaha, Neb.
After a solid four hours of doing interviews, it was time for lunch - which I'm sure Tavon and A.J. especially appreciated after our early start to the day. Kudos to the Big Ten for keeping it healthy - the spread included a nice arugula salad, whole-wheat pasta with red sauce, chicken and whitefish. The players had some free time during the afternoon, while Derek, Derryl and I put together the coverage for FightingIllini.com. The players' last item of business for the day was a live interview with Steve Kelly, Brian Barnhart and Martin O'Donnell on WDWS' Sportstalk.
The first day of Big Ten Media Days certainly is a full slate of activity and it's a great opportunity to get in front of a lot of national, regional and local media. It's also fun catching up with a lot of friends in the business as we prepare for another season. Thanks for reading the blog and check back for more throughout 2011!
Now off to Giordano's for some real Chicago-style pizza...