You may have seen Habeeba Husain’s byline at SLAM Online. I talked to her recently about loving basketball, landing a dream writing gig while still in college, and interviewing strangers. Let’s get to know Habeeba.
Storming the Floor: So, what made you fall in love with basketball?
Habeeba Husain: I have an older brother who’s super into basketball, and I started to take notice. The first game that I watched intentionally was an All-Star game. 2006 in Houston. I really liked it.
My brother is a Knicks fan, so I’ve always leaned toward that team. That was a horrible season, probably the worst one for them.
STF: Oh, give it time, I’m sure there will be a worse one.
HH: Yeah, knowing the Knicks. Probably so.
STF: Growing up, what did you read that inspired you to want to write?
HH: SLAM magazine. When I was in eighth grade, I’d need help with my math homework, and I’d go in my brother’s room and he’d show me how to work the problems. In his room were big stacks of SLAM magazines on his dresser. I’d look through them and read the articles. For someone just getting into the sport, it was so cool.
STF: Now you get to work for SLAM. How did that opportunity come about?
HH: Last year, I sent a letter to SLAM saying “I’m really interested in an internship if you have an opening.” I wrote up a really nice letter with my resume. And a few days later, I saw that they started to follow me on Twitter, and I freaked out. Then a few minutes after that, I got an email from the editor in chief.
STF: That’s an amazing thing about the internet age. You can just email someone you never would have been able to speak to in the past.
HH: Yeah. My first interactions with SLAM were through Trash Talk via email. A couple of those got published, and I’d comment on the site, and get lots of replies from the editors online. So when I snail mailed them, I mentioned “you already know me” So that helped me get their attention, too.
STF: Are you still in college?
HH: Yes, I’m going to graduate in May.
STF: Have you been studying writing, or was this a sideline that took off?
HH: I’m a journalism major at Rutgers.
STF: What’s on your bucket list of people or events you’d like to cover?
HH: This may sound strange, but I’d really like to do a story about Mike Breen. Some people aren’t huge fans of his, but ever since I started watching MSG, he and Clyde (Frazier) have called all of the Knicks games. I think he’s really interesting, and has a lot of insight.
In terms of players, LeBron James. It would be amazing to interview him. I really like Ricky Rubio and Kevin Love. I think the Timberwolves have an interesting dynamic. I’d love to find a story that hasn’t been tapped into before. Writing about up-and-coming players would be cool.
STF: You tweeted (via @HabeebaHusain) a while back that you never thought you’d enjoy interviewing people, which is a feeling I’ve had before. Is there something about interviewing strangers that you find challenging?
HH: I had just interviewed somebody for SLAM when I tweeted that. When I first got into my major and started doing assignments for school, interviews would throw me off. I’d get intimidated by people. It’s not that I don’t like talking to people, but I was stopping myself from approaching people sometimes. My professors forced me to do it at first, and I found that once the conversation starts, you find things you have in common with the people you’re interviewing. I never expected that.
The person I interviewed when I tweeted that was the director of a documentary. I never thought we’d have something in common, but we did. It’s been the same when I talk to college players, or former NBA players. Even aside from basketball, we had things in common.
STF: Players get so many rote questions that they’ve heard before. I think they really light up when they can tell you’re really interested, and not just trying to fill up your 1000th column.
What are some of your favorite things about game day? Things a fan can only experience by attending a game in person?
HH: I mostly go to Knicks games. I like that you meet people that you would ordinarily never stop and talk to, but when you’re at the game, you have that one thing in common. We were there last season when they clinched the Atlantic division, and we were in an elevator going down to street level and it was really quiet. Finally someone said out loud “Wow, why are we not more excited? The Knicks just clinched the division for the first time in more than a decade!” and everyone in the elevator started laughing. The commonality you have with other fans makes them feel like friends. When you see other people in the gear for your favorite team, you know they understand.
STF: You recently wrote about going to see the Black Fives exhibit. Did the display change how you look at the game?
HH: Yeah, definitely. Today most of the NBA athletes are African-American, and it’s easy to forget that it was a struggle to get that opportunity. It really made me appreciate that. It was nice to see that and learn some forgotten history.
STF: There are some young, basketball-loving muslimahs who follow my blog. Do you have any words of wisdom for them about achieving their aspirations?
HH: That’s really nice to hear. I would just say “Go for it.” I never thought I’d be a reporter, or that anyone would think I could do something like this. I went to one of my professors a while ago and he leaned back in his chair and said “You’re an anomaly, as a religious woman doing this.” And I thought about it after I left his office and realized he’s right. I’m cool with that. It shows that I’m not super different, I’m into the things that your average person is into.
I’d just say to those girls that if they’re into something, be it basketball or whatever, they shouldn’t let anything stop them. If it’s your passion you should go for it. When I started my personal blog (H2 Hoops) I chose the tagline “My Future is at My Fingertips” because it felt like the first step. You can’t be scared to try.
[Habeeba Husain is on Twitter @HabeebaHusain. Her personal blog is H2 Hoops.]
Clark Kellogg is in Texas preparing to broadcast the NCAA Final Four for CBS this weekend. Every year, he makes some time to chat about the big event, and his work as a board member for the Capital One Cup. Enjoy.
Storming the Floor: So, we have four teams left, and each one wants to win two games. What does each team have to do extremely well to win it all?
Clark Kellogg: When you get to this point, Eric, you really have to be doing what you do well. Whatever your M.O. is, you have to be doing that at a pretty high level.
For Florida, it’s balance, and it’s consistency defensively. Not giving up easy shots, being a little disruptive with your pressure. Then getting multiple contributions from a pretty balanced offense. And Scottie Wilbekin has got to be Scottie, which means making big plays and making big shots.
Wisconsin is a low turnover team. They’re really good at executing offensively. They can play to Kaminsky in the post, and they’ve got multiple guys who can step out and make shots from the perimeter. They’ve been pretty good defensively in the tournament. For them, they’re one of the lowest in the country for turnovers committed. So they can’t have a game where they’re out of character in that regard.
When you look at UConn, they need Shabazz Napier and Ryan Boatright to be really good. Those guys carry them. An X factor for them is DeAndre Daniels, because he’s versatile and talented, but he hasn’t been as consistent.
When you look at Kentucky, it’s really about what they’ve shown in the last three weeks, which is composure, cohesion and toughness at both ends of the floor. It’s the intangibles with them. We didn’t see that consistently in the regular season, but we’ve seen it in spades here in the tournament. They’re not flustered, they’re not taking plays off, they’re not distracted and they’re making big shots in addition to key plays.
If you look within the matchups, between Kentucky and Wisconsin, the thing Wisconsin has to worry about is defensive boards. You can talk about Randall, but rebounding on defense is going to be big for Wisconsin.
STF: We’ve seen just about every iteration of how a season can go for a Calipari team over the past few years. If you’re a Kentucky fan, are you willing to take the years where things just don’t gel if you still have that puncher’s chance to win it all every year?
CK: Have you been around any Kentucky fans? You don’t even need me to answer that. Are you getting a mixed reaction on that?
STF: (laughing) No, but nobody wants to go to the NIT and lose a game in Moon Township. But, yeah, if they can get more titles, I guess they’ll take it.
CK: They’re pretty crazy anyway, as a group. I mean, I love ‘em, but they are not always rational or objective. You can give them any number of places on that continuum. But I think the vast majority of them would say ‘hey, if we have a chance to get the whole enchilada…’ even if there’s the occasional NIT, most would probably be OK with that.
STF: Kevin Ollie is a bit of a mystery. He came in without coaching experience and yet here he is in the Final Four. Has he learned that much in a short amount of time, or is he lucky that he got to hold onto some of the experienced players from the Calhoun era?
CK: It’s a mixture, but if you know Kevin Ollie or been around him like I have - he played for the Pacers for a while and I worked for the Pacers after being a player there in the early 80s - you know his resume as a player. Never really a star, but always a valuable component on every team he played with because of his character, his work ethic and his IQ. That’s what makes him successful as a coach. He’s at his alma mater with the support and encouragement of Jim Calhoun.
Still, it’s surprising that he’s in a Final Four in just his second season, but for any of us who have been around him, I don’t think there was any doubt that he’d be successful. I’m not surprised. It might be a little premature in terms of the timeline, but the ingredients for his success were never in question in my mind.
STF: If Billy Donovan wins a third title, is he in line to be the Coach K of Gainesville?
CK: Oh yeah, even if he doesn’t win it. He’s already proven it over time. He’s the next face of college basketball. You have Roy Williams, Coach K, Jim Boeheim and Tom Izzo in that top group right now, and in that next group there’s Billy Donovan, Bill Self, Thad Matta and guys of that caliber. That’s the next group. In fact, Billy’s Hall of Fame worthy right now. He’ll be one of the guys on Mt. Rushmore, if you will, for the next period of time. Whether he wins it or not.
STF: Do you think Bo Ryan has been underrated as a coach?
CK: It’s hard to give everybody the billing and the attention they deserve. Sometimes people get overlooked for whatever reason. But we all know Bo has been terrific. He’s hard to play for, apparently, but he develops guys and helps them get better, and his teams do things the right way. I have the utmost respect and admiration for him. I don’t know if there’s a coach in the Final Four that the basketball community is more happy for than Bo Ryan.
STF: What are the ramifications for the Capital One Cup standings after this weekend?
CK: There’s 60 points at stake for the national champion that emerges on Monday. The Capital One Cup rewards the top Division I men’s and women’s athletic programs based on points accumulated through the fall, winter and spring seasons. It rewards top ten finishes in 19 men’s sports and 20 women’s sports.
Florida is in the best position on the men’s side with the national championship in a couple of days to catapult to the top of the Capital One Cup standings. They’d be primed to win their third cup in four years. They’d have the Capital One Cup trophy, the national championship and a combined $400,000 in student scholarship money. The women’s winning athletic program gets that as well.
STF: I appreciate your time as always, and hope you enjoy the weekend!
CK: Yep, looking forward to it. Thanks a lot, Eric.