SAN DIEGO — She was up early. No time to waste.
It was Tuesday morning in her Mount Pleasant home, her cross-country flight to San Diego was scheduled to leave Wednesday morning for the NCAA Tournament and already Debbie Antonelli had done most of her homework.
The former N.C. State basketball player turned Mount Pleasant resident turned ESPN broadcaster turned two-year CBS/TBS television analyst for the NCAA Tournament has always prided herself on her preparation, after all.
“You don’t want it to be like the final exam and you’re cramming,” she said. “All year, you’re building up for this, right?”
And so not even 48 hours after Selection Sunday, she was burning through preparation for the San Diego games she had been assigned by the network.
For hours she had studied film. First Murray State, then West Virginia. Diligent note taking along the way: What were each team’s tendencies? What in-game adjustments do they both make? When certain scenarios call for situational offense, what do they run? How do they approach out of bounds plays on the baseline? What about the sideline? And what about after timeouts?
She craved to know it all — a true guru of basketball’s Xs and Os.
And then she had picked up her cell phone.
“Hey, what do you guys got?” she asked, calling several college basketball reporters around the country that cover the eight teams in the San Diego pod so she could learn more. “What do you know?”
This time of year, there is no such thing as too much preparation. And Antonelli is one of the best.
On Friday, then again Sunday, what Antonelli calls her own personal Super Bowl will come to fruition when she slips on her broadcasting headset and serves as a color analyst for six games in the NCAA Tournament’s first and second rounds. Antonelli, who is a full-time employee at ESPN, is so diligent in her broadcasting roles and knows the game so well that CBS/TBS asked to poach her for a few days to help with the men’s NCAA Tournament.
This time a year ago, Antonelli became the first woman in 25 years to serve as an NCAA men’s tournament game analyst and helped set the precedent for young women everywhere in sports journalism.
A resident of the Lowcountry, a colleague of College of Charleston’s Earl Grant and Wichita State’s Greg Marshall and the mother of a freshman in Clemson’s Life Program and another son at Bishop England, perhaps there is no better fit for the San Diego pod than Antonelli.
When it comes to No. 5 Clemson and No. 12 College of Charleston’s games, Antonelli is familiar with each of their styles of play and has spent time around both programs.
That is why when she says there are certain factors each team must address ahead of their matchups with No. 12 New Mexico State and No. 4 Auburn, she is likely right.
For the Cougars, success means controlling the tempo and ensuring a set of eyes are on Auburn guard Jared Harper at all times.
“Jared Harper is my favorite point guard to watch in the SEC,” Antonelli said. “I don’t know (how much he weighs), maybe he’s probably a buck-fifty. But what he does as well as anybody is playing in those step-up screens and all their drags in transition and he has good command of their tempo and he’s quick. He’s really fast. Joe (Chealey) will have a challenge keeping him in front because he’s really a key piece of their team.”
For Clemson, Antonelli is specifically interested in Brad Brownell’s defense. Brownell is lauded for his defensive mind across the sport and she likes Clemson’s chances on that end of the floor, particularly in the post. She also wants to see how the tempo of the game shakes out.
Then on Monday, when she’s back in Charleston for a day, she’ll hop on a live radio show, talk some more hoops, then jet off again to Lexington, Ky., for the women’s tournament. It’s a labor of love and the thrill of her year to inspire young women in the sport she loves.
“I think that’s what we’re supposed to be doing,” she said of her duty to empower others. “I do understand there’s a responsibility, but I want to do the very best job that I can because I think when you’re successful and you have success I think there’s great vulnerability with that, as well. And then with that vulnerability comes some humility and with that humility comes some motivation and then the motivation is the hard work.”
Then the hard work turns into success and the pieces come together. They will for Antonelli this week.