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Eamonn Brennan '03
College Basketball Writer
ESPN

Alumni Q&A

2003 Grad Eamonn Brennan

In a series of interviews with notable alumni about their experiences at Assumption, we recently caught up with 2003 graduate Eamonn Brennan, a college basketball writer for ESPN, as NCAA March Madness approaches.

Q.  What are you up to now?
I’m a college basketball writer for ESPN.com. I live in Washington, D.C. with my yellow lab. During this time of the year – when we’re really ramping up for March Madness – I spend most of my time hunched over a laptop or watching a game on TV. Usually both. 

Q: How did you land your job at ESPN?
That’s a long, winding, mostly lucky story. I majored in journalism at Indiana University and worked at the school newspaper, the Indiana Daily Student, in a variety of roles, including as editor in chief. As a junior, my friend and I decided to start our own sports blog, which we maintained alongside our work for the IDS, and that site eventually got us enough minor notice that we were asked to write part-time for AOL’s network of new sports sites. When my editor at AOL left for Yahoo! a couple of years later, he brought me on to write about college basketball. I freelanced a lot of sportswriting during this time, in addition to a day job. In 2009, my former editor at ESPN.com, Brett Edgerton, emailed me out of the blue, said he had noticed my work and was interested in hiring me. I’ve been trying to prevent him from regretting that decision ever since. 

Q. What made you want to go into sports journalism?
I was always really into sports as a kid, especially soccer and basketball, and both sports were a big part of my life at AHS. (It’s easy to be into sports at AHS.) Pretty early on I was forced to come to the stark realization that I wasn’t going to be a professional soccer player after all, and also that I was just pathetic at math, and that I had to consider those two facts as I plotted out my future. I was lucky in that I hit upon the sportswriting thing early. By the time I was looking at colleges, I was set on pursuing journalism as a career. And when I got to hoops-obsessed Indiana, I fell harder in love with college basketball than ever before. 

Q. What is a typical day like for a college basketball writer?
I’m not sure there is such a thing. The biggest perk to my job is the fact that I work at home, so I can sneak a quick game of FIFA 14 in on my lunch break. During the offseason, things are pretty routine. Right now, in late February, it's a lot crazier. I’m working on a handful of stories at any given time – I write our site’s Wooden Watch and Bubble Watch features, among other things – along with traveling to games, talking to players and coaches, blogging, doing our live videos, and all the rest. Occasionally I stop to have a meal of food with my girlfriend, and maybe walk the dog. I don’t sleep a whole lot. But it’s still the most wonderful time of the year. 

Q: What do you enjoy most about covering college basketball?
Generally speaking? I love the number of teams, and thus the number of stories, that we have a chance to cover. Division I college hoops ranges from the Kentuckys and North Carolinas of the world to small schools with tiny budgets that barely get by, and being able to bring some of those teams’ stories to a wider audience is fulfilling. I also just love the game itself – the x’s and o’s, the way coaches build teams, the way a quiet gym sounds during summer pickup runs, all of it. Then, of course, there is the NCAA tournament. Covering all three weekends of the tournament from inside the gyms is an experience I will never not cherish. 

Q.  What are some of the things you learned at Assumption?
Oh, man, the list is too long. And I already mentioned the one about realizing how bad I was at math, so I can’t recycle that again, either. Academically, Assumption is where I first learned to think about writing and reading critically, which has had a profound impact on my life. It was the first place I practiced some form of journalism, at the Knight Beacon. It’s where I learned what it meant to be engaged, focused, and forward-thinking. And most of all, it’s where I learned the importance of friendship and community. My greatest friends in the world are the friends I made at Assumption. 

Q: How do you feel your time at Assumption has helped you in your career thus far?
I can draw a straight line to one great example: My first journalism teacher, Connie King, was also the first person to tell me that one of the greatest sins a writer could make was to use a cliché – that if you didn’t have something original to say, you shouldn’t be writing at all. I still find myself repeating that rule in my head daily. 

Q: What are a few of your favorite memories from your time at Assumption?
Also way too many to list! Close to the top was our back-to-back state title soccer teams my junior and senior year. Soccer was my thing all throughout childhood, and winning was obviously an incredibly rewarding feeling – and my little brother, Keegan, also played for both of those teams, which is pretty cool in retrospect. But more than anything, the best memories are the practices, the random runs, the jokes, the bus rides, the friendships, all of the little stuff you take for granted as it happens but hold on to the further away you get from it. 

We also had some pretty raucous basketball student sections. I was once kicked out of a basketball game for coming too close to the floor to protest what I thought was a pretty obviously awful call, so that’s a distinction worth mentioning. Also, when I was a freshman playing in the fifth-quarter of a basketball game – this was the highlight of my basketball career at Assumption -- I made a 3 and pointed to a girl in the student section and had to run during the next practice. Totally worth it. 

Let’s see, what else: My friend and I threatened to instigate a hunger strike over a 25-cent lunch price increase? I think we held out one day. Also, I once was kicked out of my own mom’s theater class. It was the only time I was ever kicked out of a class. I’m not super proud of it – it was a pretty lame attempt at rebellion – but the mental image I have of former Dean of Discipline Dan Brown’s face when he tried to comprehend how I had managed to infuriate my own mom enough for her to send me to G1 still makes me laugh. 

Q:  Looking back on your time at Assumption, what are some of the experiences that helped prepare you for what you’re doing now?
As I’ve mentioned, sports obviously played a huge role. I really do love basketball. I’m not sure I would love it as much if I went somewhere other than Assumption. And that helps, doing what I do, especially on days when things feel more like work than they should. Plus, as cheesy as it is, the stuff you learn about teamwork and mutual buy-in and all of the oft-cited lessons of sports really are huge out in the world – they’re a great template for professional and personal life. 

I also feel really lucky to have had a group of friends for whom being fun and being ambitious weren’t mutually exclusive traits. That’s not always the case in high school (though I didn’t know it at the time). The intellectual curiosity Assumption fosters, and the people there, have had a big role in how I approach what I do. 

Q: Who were some of your biggest influences during your time at Assumption?
Well, first and foremost, my mom, Helen Brennan, who is the best and most dedicated teacher I’ve ever seen in any setting – high school, college, you name it. I watched her build Assumption’s drama program from a very young age, and her tireless work ethic still astounds me. I’ve mentioned Ms. King. The entire English wing, frankly. My soccer coaches, Dave Kraxner and Greg Zeller. And of course my classmates, without whom I can't imagine those four years.  

Q:  What suggestions or advice do you have for our students who may want to pursue a career in sports journalism?
I attribute my current position mostly to luck, so I always feel weird giving advice. But the biggest thing I’d say is just to practice: Write, write,  and write some more. Read constantly. Don’t be afraid to put yourself out there. Look at schools with good student newspapers and good online opportunities and then stick yourself like a barnacle to the sports desk from your first day on campus. The field itself is changing faster than ever before; there isn’t one clear career path anymore. (There are also more jobs than ever before. They’re just different than they used to be.) So the better your fundamental skills, the more likely you’ll be able to adapt and anticipate the form media takes as it continues to evolve in the coming years. 

Q: Any last words of encouragement for the Class of 2014?
In the immortal words of Billy Madison: Stay here. Stay as long as you can. 

This is the part where I realize the class of 2014 was born a year after “Billy Madison” was made, and also that “don’t grow up” isn’t very encouraging anyway. So I guess I’ll just leave you whippersnappers with this: Work hard, have fun, tip well, learn as much as you can, and hey, would it kill you to call your mother once in a while? She misses you.

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