School of Hardwood Knocks #6 - Roy Ward

The cream of the crop show their best crossover moves as roles are reversed and interviewer becomes interviewee.

A professional sports writer who has travelled the nation to watch the greatest sport in the world, Roy Ward has Australian basketball covered to a T. Whether it's starting out with a local club like Horsham or hanging with the big boys from the Melbourne Tigers, Ward has an innate knack of developing a strong relationship with all his readers when it comes to connecting fans with the game. Despite a busy schedule with his work at The Age, Roy was kind enough to take time out for a quick chat on the latest word on Australian basketball including the NBL, WNBL and Aussies playing overseas.

Let us take a break from everything else for a moment, and listen to Roy's take on the game we all love so much - basketball.

1. Would you mind starting this interview off by telling our readers a bit about your background. How did you first fall in love with basketball, when you started writing about it and your career progression on to The Age subsequently?

Firstly, I don’t consider myself an NBA journalist; I’m a sports journalist who covers basketball at many levels and among other sports.

I was first introduced to basketball when I was at primary school. I was tall for my age and several people told me I should be playing basketball, at the same time basketball was all the rage thanks to Michael Jordan, the NBA and the growing NBL.

Like so many people I went on to play basketball, make lots of friends and find an outlet that I came to love as I played and refereed throughout my teens and well into my 20's.

I have always loved sport and enjoyed watching and consuming many other sports outside of basketball so I eventually looked towards a career in sports journalism.

I did a Bachelor of Sports Media at the University of Canberra, and in my final year there I discovered my basketball knowledge could be a help in getting work with Canberra Times as they didn’t have anyone to cover Canberra Gunners matches in the SEABL. So I put my hand up for it and was able to cover the team for the whole of the 2007 season, in which they lost the Grand Final to Geelong.

After graduating I got a job in Horsham, Victoria and worked at the Wimmera Mail-Times for almost three years. Once again basketball was a great help in building contacts and meeting people in the town as the Horsham Basketball Association is a big part of that community.

When I received a job at Fairfax’s Weekly newspapers in Melbourne in 2010, I soon found out that the Age was looking for someone to cover basketball for them so I put my name forward and was lucky enough to get a tryout and subsequently remain in the role up to now.

I fill this role in a casual capacity but I’ve always been grateful for the support I have received from my editors including in December last year when I was able to use my position to apply for some press passes for the NBA and write several stories from matches while visiting the United States.

2. You write across various sports, however we will focus on basketball. Not only do you write about the NBA, you also write about Australians playing around the globe and even our local comp the NBL. Is there a particular subject you love writing about more so than others?

I love covering basketball as a whole and looking at both men’s and women’s basketball.

We are in a rare position in Australia as we have both a viable men’s and women’s league and our players at all levels and age groups play the game to a high standard.

My favourite stories are ones about triumph, be it winning championships or making the highest levels like making the Olympic team or the NBA/WNBA.

I also enjoy profiling our best basketballer's and coaches, each person’s journey is unique and I consider it an honour to be able to tell those stories.

3. Sneak peek for the readers: how does a normal day in the life of Roy Ward look like?

It’s impossible to pick out a normal day as my job changes a lot depending on what my assignments are. But the days I like best are the ones in which there is a WNBL game in the afternoon and an NBL or WNBL game in the evening.

Getting to cover two games or more in a day is demanding but I really enjoy it. When it comes to basketball I say the more, the merrier.

4. We're starting to see a new crop of young Aussies break onto the global basketball scene, how do you feel about the Australian Boomers' future along with expectations on the individual players? Are we as fans, already expecting too much from the likes of Dante Exum and Ben Simmons who are currently projected to go early in NBA Mock Drafts?

I think the future is bright for both our men’s and women’s teams. Our sport faces challenges in many different areas, especially with so many great coaches moving overseas to Asia and other places due to the lack of professional roles here.

But each age group keeps sending through world-level talent and the Exum, Simmons generation is a truly exciting one.

The demands on elite level young players are great and this is the case here and in other basketball nations. But as a journalist, I’m always mindful about what I’m writing or tweeting in regards to these players, as it’s important they can focus on developing their minds and bodies so they can get the best of their talents.

What gives me great hope about Dante and Ben is that they come from very supportive, sensible families who continue to nurture and ground them no matter how loud the hype around them gets.

I hope they both have long and rewarding careers, either in the US, Europe or here in the NBL. As Joe Ingles and David Andersen have shown, you can have a very successful, lucrative and enjoyable career in Europe, just as you can in the NBA.

5. What do you think about Twitter’s impact on NBA & NBL journalism, and has it changed the way you work?

Twitter has the potential to rapidly push information to the public but it can also be misleading, and at times, completely wrong. It forces journalists to make certain stories their number 1 priority if a story is getting pushed through social media.

But I would also say it also helps generate discussion and give a voice to fans or supporters who may otherwise be marginalised.

I think everything that comes from social media needs to be taken with a grain of salt but needs attention none the less.

6. What would you say is the best part about your job?

The best part of this job is covering matches, even though it means working nights and writing to very tight deadlines.

I often need to pinch myself when I’m sitting courtside and reporting on a match.

Getting to cover a few NBA games last year was a lifetime highlight and something I will always hold dear.

7. The NBL is a main subject in Australia as of late as it seems to be bursting back onto the scene. I guess it's been helped by many changes over the last few years plus the additions of star import players such as Cedric Jackson (last year) and James Ennis (this year). Firstly, what do you think has been the most successful change in the NBL over the last five years, and where do you see the NBL in five years' time?

I think the introduction of NBL.TV has been the best development in the NBL because we now have every game televised, and this makes things better for all NBL fans.

As it’s only been going for one season, I think we need to promote this great outlet much more this coming season and get many more supporters buying a subscription, because these sort of developments have to be supported as it they fail, they never return.

I hope the NBL will be more prosperous and much bigger competition in five years' time; the league needs to have more clubs and must find the money and terms to draw high-profile Australian players back from Europe before they are past their prime.

8. As a leading advocate of basketball in Australia, how did you manage to keep a positive outlook during the "dark age of Australian basketball" as mentioned earlier. Did you feel a responsibility on your shoulders to keep it alive and in the conversation of Australia sport?

I try to call things as I see them. I’m generally a positive person and as someone who loves the sport, I think I have a better perspective on it than a journalist who covers the sport on a sporadic basis. Unfortunately negative stories on any sport grab bigger headlines, especially in the internet age. I think all stakeholders in basketball have a responsibility to do their best to grow the sport and encourage more people to come to matches and buy memberships. But people who love the sport also have the right to challenge clubs and administrators when they disagree with a decision or practice. The NBL and WNBL play the game at a world-class standard, we need more people to see this and support theses competitions. We make very few mistakes on court in this country, it’s time that fact was more widely promoted.

9. Do you attend NBL games regularly? Which venues are your favourite?

As I cover the Melbourne Tigers in the NBL and the Dandenong Rangers, Melbourne Boomers and Bendigo Spirit in the WNBL, I spend most of my weekends during spring-summer at basketball stadiums. I attend all Tigers home games and most of their practice matches, same with Dandenong and Melbourne. Due to Bendigo’s distance from Melbourne, I only get to a few of their home games, but I always get a nice reception from their players and officials who are grateful for the extra coverage.

10. Turning our attention to the NBA, what are the challenges of writing about an American league in the land Down Under? (Time differences, lack of interest, gathering information, research?)

As I only get to write about the NBA in a limited fashion I don’t run into too many problems, but when I’m chasing interviews with Australian NBA players I have to be organised and do plenty of time maths to make sure I can reach those players and coaches before they go to bed or jump on planes. I must say the San Antonio Spurs media staff have been fantastic to deal with in this matter, they set the gold standard in taking care of foreign journalists. I quite enjoy being able to watch NBA during the daytime, I find it harder adjusting to watching NBA at night when I’m travelling in the US.

I also feel at times that I’m “out of the NBA discussion” when it is discussed and analysed to such a degree in the US yet we consume it from such a distance over here.

11. How do you feel our Aussie stars will fare in the NBA this season? Will there be any surprise packages coming from Andrew Bogut, Patty Mills or Aron Baynes? Do you think there's any chance Patty will move up the rotation on an aging Spurs roster?

I think Bogut, Mills and Baynes will put themselves in the best possible position to play bigger roles this season, they have all worked hard over the off-season and presented back in the US in great shape. Bogut will move back into the top echelon of big men this season, he showed a hint of it in the playoffs last year and will do even better this time. Mills and Baynes face stiff opposition within the Spurs roster, but I think they should both move up this year; Baynes in particular could become a real impact player off the bench.

12. Looking at Aussie star Joe Ingles' decision to avoid playing in the NBA and instead choosing to leave Barcelona for Maccabi Tel Aviv, do you see this influencing any other Aussie's decision in the future to showcase their skills in the Euroleague rather than the NBA? As a counterpoint, do you think Matthew Dellavedova's recent signing with Cleveland swing the scale the other way?

Since the NBA draft I’ve said Matt Dellavedova will make the NBA this season, and I remain confident he will be on the Cleveland Cavaliers' roster. Delly is much loved in Australian basketball circles and carries himself like a true professional. He will be a star wherever he plays, and I think his journey should inspire players at all levels to get the best from their talents.

I also think Joe Ingles and David Andersen could both be impact players in the NBA, but they are major stars in Europe so they will continue to star there. Keep an eye on Ryan Broekhoff this season in Europe, he is playing his first professional season in Turkey.

I think the rule is that each player has to find the best circumstances to prosper both on court and financially.

13. I'm sure many of our writers on our site (including me) and even some readers are interested in some helpful tips to help progress our sports writing careers. Do you have great pointers for us all?

Get as much work experience as you can, especially in print or broadcast media as it’s quite different to online media.

Work very hard to fine tune your writing and make sure you proof read your work closely as the majority of newcomers to the media struggle with this in their early years at work.

Look to less covered sports, not just basketball, as somewhere to find good stories and possibly get work with bigger outlets.

Also look to get some public relations work experience so you can see the other side of the industry.

Many thanks once more to Roy for the time and effort he gave to us all here at The Pick and Roll. We are truly grateful to be able to share with everyone else, the words of advice these experienced journalists and bloggers have to offer.

Keep an eye out for more Pick and Roll pieces coming out very soon on our interview segment - you never know who might pop up next!