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School of Hardwood Knocks II: Olgun Uluc, Fox Sports
Have you ever thought about being a journalist before?
It's something many basketball fans aspire to, a perfect marriage between passion and work. It's not an easy goal however, and the grind continues long after you get there - it never stops.
What actually goes on behind the desk though, and what does it take to get there? I invited another one of our own to this little Q&A series. This time, it's a talented, affable young gentleman named Olgun Uluc. Olgun (or OU, our moniker for the lad), who used to specialise in our junior content, has since moved on from The Pick and Roll to Fox Sports as a digital writer. OU however, is always ready to help, especially on sharing succinct perspectives and experiences with all of our readers.
Let's start right at the beginning.
The man outside basketball
Q: Let's talk about Olgun outside of basketball. How is he like?
My life outside of basketball is just as important as my life within basketball.
I grew up as a thespian of sorts. My life revolved around performing arts, and still does, to an extent. I've been fortunate enough to be amongst the improvised comedy scene in Sydney, which really helped me discover my voice. It gave me the confidence to get my name out into the public sphere, so I don't know if I'd be in the position I am today without it.
I have a love for musical theatre, television, and film, so I'm lucky that the basketball industry somewhat coincides with the entertainment industry. Every time I travel to North America, I make sure to get to New York City so I can hit Broadway. I'm doing just that, taking a detour through New York City on my way to Toronto for the NBA All-Star Weekend.
As a person, I'm quite confident - particularly for my age - and I'm not afraid to express my opinions. I admire the likes of Christopher Hitchens, Sam Harris, and Richard Dawkins, among others, and am a large proponent of reason in society. Following the work of Hitchens, in particular, showed me the importance of using my critical faculties, and how I can rely solely on them. I'm not sure if I'd be the writer I am today, without his work.
If I have the opportunity to write about, or comment on, any of the aforementioned topics, then I'd be more than happy to. I hope that, throughout my career as a journalist, I get the chance to delve into these topics.
Q: Many people probably aren't aware that of your involvement with Aussie Basketball Prospects, the niche social media presence you started up to cover promising Australian high school basketballers.
What spurred you to start that project up back then, and what did you hope to achieve?
I've always been involved in schoolboy sports, whether it be as a player, or in an administrative position, so it seemed like a good place for me to start my journey toward becoming a sports writer. I was a student-manager of my high school's basketball team - a team that was extremely successful - so I was fortunate to be around a lot of the elite players in the country. I followed the progress of some of the guys, through the state and national level, and I was surprised at the lack of local coverage of Australia's high school players; so I took it upon myself.
It all started with a Twitter feed, 'AUS BBALL Prospects', and when that began to garner a following, I created a Facebook page. The aim was to make sure that these guys got the exposure they deserved, and, along the way, I began my journey as a professional writer.
Q: And then you came on board at The Pick and Roll, and began work as a specialist in Australian high school basketball, both at the national level and on the recruiting side of things as well.
What were your thoughts on joining the crew initially, did it feel like a daunting prospect? What do you think you've learnt along the way?
It was extremely daunting. I was a 20-year-old with relatively no experience, and no qualifications. The Pick and Roll's audience was something that was alien to me, so I wasn't sure how such a wide audience would receive my work. Thankfully, people responded positively to my work, and I was eventually brought on as a co-partner, which was a real confidence boost.
The quality of my writing increased dramatically, over my time with The Pick and Roll. When I go back and read my early work, I can see the difference in quality, and I have the talented writers around me to thank for that.
However, I think the most important thing I learned was that substance is key. Writing for a blog, the audience is naturally smaller than that of the mainstream media, so in order to achieve legitimacy in the industry, the content has to be good. Blogs generally don't make much money, if any, so when writing for The Pick and Roll, it wasn't for clicks, or for subscribers; it was for the respect of my peers. That's something that I'm doing my best to bring to Fox Sports, and I feel as though I've been able to achieve that, thus far.
Q: Up till this day, I'm still amazed at how things worked out in the end. Would you agree 2015 was an absolute rollercoaster ride?
Let's talk about your feelings about that year; starting from the amazing times you had in Chicago, the Basketball Without Borders camp, All-Star Weekend, and the string of events that led up to Fox Sports.
2015 was just a crazy ride for me, and I'm still shocked at how things have turned out.
For those who don't know, I moved to Chicago at the end of 2014, to attend DePaul University.
By January, 2015, I was comfortable in the city, attending Chicago Bulls games as a member of the media, along with various high school and college basketball events in the area. Being around an NBA environment provides something that you can't learn from a university course. I got to experience being around NBA players, every day, and became comfortable speaking with them. It was also a chance for me to learn from the people around me; those who have been a part of the industry for a long time.
Amadou Gallo Fall, head of NBA Africa, and Masai Ujiri, General Manager of the Toronto Raptors, speak to the BWB campers
In February 2015, I had the opportunity to attend the NBA All-Star Weekend in New York City, which also hosted the first Basketball Without Borders (BWB) Global camp. This was something I couldn't pass up. I was living in Chicago, and New York was just a short flight away. I may or may not be in that position ever again, so it wasn't something I was going to dismiss.
As an NBA fan, the All-Star Weekend was a great experience for me, but because I had built a reputation as someone who covers junior basketball, the BWB camp was a great way for me to network with people within my industry. I managed to do just that, and, to this day, I still speak regularly with the people I met over that weekend.
In May 2015, after a semester at DePaul, I returned to Australia for my break, and I wasn't too sure if I'd return to Chicago and continue my course.
A few months in, while continuing to write for The Pick and Roll, and thinking about my potential tertiary future, I had the opportunity to interview for a fellowship at BuzzFeed. I was keen to become a sports writer, but, at the same time, I wanted to get my foot in the door. I thought my interview went well, but I was turned down.
A week after that, I applied for a job at Fox Sports, simply through their website's 'apply' section. I filled out a form and sent it through. It got rejected, and I was running out of options.
Just nine days later, one of my editors received a message from one of Fox Sports' senior editors. Fox was looking for a basketball writer in Sydney to join its digital team, and he immediately gave them my name. I was at Fox HQ that very afternoon for an interview.
The rest, as they say, is history.
All in a day's work
Q: I know we've talked about this before on the side, but run us through a day at the office over at Fox Sports, from the eyes of a digital writer like yourself.
My days can range from being extremely quiet, to being extremely hectic.
I arrive at whatever time I'm rostered (generally between 8am-10am). The start of my day is usually to catch up with any news that's popped up overnight. Covering US sports is difficult, because half of a day's worth of news has already happened by the time I arrive at the office. I'll make sure that our bases are covered with that news, and then I can look at what's ahead.
At the moment, the three big markets to look at are: NBA, NBL, and Ben Simmons. If LSU is playing, I'll live blog the game. Our coverage has been very well-received, and because I was fortunate to cover Ben throughout his time in high school, I'm somewhat of an expert on him. With our NBL coverage, I keep in contact with teams, agents, coaches, and players, throughout the day, looking for stories, news, etc.
By the time I arrive at work, every morning, the NBA games of the day have begun, so I'll usually have two games playing on two different screens (I have three monitors). While I watch the games, it's important for me to stay on Twitter, just in case something noteworthy happens in a game I'm not watching, and it's also important for me to stay connected with both our video producers and news producers, to make sure that we stay up to date across every platform.
Extensive basketball coverage is relatively new to Fox Sports, so I've been building a social media presence on Facebook (FOX Sports Basketball) and Twitter (@FoxBasketball), from the ground up, and tend to both pages, throughout the day.
Some days can be quiet, and I'm out the door as soon as my shift ends. Other days, I can be under the pump, and I won't leave until a few hours after my shift has ended. For me, I don't mind it. I love what I do, and make sure that the content that I release is of a high quality. I'd rather stay back a few hours to complete a good product, than leave early after publishing a sub-par product.
It's all about the writing. I write all day, then I go home and write some more. If you don't enjoy doing that, then this industry isn't for you.
Q: Do you find yourself watching more, or less basketball these days? Does the grind get to you and it feels like you've had enough of basketball some days, or is there always something fresh to look at, and talk about?
The grind does get to me, but it's more about fatigue, or writer's block, as opposed to getting sick of the basketball. Writing all day can take a toll on you, both mentally and physically, so it's important to take breaks.
Above all else, though, I'm a basketball fan. I'm in a fortunate position where one of my hobbies, is also my job. I'm watching more basketball than I ever have, and I'm enjoying it more than I ever have.
Q: You were a relative newcomer to the NBL, and part of your job involves covering the league actively, on top of other basketball leagues. What do you appreciate most about the NBL, that you think makes it stand out differently from the NBA?
It's tough to say. Being realistic, when looking at gameplay, there's nothing the NBL does that the NBA doesn't do better. It's not because the NBL is bad, by any means, but rather because the NBA is the pinnacle of professional basketball.
The NBL's advantage is that it's local. As an Australian living in Australia, I can go out and support a team. I can go and watch games, live. Every NBL team does a great job with fan interaction, so when you attend a game, you can get up close and personal with some of the best athletes in the country.
As a writer, it's nice to speak with players and coaches in person. As easy as it is to send a text, nothing beats meeting with someone, face-to-face.
And just a quick message for everyone who hasn't attempted to watch the NBL. Before this season, I had little knowledge of the league, and didn't have the best view of it. After covering it for the past few months, I've realised that this isn't a league to be laughed at. The quality of basketball really is great, and any basketball fan who scoffs at the league is just ignorant of that. I'm an NBA guy, through and through, but I can honestly say that we're lucky to have a world-class league on our doorsteps. Make the most of it.
On interaction with millenial athletes
Q: I remember your comment from one of our conversations last year, on junior athletes (or more generally, the millenials) being more comfortable with texting versus actual conversations.
How much of a paradigm shift do you think this presents for journalists? The breaking of medium from the traditional meet ups or phone calls, to entire conversations being conducted over Facebook must seem like a subtle but significant change.
When it comes to these younger guys, they're much more comfortable with me sending questions that they can answer over text or Facebook. It's the digital age, and it's the direction this industry is going toward.
Luckily for me, I'd be considered a millennial, so I've grown up using these platforms, but for the more seasoned journalists, it's a tough change. I see a lot of writers who aren't on Facebook, and who avoid using Twitter, and it's at a detriment to them, because, at the end of the day, they're the ones who'll be left behind.
I see the change as a positive one. It makes things easier for people like me, and it's a lot easier for the athletes, too. I will say, however, that nothing beats meeting up with someone. It's not just important for someone like me to be able to actually get to know the athlete, but it's also good for the athlete to know that I'm a human, just like him/her.
The road ahead
Q: I've always believed that fortune favours the prepared mind. Opportunities appear by accident, but working hard and staying prepared is an almost certain recipe for success. Now that you've made your first step, what's your strategy towards continued self-improvement as a journalist in 2016?
I agree. The opportunity to join Fox Sports came at a fortunate time, but I don't think I'd be here today if I hadn't worked as hard as I did.
As far as my craft goes, it's something that I aim to get better at, every day. I write as much as I can, and I read as much as I can. Over 2016, I'll be doing my best to solidify my voice. I'm still young, so I'm still trying to figure out what that will be, exactly. It's all a learning process.
When it comes to the basketball industry, in particular, it's all about networking for me. Connecting with people, and staying connected with them, is extremely important, and it's something that cannot be overstated. I'm lucky to be in a position where I'm around influential people, who are willing to introduce me to their peers, so I take full advantage of that.
I'll be attending All-Star Weekend in Toronto, along with the NBA Draft in Brooklyn, and the FIBA U17 World Championship in Spain. These are all perfect opportunities for me to meet new people, and to build fruitful relationships, across the globe.
A word of advice?
Q: One last question to wrap things up: What advice would you offer to like-minded folks, who aspire towards joining the industry in a similar capacity?
One thing that I'd want everyone to know is that you can get by on merit. I don't have a degree, nor have I been properly trained. I've worked extremely hard to hone my skills as a writer, and, luckily for me, it's paid dividends.
Secondly, go out and meet people. It's one of the best things you can do. Staying well-connected is a big part of this job, so it's important to go out and be sociable. Networking is difficult, and in today's digital age, it can be awkward, but it's something you need to do if you desire long-term success in this industry.
Thirdly: write. Write as much as you can. Get your work out there, and continue to get better. No-one ever got anywhere by waiting for the opportunity to come his/her way. If you really want to succeed, then you have to be pro-active. Choose a path, and go for it.
Finally, make sure you enjoy what you do. I have a passion for writing, and for basketball, so I like to think that the people who read my work notice that.