JAMIE H. VAUGHT: An Interview With ESPN's Shannon Spake
With her job as one of the more respected sideline reporters, Shannon Spake (pictured) has been covering lots of UK basketball games on national TV lately.
If you watch sports, especially on ESPN, you'd certainly know who she is. Spake does an admirable job and has worked with the sports network since 2006.
As you may remember, I did a column about the reporter early last year -- January 2015 -- but it primarily focused on her very early days as a sports fan before she began working in journalism.
A personable lady who grew up in Florida and is a working mommy with six-year-old twin boys, Spake recently took a timeout from her busy work and home schedule for another interview with this columnist. This time we discussed her thoughts and feelings -- including about the Kentucky Wildcats – during her broadcasting career as well as March Madness.
When Spake sees a player who had gotten hurt and is sitting on the bench, she says it really makes her role much tougher when interviewing.
"It's always difficult to interview an injured athlete who is on the sideline watching his team, especially if it's that athlete's last season with the team," explained Spake. "We all know how much work goes into getting your mind and body ready for a season and you can see how emotional it is for them to watch their team and not be on the field, court or track with them."
What about her most memorable or entertaining interview?
"I was interviewing (NASCAR driver) Dale Earnhardt Jr. while standing in the back of a pickup truck riding around the track when all of my race notes -- which I had tucked in my race belt -- flew out and onto the track. I stood there watching my notes as they were run over several times by the trucks behind us. I panicked and, if we weren't going over 40 miles per hour, I probably would have jumped over the side of the truck to grab the notes.
“Meanwhile, Junior stared at me with a 'Well, that stinks!' look on his face. Fortunately, my producers were able to contact race control and the debris truck drove to the backstretch to collect my notes. Thankfully, they were still in one piece!"
Spake still lists the 2012 NCAA championship contest in New Orleans as her favorite UK game that she has seen or covered in person.
"I was sitting 10 feet away from the court when game ended and the confetti flew everywhere," she recalled. "I took a great picture of Anthony Davis and Terrence Jones as they embraced center court and you could see how emotional they were as they realized they were the champs."
And last season Kentucky almost won it all in Indianapolis. Spake was there, too. It would've been another great victorious moment for the sportscaster as well as the fans had the Wildcats captured the national crown with a stunning 40-0 mark. Instead, Kentucky went home with a 38-1 record. Spake, who had spent a lot of time with the team, was hoping UK would make history as the first 40-0 club in college basketball. Still, the 2014-15 Wildcats ranked as one of the nation’s best teams of all time.
"Last year I covered four regular season games, the entire SEC tournament (in Nashville) and was 'embedded' with the team throughout the NCAA tournament, which included attending practice in Lexington every Tuesday leading up to each round," commented Spake, who has a bachelor’s degree in communications from Florida Atlantic University.
"At the time of their loss to Wisconsin (in the national semifinals) I was disappointed that I wouldn't be able to tell my grandkids that 'grandma covered the Kentucky Wildcats when they went 40-0 and won the national championship' plus I had invested so much time with the team that it was disappointing to see them go home. However, I loved the way the national championship game (Duke's 68-63 win over Wisconsin) played out. What a game!"
Even though ESPN does not televise NCAA men's tournament games, Spake says March Madness, a national phenomenon, is really something else.
"Every team plays with an extreme level of desperation," she said. "Every game is a must win and you truly don't know who could be on the winning side. And don't we all love the amazing Cinderella and underdog stories that come with the upset?
"It's the most exciting time of the year and yes, I'm the only mom sitting on the sidelines of my kids' soccer and lacrosse practices with headphones with the March Madness app on my phone!"
For the upcoming SEC tournament in Nashville, Spake will again cover the Wildcats and the rest of league for the SEC Network and ESPN, including the title game on Sunday, March 13. Along with Spake, Brad Nessler and Dick Vitale will call the 1 p.m. (ET) championship contest for ESPN.
Jamie H. Vaught, a longtime columnist in Kentucky, is the author of four books about UK basketball. He is the editor of KySportsStyle.com magazine and a professor at Southeast Kentucky Community and Technical College in Middlesboro. You can follow him on Twitter @KySportsStyle or reach him via e-mail at KySportsStyle@gmail.com.
Photos by Jamie H. Vaught