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FULL COURT PRESS
THE USBWA'S ANNUAL SPORTS JOURNALISM SEMINAR
Each year at the NCAA Men's Final Four, the U.S. Basketball Writers Association conducts a sports journalism seminar for aspiring writers in college and high school.
The 11th anniversary event provided opportunities for college and high school students interested in a career in sports journalism to meet leaders in the industry and compete for a $1,000 scholarship. Students entered a writing competition for a scholarship in honor of the late Larry Donald, the only two-time USBWA president and the founder and longtime editor of Basketball Times.
The seminar was organized by the John Curley Center for Sports Journalism at Penn State University. The Curley Center, the first of its type in the nation when it was founded in 2003, is directed by past USBWA president Malcolm Moran, the school's inaugural Knight Chair in Sports Journalism and Society. Moran was the moderator of the panel discussion.
Students electing to participate in the writing contest received assignments to cover events surrounding the men's championship, including news conferences and practices. One student will received a credential to cover the national championship game at Reliant Stadium on April 4.
About the 2011 seminar: Texas A&M freshman wins Larry Donald Scholarship
Sean Lester, a freshman from Texas A&M University, is the winner of the USBWA $1,000 scholarship after winning the writing contest at the "Full Court Press" seminar in Houston.
Lester's winning entry was an advance of the University of Kentucky's national semifinal game against the University of Connecticut.
Lester, 19, from Frisco, Texas, will become sports editor of The Battalion, the student newspaper at Texas A&M, in the fall. He will also share responsibilities as managing editor. He has been an intern in the sports department at The Dallas Morning News.
The panel discussion was attended by students from 11 institutions throughout the southwest. The students received advice and encouragement from current and past USBWA Presidents Lenox Rawlings of the Winston-Salem Journal, Bryan Burwell of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch and Jim O'Connell of the Associated Press. The panel was moderated by past president Malcolm Moran, Knight Chair in Sports Journalism and Society at Penn State University.
Students attending the seminar were given assignments ranging from team press conferences on Thursday and Friday to the All-Star game that took place at Reliant Stadium on Friday afternoon. They were given the option of writing about the panel discussion.
Lester is majoring in Agricultural Communications and Journalism. He began writing as a sophomore at Frisco Centennial High School and became editor of the school newspaper as a senior in 2009-10. He hopes to work as a columnist at a newspaper or website.
The students listened to frank assessments from the panelists about the economic state of the print journalism industry and where they might fit in. Lester said he was not discouraged. He plans to become a member of the USBWA and hopes to attend the Full Court Press seminar in New Orleans next year.
After two days working at the Final Four, and two more sitting in the stands at the semifinals and finals, his aspirations were confirmed. "No matter how the industry shakes out," Lester said, "I know I want to write about sports."
The winning story ...
HOUSTON – As his blue sneakers kick across the court, Kentucky head coach John Calipari can't hold back a grin emerging across his face. He looks down at the center court and sees the NASA-themed shooting stars that help make up the Houston Final Four logo. At his back, his own set of shooting stars is shooting free throws during an open practice. They are a resilient group of young players, led by freshman guard Brandon Knight, with important upperclassmen sprinkled in, that have willed their way to this unlikely scene.
As Calipari takes in the moment, he thinks about this team. He is glad to be in Houston for his third Final Four with a third different team. But he is surely grinning for a much different reason. He knows his Kentucky Wildcats are a day away from taking on a Connecticut team that dismantled them in the Maui Invitational months ago.
"When we played them, we beat them by 17," said Connecticut forward Roscoe Smith. "Now, they are in the Final Four. We are going to have to step our game up."
The No. 4 seed Kentucky Wildcats will take on the No. 3 Connecticut Huskies at 7:49 p.m. CST Saturday in Reliant Stadium, the home of the Houston Texans. The game will be televised on CBS as the second game of the 2011 NCAA Final Four Semifinals.
With an opportunity to exact revenge, Kentucky has a chance to advance to the eighth National Championship game in school history with a young and inexperienced team. The inexperience of the Wildcats was vibrant as they turned the ball over 11 times and shot 37 percent.
"I just think that we came in that game with a lot of pressure," said Kentucky freshman forward Terrence Jones. "We played like freshmen."
Following that embarrassing defeat Kentucky had to make a complete turnaround of its season to get to Houston. Kentucky never let an opponent shoot better than 50 percent from the field for the rest of the season.
Improved defense allowed Kentucky to give some of its inexperienced freshmen the ball in important situations to gain confidence in route to an SEC Championship and a berth in the NCAA Tournament. Forward Josh Harrellson, the team's lone senior, knows what the Big Blue Nation expects of them after making it this far in the tournament.
"This year no one really expected us to do this," Harrellson said. "Kentucky basketball has such a good following and our fans expect us to get here every year. We are just happy to be back here and to have Kentucky back on top."
After running the floor at the SEC Tournament, it could have been easy for this Kentucky team to count its accomplishments and resort back to the play that failed the Wildcats early in the season.
Instead, the country's 10th-youngest team has risen to the occasion. Young and athletic players such as Knight, who hit game winning baskets against No. 13 seed Princeton and No. 1 seed Ohio State, have gained their confidence on the biggest stage in the NCAA Tournament on the way to a 10-game winning streak.
"He's grown a lot. He's really matured," said junior guard Darius Miller of Knight. "He's more a leader on the court. At times you can see him telling guys if they messed up or where they need to be. That's something we felt like we needed."
Kentucky will bring in another No. 1 recruiting class next season but has to focus on the present and continue to receive strong play from its freshmen in order to garner a win against a gritty UConn team.
On Saturday night in Houston Coach Calipari will trade in his sneakers for a pair of dress shoes and a suit. With his hair slicked back, he will again walk across the court. He can only hope that this time he is grinning while shaking the hand of Connecticut's Jim Calhoun. Knowing that this improbable and youthful group of shooting stars is headed to the biggest stage of them all.
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