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Vol. 56, No. 3 • March 2019 • .pdf version
Oc's legacy continues with beat-writing award
Longtime Associated Press college basketball writer Jim O'Connell has been named the inaugural winner of a USBWA award for beat reporting that will be named for him.
O'Connell, a former president of the USBWA and member of its Hall of Fame, will be honored at the annual awards luncheon on April 8 in Minneapolis, more than nine months after he passed away at age 64 following a series of ailments.
His wife Anne, sons James and Andrew and sisters Winnie and Mary are expected to accept the award, which will be named the Jim O'Connell Award for Excellence in Beat Reporting in 2020.
O'Connell – known throughout the basketball industry as Oc – covered 39 consecutive Final Fours for the AP and served as its national college basketball writer since 1987.
He received the Curt Gowdy Print Media Award for outstanding lifetime coverage of basketball from the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in 2002.
"The question wasn't whether to honor Oc," said USBWA president and Newport News Daily Press columnist David Teel. "It was how to honor Oc, and a beat-reporting award that carries his name is perfect. No one embodied the love of the game and often-unseen hours of the grind like Oc, and we hope this award will inspire dedicated beat reporters just as Oc inspired us."
The award will be presented in addition to the annual best-writing contest that recognizes specific articles, columns and projects in multiple categories and will become an annual tribute to the daily work of reporters who meet the highest standards of beat reporting while exceeding the USBWA Code of Ethics.
O'Connell's AP career spanned the championship game between Earvin (Magic) Johnson of Michigan State and Larry Bird of Indiana State, the creation of the Big East conference, the growth of the NCAA Tournament to 68 teams and the capacity of Final Four venues to 70,000 and beyond.
He also attended every Big East tournament from 1980 through 2017 and covered 20 Maui Invitational tournaments.
O'Connell covered the Olympic Games from 1984 in Los Angeles through 2004 in Athens, and according to FIBA, he held the unofficial distinction of covering more Olympic basketball games than any reporter.
But friends, colleagues, athletes, coaches and administrators understood for years that O'Connell was at least as comfortable while sitting in tiny gymnasiums, watching overlooked teams compete in one-bid leagues, always in search of that next story.
"He was the source on college basketball," former AP sports editor Terry Taylor said in the AP obituary that appeared last July. "He knew coaches, players, games, dates of games and final scores – all manner of factoids – off the top of his head. And when you looked it up, he was always right."
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