The Tipoff, Taking the wheel as first president A.J. (After Joe)

After accepting the USBWA president's gavel from David Teel at the Final Four in Minneapolis, I paused for a second to look around the room at the Minneapolis Convention Center.

Mingling among this year's honorees, including Katha Quinn Award winner Mike Sheridan and Most Courageous Award winner Ericka Downey, were a host of past presidents.

Pat Forde and Dana O'Neil joked with 2019 Hall of Famer Dan Wetzel. Bob Ryan was there along with the legendary Dick "Hoops'' Weiss. So were Mike DeCourcy and Andy Katz.

As I held my gavel and the plaque, I suddenly felt like a brown suit in a roomful of tuxedoes. Was I really up to the challenge of leading this organization through the upcoming 2019-20 season?

And then I thought of the first Final Four that I covered. It was back in 1990. Then, as now, I was working for the Syracuse Post-Standard. Our columnist had just left the sports department, so I applied for a Final Four credential. The NCAA rejected the request.

The USBWA, specifically John Feinstein, stepped in. I had met John a few years earlier when he was working on a book. I had let him know that I wouldn't be coming to the Final Four in Denver as planned. He was having none of it. Within a day, I had a credential.

That's what the USBWA did for a young reporter in just his second year on the beat.

And as I remembered that, I thought that maybe this job isn't too big for me. Because the USBWA is me. It's about me and for me; just as it's about and for each of its members.

The USBWA is at its best when it uses its strength as an organization to advance the game, honor those who have served the game and, most importantly, support and serve its members.

Going back to past presidents, I have the unenviable task of following in the footsteps of David Teel, who merely guided the USBWA through its most important decision in the past 30 years. Teel led the search for a successor to Joe Mitch, who has served this organization as its executive director for longer than most of us have been USBWA members.

Teel ran a search that the folks at UCLA should study.

As horrified as I was to think of being president in the first year A.J. (After Joe), I'm relieved to have Malcolm Moran, past president and USBWA Hall of Famer, as our new executive director.

Malcolm and I have shared many conversations already and I'm hoping to tap into his small army of students at IUPUI to help make the USBWA website more relevant. I'd like to highlight the work of USBWA members and draw more people to the site with basketball news and industry updates.

Malcolm and I also want to address the issue of membership. The USBWA needs to grow. It also needs to get younger and more diverse.

We plan on reaching out to the leaders at both the NABJ and AWSM. We want their members to learn about the USBWA and we also want to offer our resources to their members as well. For instance, if a female reporter has a locker-room issue or a harassing situation going on, even if she's not a USBWA, we as an organization need to be there for that reporter.

We've got a few other plans for attracting new members in the works, too. More on those later.

I also ask each of you to reach out to young reporters, especially college students, and let them know about the USBWA and what we can do for them. I mean it. Recruit. Offer college students a special discount. I don't care if you get caught on an FBI tape because the discount already exists.

Of course, the USBWA will continue to work with the NCAA on major issues involving the media's coverage of the game. Seating and access continue to be major issues for our members to do their jobs well. It's sad when some reporters have better seats and more access at the NCAA tournament than they do all season while covering their teams – and it's no wonder that coverage also improves with better seating and more access.

Our board of directors' annual meeting with NCAA leadership at the Final Four drove home once again that common ground can often be found. How do I know this? When one of our members had an idea or, gasp, a complaint, David Worlock didn't just nod his head. He picked up his pen and jotted down a note on his pad.

Worlock remains a friend of the show, so to speak, and open to our suggestions. He's also one of the most responsive people in the media relations business and an excellent example to our members from that side of the business on how to treat the media.

Seriously, just as I'd tell a younger reporter to just do everything Mike DeCourcy or David Teel do, then I'd tell a young media-relations type to just watch David Worlock.

I'm sure Tipoff editor John Akers is hoping I'll make it to dash-30-dash soon, so I'll wrap by saying this:

I value everything about the USBWA. I'm sure that goes back to 1990 and getting to cover the Final Four only because of Feinstein and the USBWA. To him, it was probably just a phone call. I bet he doesn't even remember it.

That's why I want younger reporters to know about our organization and how it can benefit them. And I want to be there for them. Please reach out to me or any other USBWA member.

And if you see me at the Final Four in Atlanta next year, I'll be easy to find. I'll be the one in the brown suit.

Lodge Notes: Mitch receives NABC's Cliff Wells Appreciation Award

Joe Mitch, who will retire as executive director of the USBWA in May, received the Cliff Wells Appreciation Award from the National Association of Basketball Coaches, presented for long and outstanding service to college basketball and the coaching profession, at the AT&T NABC Guardians of the Game Awards Show during the Final Four weekend.

The late Jim O'Connell was presented with the Big East Media Award before the start of the Big East tournament. O'Connell also was honored during the Final Four by the NCAA with a courtside seat that was left open for him.

The late Al Featherston was a recipient of the Atlantic Coast Conference's Skeeter Francis Award, which recognizes distinguished coverage of the ACC.

Al Shrier, a decorated sports information director at Temple and winner of the USBWA's Katha Quinn Award in 1998, passed away on March 4. Shrier served at Temple for 57 years, primarily in media relations. He was 88.

Nathan Baird of the Lafayette (Ind.) Journal & Courier placed first in explanatory writing and teamed with Ron Wilkins for first place in breaking news in the APSE's C Division writing contest.