Miles Simon was once the big man on campus.
While playing collegiately, he made up 50% of one of the most menacing backcourt duos the NCCA has ever seen, joining retired NBA player Mike Bibby at the University of Arizona through 1996-1998. He was selected as the Most Outstanding Player during the 1997 NCAA Tournament in which he led Arizona to wins over three then-#1 ranked teams – University of Kansas, University of North Carolina, and University of Kentucky – en route to winning the ’97 NCAA Championship.
Now an analyst and commentator for ESPN, Simon has found success in raving about the next generation of basketball stars and co-working with Dick Vitale, Fran Fraschilla and Brent Musburger – some of the very personalities that raved about him years ago. But not without trials and tribulations along the way.
Simon sat down for an exclusive interview with coiski.com to discuss being initially turned down by ESPN, his preparation style in regards to analyzing live games and the part of his job that he takes great pride in as it pertains to the college athlete.
George Kiel: You’re now going on your seventh season as a college basketball analyst for ESPN. There are many former players and coaches that decide to take that route once their playing days are over, but when did you specifically know that being an analyst was for you?
Miles Simon: I think it’s different for everyone. For a lot of former athletes and coaches, their process pretty much starts when they’re a player or coach because they’re around the game so much. For me, I got my first taste of television in 2004. I did some studio work for, what was then College Sports Television (CSTV), in the form of a Midnight Madness special. They called me back in 2008, and I did some more studio work for them during the Sweet 16 that year, so they obviously liked my work. When Coach Lute Olson retired in October of 2008 and I realized I wasn’t going to coaching at Arizona anymore on the staff, I decided I wanted to get into television, full-time.
Kiel: Describe the timeframe between deciding to go into television, full-time, and actually calling your first game.
Simon: I had an interview for an analyst position at ESPN, so I went out to Bristol, Connecticut (ESPN HQ) to start the process. Now when you do an interview for an analyst position, they have you call a mock game. So they gave me a video of a random game, had me prepare for it by taking notes on the players and then brought in a play-by-play guy to go along with me. I was so horrible because, even though I had done analyst work before, I had never called a live game. I had no feel of what I was really talking about nor did I know how to talk during the game. To make a long story short, I didn’t get the job. I was initially turned down by ESPN. Months later, I was fortunate enough to get the contact information of a guy named Chris Farrell – who is the coordinating producer for ESPNU – and he was gracious enough to give me a chance. He gave me 3-4 games in January of 2009 and that turned into 10-12 games during my first year of calling games. And that’s kinda how I got started.
Kiel: Do you remember the first live game you ever called?
Simon: Yep. It was Cal State Fullerton vs. Cal State Poly. I actually wasn’t nervous at all because I prepared greatly for that game – hours and hours of preparation.
Kiel: What goes into preparation for calling live games?
Simon: I take pages and pages of notes. Not that I use them all for every broadcast, but I probably have 5-6 pages of notes for every game because it helps me to remember facts during the broadcast and also I’m able to have everything in front of me to be referenced. I get my notes from watching tons of game tape on the teams I’m gonna call for that night, I’ll go to the teams’ practices, I’ll go to their shoot around sessions, I’ll spend time talking to the players, reading articles and talking to the coaching staff. There are many different ways that I prepare for the game, and it’s usually hours upon hours of work and research.
Kiel: Is there a specific aspect of the job that you take pride in more than anything else? Or research more than anything else?
Simon: For me, knowing the players’ names is crucial. I see a lot of analysts that mispronounce players’ names all the time. I take pride in pronouncing players’ names correctly because a kid’s family members or friends could be listening, and I don’t want to mess it up for them. The kids’ names deserve to be pronounced correctly, so I go over names 3-6 times before games all the time – once with my partner, once with the SID and once with the head coach. Sometimes, I’ll even ask the kid himself. I just really want the kid’s name to be pronounced correctly.
Kiel: What’s the biggest difference you’ve encountered from calling live games to doing in-studio analyst pieces?
Simon: It’s definitely different. For the game, you have to be quick with your thoughts because the game’s action is going on and moving rapidly. In the studio, you have a lot more time to get your thoughts together, and sometimes, if it’s a particular topic or team – like paying NCAA players, talking about the Duke Blue Devils or even a great freshman – you have a little more time to expand on what you’re going to say. That’s the biggest difference for me.
Kiel: What’s the biggest thing you’ve learned from calling games over your seven-year career so far?
Simon: I’m best friends with CBS sports analyst Doug Gottlieb. He has been doing it much longer than I have, and he has given me tons of tips and tricks along the way. But it’s really a lot about on-the-job training, to be honest. ESPN doesn’t have seminars, classes or a “training week” to help you get better at your job. I went into it cold turkey, and the best advice I got going into it was, ‘Be over prepared for every game that you do.’ The #1 reason why former athletes and coaches fail at this job is they think they can just come in and talk the game. Broadcasting is much more than that.
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