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YES Network Looks Ahead to the Brooklyn Nets and Broadcasting the 2020-21 Season

Broadcast team roundtable covers key topics for the upcoming season

It’s a big season coming up for the Brooklyn Nets, and YES Network has big plans for the team’s broadcasts, which last season took a 13-percent ratings jump over the 2018-19 season as the Nets made their second-consecutive playoff appearance.

Now they’ll have Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving back in the lineup, making them an NBA contender and one of the most talked-about teams in the league.

“The Brooklyn Nets this year are going to be treated like the national story they are locally,” said senior coordinating producer Jared Boshnack. “We’re going to do everything we can to showcase them and make sure that they are one of the biggest stars on our network. We’re going to have coverage across linear and digital. Everybody you see here is going to lead the charge on that. What we’re really going to explore is the exclusivity access and anything we can do to make them stand out, understanding also the safety protocols and the world that we’re currently living in. So I hope that’s a good overview, but I can tell you that we’re going to treat the Brooklyn Nets as big as any event or any team we have on YES.”

With the Nets slated to appear 13 times on either ESPN, ABC, or TNT through March 3, YES will broadcast 30 of the 37 games that have been announced as Brooklyn’s first-half NBA schedule, beginning with the Dec. 27 game at Charlotte. While YES will not televise the season opener on Dec. 22 — a TNT national broadcast — the network is planning a full night of coverage, beginning with a Facebook Live telecast of the pregame production meeting. A one-hour Opening Night Pregame Show will begin at 6:30 p.m., and Ryan Ruocco, Sarah Kustok, and Michael Grady will be on board with the YES social media team throughout the game, which YES will follow with the Nets Postgame Show.

Both of Brooklyn’s preseason games, against Washington on Dec. 13 and Boston on Dec. 18, will be televised on YES, which will also continue to broadcast Nets Hot Stove each Wednesday up through the start of the season.

On Tuesday, members of the YES Network broadcast team — Ian Eagle, Richard Jefferson, Kustok, Ruocco, and Grady — took part in a video conference to chat about the upcoming season. Here are some of the highlights on five top topics:

ON THE ANTICIPATION FOR THE 2020-21 SEASON

Eagle has been broadcasting Nets games since 1994, through the Jason Kidd era that brought annual division titles and two NBA Finals appearances, and the dawn of the Brooklyn era, but with the return to the court of Durant and Irving and more roster shaping over the last month, he calls this the “most-anticipated season in Nets history.”

“You’ve got to have the horses, and the Nets have true superstars on their roster, and that’s why they keep getting mentioned in the same breath with other teams that are very much in the championship conversation,” said Eagle. “How this supporting cast develops, the chemistry between Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving, these are all compelling questions, and we get to document what should be an incredibly memorable season.”

Kustok arrived for the inaugural Brooklyn season as YES Network’s Nets reporter, and is now going into her fourth season as analyst alongside Eagle and Ruocco.

“I could not be more excited just as a fan of basketball to see Kevin Durant back on the floor again,” said Kustok. “How he plays, the skill level he possesses, the amount of talent that I think we will be witness to as we saw in many cases with Kyrie Irving last season, but to watch those two and the true star power that they have beyond the floor to continue to try and culminate what this organization has been building, I think for all of us, the amount of enthusiasm, excitement, interest, and really just pride in seeing what type of basketball they put on the floor is something that I can’t wait for.”

ON BROADCASTING IN THE COVID ERA

The YES team will not be traveling to road games, and instead will be working out of Barclays Center as they did while the team was playing on the NBA Campus in Orlando last summer. While they’ll also be doing home games at Barclays Center, it will be a different environment as, at present, fans are not expected to be in the arena for games.

Eagle had some experience with that over the summer, doing national broadcasts from on-site in Orlando, and for the last few months has been calling NFL games from empty or sparsely populated stadiums.

“Not being on-site for road games is something we experienced with the bubble, so we’re not going into this blindly, but your job doesn’t change,” said Eagle. “The job is still to inform and entertain and just because you’re not up close doesn’t mean that you have a built-in excuse now to change the way you do your job. We’re going to do it the same way. There will be some more challenges and trying to humanize the players, that doesn’t change. Bringing enthusiasm and excitement, that’s still part of the equation, and being the conduit from the event to the viewer, that’s what we do.”

It’s Grady who has the closest interaction with players on a game night, from on-court interviews to postgame scrums in the locker room. That will not be part of the broadcast experience any time soon.

“The interaction that you may have with these players, it’s not necessarily in an interview setting, or just before you start to ask your first question, or little things like that, will be missed quite a bit until we’re able to travel, until things are back to normal once again,” said Grady. “It’s absolutely an adjustment from that standpoint, from a reporter’s standpoint, especially with new faces and wanting to get to know these guys, and wanting those guys to see your face as often as possible so you have that connection and you’re building that trust.”

ON HEAD COACH STEVE NASH

The Nets shook things up with the hiring of Hall of Fame point guard Steve Nash as head coach. While it’s Nash’s first full-time coaching job, he brings the credibility of his legendary playing career, and the Brooklyn staff has been fortified with the additions of Mike D’Antoni and Ime Udoka, along with returning coaches such as Jacque Vaughn.

“They’ve checked a lot of boxes for this staff, and to put Steve in a position to succeed, and ultimately how he handles the personalities at the top of the roster and at the bottom of the roster will go a long way in how this team develops and the fact that they expect to be playing meaningful basketball into the summer months, that’s the ultimate goal, is to go win a championship,” said Eagle. “He has said that. He has not shied away from that, and that’s the organization’s view right now. They didn’t pick Steve Nash so that they could develop Steve into a good head coach one day. They believe they have a chance to win right now.”

Grady sat down with Nash recently for an extended conversation that was broadcast on YES as Steve Nash One-on-One last week.

“There are guys in the league that are respected and liked by a good number of people; nobody has a negative thing to say about Steve Nash,” said Grady. “His ability to relate and connect with so many different people, with so many different walks of like makes him a special and unique person in that regard.”

ON PLAYING IN A PANDEMIC

With the shortened preseason and a somewhat compressed schedule that has been cut to 72 games, the 2020-21 season has some similarities to the 2011-12 lockout season that Jefferson experienced as a player.

But Jefferson sees two differences, the most significant the way that positive coronavirus tests could potentially disrupt rosters and player availability. The other is that he expects players to be better prepared to handle the schedule than they were a decade ago, which is why — barring virus-related player absences — he has no worries about the quality of basketball on the horizon.

“As far as players being prepared, this is far different than it was 10 years ago, 15 years ago,” said Jefferson. “One, this is the shortest offseason for players that were in the bubble, and two, players are just in shape year-round. They take no breaks. I think the quality of basketball is going to be there. The quality of the basketball in the bubble was amazing, and guys didn’t have access to facilities, a lot of players went home. They might not have had access to gyms because they were closed, and you get in and you see, it was very good basketball. I think the basketball’s going to be fine.”

ON BROOKLYN’S CLASSIC EDITION UNIFORMS

The Nets are breaking out a bold throwback with their first Classic Edition uniform this season, based on the “tie-dye” jersey they wore for a single season back in 1990-91. Eagle was not part of the Nets broadcast team yet, joining a few years later when they were still sporting a royal blue version of that jersey, with the same wordmark and logo that debuted in 1990-91.

But it’s the most significant call-out to the franchise’s 35 seasons in New Jersey since they moved to Brooklyn in 2012. Eagle had nearly two decades of calling New Jersey Nets games, an opportunity that transformed his career, and he still lives in New Jersey, having moved there when he first took the Nets job. So that era remains significant to him, he still has a connection to Nets fans in Garden State, and yes, he loves the look.

“First of all, the look pops,” said Eagle. “There’s no doubt about it. Those jerseys pop. I just think it’s going to be cool around the NBA to see the different versions around the league that each team has chosen. It keeps things fresh and it brings a whole different conversation to the table, and I think the league has been really smart about creating that banter from fan-base to fan-base. I think it’s a cool look. I know Kyrie is excited to put on those jerseys and represent the Nets.”

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