A first-year adjunct college professor’s introduction to Katy Winge came via email.
It was a request to get out of class.
The first class. Of five sessions. In grad school. At Northwestern.
Chris Herring wasn’t exactly sure what he’d do.
“She wrote me right away, before the class even started and said, ‘Hi professor, if it’s okay, with your blessing, I really need to miss the first class,’” a chuckling Herring said. “And I’m thinking, ‘What?’”
He thought about what he’d do.
“And so, right off the bat – and obviously I’ve never taught before – so I’m already trying to figure out how much of a harda-- I have to be with regards to students missing class in a five-class quarter,” he said, laughing.
But here’s the thing. Herring, himself, is an NBA reporter. Winge’s request came so she could cover the 2016 NBA draft in Brooklyn. He respected that. And he respected the foresight and fortitude a student he’d yet to meet would have in making the request.
“And I think maybe that is where she separated herself,” Herring said. “She would have been the first person that I dealt with on any level in that class. She had a presence before I even met her. When you really stop and think about what that says. That’s how big a presence she has in some ways.”
And now, in a groundbreaking role as the first female analyst for the many platforms of Altitude Sports, Winge’s presence will be amplified.
Katy’s World is full of life and laughter and determination. It is big presence, big personality and ALL CAPS IN TWITTER POSTS DRIPPING WITH THE EXCITEMENT IN WHICH SHE LIVES MOMENT TO MOMENT!
Exclamation point? Yeah, exclamation point.
To become the first female radio analyst in Nuggets history, to lasso a prime spot on Altitude Sports as the first woman doing in-depth Nuggets analysis on television as well, and to do all of this by age 25, it takes copious amounts of all of what Winge has already displayed.
She does not arrive without a bundle of experience. As a player, she was one of the most sought-after recruits in Minnesota, and played in college at Illinois State even after a torn ACL in her junior year of high school put a speed bump in her recruitment. As a broadcaster, she’s already logged tons of hours covering everything from the Nuggets to the WBNA’s Las Vegas Aces to high school basketball tournaments.
She’s always lived the game. Now, she’ll do it officially on the NBA level full-time.
“After watching Katy’s television analyst work on high school and college hoops, you could easily see that she is a natural at it,” said Altitude Sports executive vice president and general manager Kenny Miller. “Her passion and knowledge of the game will be a treat for Nuggets fans watching or listening this year. Katy has come a long way in her career in a short period of time. I am so proud and excited for her to be the first woman radio analyst the Nuggets have ever had.”
And yet, perhaps no one will be as excited as Winge. This is the convergence of two loves.
As a little girl growing up in Minnetonka, Minn., Winge was introduced to the sport.
“It was something that me and my dad really bonded over, and I think that’s probably why it stuck with me the way that it did,” Winge said. “Because we did it every single day.”
She was also growing like a weed. And she could play. By third grade, Winge was playing organized basketball. By middle school, it was apparent she wasn’t just out there – she was consistently one of, if not the best player on the teams on which she played.
As an eighth grader, she’d play with the high school varsity team in the summer. Naturally, when she hit Minnetonka High as a ninth grader, Winge was immediately placed on the varsity squad. As a starter. Eventually, Minnesota’s top AAU program – North Tartan – actively pursued her to join their ranks. Recruiting interest from Big Ten programs, among others, followed. But in the last game of her junior prep season, a torn anterior cruciate ligament put the brakes on many of the schools that had previously shown interest.
A winding road of events brought her to Illinois State. An assistant, who’d recruited her to another school ended up with the Redbirds in Normal, Ill., and convinced the staff there to take a chance on a player she’d known to be top-flight prior to the knee injury. It worked. Winge took a recruiting trip to Illinois State, felt comfortable, and played her college career for the Redbirds.
Basketball was her first love.
“What I was able to do thought the sport, and the person I grew into, the things that I recognized as far as what’s important in life, the relationships I built, that was invaluable to me,” Winge said. “It really was my first love. I gave everything I had to the game and watched it shape me and my life and brought me closer to my whole family, and I have some of my best friends through the sport.
“Because I got to play at such a high level, I learned really quickly what high-level athletes go through. And the stories behind those people. And, how they are more than just players. I think it took me being done playing to recognize that and the power behind that. And that’s when I knew I needed to keep this in my life.”
In high school, while Winge remained in the thick of her basketball career, an undercurrent began to thread: Broadcasting. It started small.
“We had a news show in high school that I was involved in,” Winge said. “But very minimally.”
She put it to the backburner.
When she began college, she initially thought writing would be her path. But it wasn’t a good fit. Winge was always going to be a double major – one of them was always going to be marketing. Broadcast journalism didn’t come into clear view until she, as a player, started to become of the subject of video features from local journalists.
“And that was kind of when I was like ‘I could do this,’” Winge said. “I could interview athletes and get their stories out there. And then I kind of took it one step further. I know the game so well, that’s my biggest strength as a basketball player, my IQ and my understanding and reading defenses and putting in plays and different strategies. So, when I put those pieces together, I was kind of like ‘I could really go far with this.’”
All the way to Altitude, in fact.
Her double major would be broadcast journalism and marketing. And she jumped in with both feet into the world of broadcasting. She worked for TV10 on campus, where she wrote, edited and produced her own sportscast once a week. She got more involved in calling games. When she was done playing for the Redbirds – and studying abroad – Winge landed a job with a smaller market local television station.
Then, she left that fulltime job to go to grad school at Northwestern.
“I think she took a little more of a risk than what a lot of people are willing to do when they go to grad school,” Herring said. “A lot of people that do that are people who are going to grad school straight out of undergrad. In her case, she left a fulltime job I think a lot of people would have been fine with.”
And yet, that’s the thing. If Winge ever found herself on a path she wasn’t satisfied with she never lingered. Winge quickly corrected the course to get where she wanted to be. In this case, Winge wanted to be at a regional market or with a team. After grad school, she was hired by the Nuggets to be the Pepsi Center’s in-arena reporter.
And one year later? This.
So, Wednesday night represents a beginning and an ending. Winge will step into the Staples Center knowing that she’s living her dream: covering basketball in a variety of ways – as a sideline reporter, an analyst both on television and radio, and as a host. And yet, with just over a quarter-century of life lived, there is so much still ahead.
Everything, in fact.
“Her ceiling is whatever she wants it to be,” said producer Vanessa Lambert, who supervised Winge as an intern for Fox Sports North. “She realistically, I think an ideal person for her would be (ESPN NBA analyst) Doris Burke. She loves Doris, and (Doris) kills it and how can you not like her? Katy kind of reminds me possibly of an up-and-coming Doris. That just everyone respects and likes because of her knowledge and because of the person that they are.”
Winge cherishes the opportunity.
“I think about it every day,” she said. “Every day of my life, I’m like ‘Is this real?’ Because I can’t believe it. This is my dream job. The job that I have right now, where I get to do a little bit of everything. I get to do some sideline reporting. I get to do some hosting. I get to do some analysis. And where my basketball knowledge is not only respected but admired, and I’m challenged to use it every day. It’s so special and so unique. I’m really very serious genuine when I say there’s not a day that goes by that I would take it for granted. Because I can’t believe that it fell in my lap the way that it did. Yeah, I worked my butt off. I knew exactly what I wanted and was determined to find a way to get there.”
Christopher Dempsey: firstname.lastname@example.org and @chrisadempsey on Twitter.