If you want to find the best young athletes in the nation, a college campus is a good place to look. The same goes for young sportswriters -- particularly if you're at the University of Arizona reading the sports section of the Daily Wildcat. That's where we discovered Valley of the Suns' Michael Schwartz. Michael was named one of the 100 best student journalists in the country by UWIRE for his work covering the Arizona Men's Basketball Team. Michael's blog Valley of the Suns is now part of the TrueHoop Network.
What are you doing with a sports blog?
I'm essentially a 22-year-old kid fresh out of college looking to make it in the journalism world. I just don't see the old-school system of covering high school football for a small paper in a small city and working your way up being the way to go these days with newspapers folding left and right and talented, laid-off, veteran journalists taking positions they're overqualified for. I think online is clearly the new wave of journalism, and I want to be on the first crest of that wave.
I've also wanted to cover the Phoenix Suns since the second I enrolled in a journalism course as a junior in high school. So long as the Arizona Republic isn't hiring, this is a way to live my dream and gain the experience I need to cover the NBA in the future. I think I have an advantage as a new-school blogger in that I did just graduate from the University of Arizona with a journalism degree and an emphasis in online journalism, so once I get access to games, I hope to be posting audio and possibly video as well as some fun features that you won't find anywhere else on the Web.
What, to you, is the point of a sports blog?
Beat reporters for daily newspapers do a great job at what they do, but with the insatiable demand of online readers for NBA coverage, they can't possibly cover everything. That's why the point of a sports blog is to fill in the cracks. I'm not here to write straight recaps and previews, The Associated Press already does a great job at that. Sports blogs are here to give readers more of an angle on the game and analyze issues in more depth than your typical newspaper or with more number crunching. A sports blog is also a great platform for interacting with fans, such as through live blogging games.
As a sports columnist for the Daily Wildcat at the University of Arizona, you wrote a scathing piece that explicitly accused Lute Olson of lying about the reason he gave for taking a leave of absence. Pretty gutsy for a college student to go after a sacred cow -- particularly for a college student who covered the athletic department. Did you struggle with that column?
It's funny, my adviser at the Daily Wildcat used to give me a hard time for not going hard enough at the athletic department before that particular piece. The column actually came to me easier than most because I'd done a ton of reporting over the previous four months and felt strongly and passionately about what I had written, so the words just kind of flowed onto my screen.
Some people in Tucson worship Olson like a god, so I knew I'd catch some flak for writing the negative piece, but I tried to do so in a respectful manner. I was certainly a bit nervous about what the reaction would be, but the feedback ended up being more positive than negative, and it showed me people will respect your take, even a critical one, if you back it up with solid reporting.
You covered both the Arizona basketball team then, less than a year later, you found yourself on the Diamondbacks beat for MLB.com. Are pro athletes considerably harder to cover?
You know, I really don't think so. The biggest reason I say that is that journalists receive so much more access to pro athletes than college athletes, as I've seen in covering both college and pro baseball and college and pro basketball. Pro baseball and basketball lockers rooms are open before and after every game, whereas in college there's no pre-game access and some teams just pull a couple players out for post-game interviews as opposed to having an open locker room to talk to everybody. Between games is even worse, as we'd get one weekly media session at Arizona where two or three players would make it out if we're lucky. Also, even rookies generally know how to talk to the press by the time they make it to the pros, whereas in college some of the freshmen can clam up a bit.
And trust me, some of those college players have as big of egos as their NBA counterparts (and not all of them end up in the League). On the other hand, it's obviously easier for me to relate to a player who's really just a kid taking the same classes I am than a multimillionaire making more money than I can even dream of.
The D-Backs PR guy dubbed you "The General," and the nickname stuck. How did that come about?
I believe it started because of the similarity between my last name and that of the great General Norman Schwarzkopf. My MLB.com colleague Steve Gilbert then started calling me "General,” and then whenever I'd write a solid story or be in the right place filling in for Gilbert, the PR guy would say something like, "That's why they call him 'The General.'”
Pretty soon I was just "The General” around the press box. I'm not sure if some of them even know my name is Michael, and now whenever I run into a Phoenix media member who covered the D-backs back then I get a "Hey General.” I grew to really enjoy having a nickname, especially one afternoon in San Diego when Gilbert and I were in the manager's office joking around with D-backs skipper Bob Melvin about my nickname. Melvin told me, "You know you've made it baseball when you get a nickname.” I don't feel like I've really made it in anything quite yet two years later, but it was still nice to hear that from the eventual 2007 Manager of the Year.
The Suns' evolution over the past year has been one of the most interesting stories in the NBA. It's rare that a team that's sitting atop its conference mid-season decides to undergo a complete overhaul of both their style and their personnel over the next 12 months. As a Suns fan, where do you come down on the stylistic argument?
I would have been a fan, or at least an admirer, of the "Seven Seconds or Less” Suns under Mike D'Antoni regardless of if I had been a Phoenix fan all my life. I love everything about that style and can't help but root for the Knicks this season as much as I generally despise teams from New York. Like D'Antoni, I also wanted to see if that style could win a championship, and if David Stern had interpreted the spirit of the no leaving the bench rule in 2006-07 rather than the letter of the law, I really think that question would be answered definitively by now.
So 12 months ago, unless Shawn Marion had been that big of a headache behind the scenes, I would have rather the Suns maintained their status quo by declining the Shaq deal. As it is now, Shaq is here, and Planet Orange just needs to embrace him. The Suns of the last four years are gone
and they aren't walking through that door, as much as Raja Bell begged and pleaded for that to be the case earlier in the year (and we know how far that got him). That means the Suns need to push when the opportunities are there (which they did not do enough of early in the year), particularly when Shaq is off the floor, but also wait for the Diesel in halfcourt sets, because most big men still can't guard him. I feel that's the way for the Suns to be the best basketball team at this point, but purely stylistically speaking I say lace up those track shoes and run 'til you puke.