Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Hip Hoop Junkies talks ball with Raptors radio analyst, Eric Smith

Screw Vince Carter.  They should honour Eric Smith at the ACC this season.  All kidding aside, Eric Smith may be one of the hardest working media members for the Toronto Raptors.  You can find his blog at Raptors.com, he has another blog 'The Rap' at the FAN 590, he co-hosts the daily radio show 'The Game Plan' with Jack Armstrong, he's a radio analyst for the Raptors' coverage on the same radio station, he's also on Twitter (@Eric__Smith), he responds to pretty much every email/tweet he gets, he's growing out the 'stache for Movember (raising funds for prostate cancer) AND....let me take a breath....the guy has a family on top of that (there's probably more that I'm missing). 

My fellow hoophead/co-blogger, Sean and myself put together a few questions for Eric Smith aka 'the busiest man in Canada' and he was kind enough to answer our questions.  We asked Eric about the state of basketball in Canada, Jay Triano, the Raptors and what NBA fad he was guilty of growing up.

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Hip Hoop Junkies: What was your first major break/opportunity in the journalism/media world?

Eric Smith: I was lucky enough to start at the FAN 590 as an intern and I have made my way up the ranks over the past 12 years.

There have been a lot of breaks over the years though.

In the early years, it was the launch of Headline Sports (now known as The Score). The network hired a ton of FAN employees away from the radio station ... and one of those to leave was Elliotte Friedman. Friedman was the Raptors reporter for the FAN at that time, and his departure created an opening.

I didn't get the job as the main basketball reporter right away -- I was 22 and fresh out of school and the bosses weren't prepared to give me that kind of responsibility right off the bat. But within two years - before I was 25 - I took over that role. And while that was happening, CFRB lost the Raptors radio rights and the FAN became the new home of the Raps. I took over as host of the pre, half, and post game shows ... and served as a sideline reporter as well. It was another big break at a relatively young age.

The next of many breaks came 5 years ago when Paul Romanuk left the FAN 590 after 1 year as the radio voice of the Raptors. He had taken over for Chuck Swirsky when the Swirsk and Jack Armstrong had left radio for TV.
Romy's departure created an opening on the FAN's radio broadcast and the bosses decided to move Paul Jones from analyst (the role he had alongside Romanuk for a year) to play by play voice. Those same bosses came to me and said that my job on the pre, half, and post is a lot like an analyst's ... in that I have to break down plays, talk about what did or didn't work, and assess the game overall for the broadcast or for the fans/listeners. So they felt that they'd like to give me a shot as the new colour analyst on the radio broadcast. It was an unconventional route to take - given that I'm not a former NBA or NCAA player or coach (like most analysts) but here we are 5 years later, going strong.

HHJ:  You wrote a blog about Canada needing more coverage of the Canadian Basketball program (example: FIBA America - no love other than 'The Score' essentially). Will it require Canada to qualify for London 2012 in order for that to REALLY change? Or do you expect it will improve now that Canada has qualified for the Worlds in Turkey for 2010?

ES:  I wish I had a good answer for you. Simply put, I don't.

The coverage should have been there already. What the Men's National Team did was outstanding and if that had been hockey, the stations and papers would have been flooded with the news. In fact, Canada was/is 1 of only 5 countries in the WORLD to have all four of their teams (men's and women's junior and senior) qualify for the Worlds. That's something that should be note and celebrated!

Unfortunately, in the "what-have-you-done-for-me-lately" kind of world we live in today, just "qualifying" means little I guess. It will take success for people to truly sit up and notice. Whether it's success at the Worlds in Turkey or winning a medal at the Olympics (if Canada makes it there) you're probably right in assuming that the vast majority won't give this on-going story its proper spotlight until folks are sure the team and program is consistent and legit.

HHJ:  With the exception of L.A. (because I know you're a Lakers fan!) what's your favourite NBA city to visit and why? Whether it be the enthusiasm of fans in that city when you're there to call a Raptors game, the culture and food, etc...

ES:  It's hard for me to nail down just one. So I'll give ya a few:

Boston - PASSIONATE fans ... and one of the loudest buildings in the league.

New York - You can't beat The Big Apple at any time of the year. I just love wandering the city and the neighborhoods.

San Francisco - Thank God we don't stay in OAKLAND. San Fran is a total gem. Shopping, night life, culture; tucked on the ocean. Outstanding!

Chicago - Some of the best restaurants and bars/lounges in the U.S. And from the Cubs and Sox to the Bulls and Bears (and Blackhawks), people in the city are always talking about sports in some way/shape/form

For what it's worth, I bet if you asked that question to other writers and broadcasters (and players) around the league, you'd get a TON of votes for Toronto from a lot of people.

HHJ:  What defines "success" for the Toronto Raptors this season?

ES:  At this point, it's got to be about more than just making it to the playoffs. I think they've got to at least win a round for the year to be considered a true success. Although, retaining Chris Bosh - whether they win or lose in the playoffs - could make up for any other letdowns they may encounter.

HHJ:  Last season, Jay Triano walked into the head coaching position when the team was in disarray. How much of a difference do you think we will see in Jay and the team with this "fresh" start?

ES:  Honestly, it's really hard to answer that question because I don't think ANYBODY - including Triano - can truly answer that question. I think Jay is a creative coach that knows how to communicate with this players. He has had the advantage of learning from so many different head coaches over the years (K.O, Wilkens, Sam Mitchell, etc) and that helps make him a better coach ... by picking and choosing the pros and cons from each guy. He is a good teacher; a guy that knows when to push and when to pull back. He judging character and talent well.

But the biggest difference may be that the coach isn't the only "new" guy in town ... More than half of the team is new! With Bosh, Bargnani, and Calderon as the only links to the Sam Mitchell era, I don't even know if a "fresh start" is needed ... 'cause most of these guys weren't here last year anyway.

HHJ:  Let's say you're forced to make an NBA Finals prediction without saying the Lakers or Cavs, who do you got?

ES:  Well, I already made my pick for this year and I said Boston over LA. So I'm not taking the Cavs anyway.

However, if I'm not allowed to say LA ... then I'll sub-in the San Antonio Spurs. They're a deep, veteran team that got even better this summer with the additions of Jefferson, McDyess and Bogans.

HHJ:  Tell us one NBA fad you were guilty of as a kid. Starter Jackets, Reebok Pumps or caricature T-shirts?
ES: T-shirts for sure. I still have a Magic Johnson caricature t-shirt that I try to squeeze into from time to time and I WISH I still had my Michael Jordan/Mars Blackman "Best on Earth / Best on Mars" t-shirt.

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A huge thanks goes out to Eric Smith, be sure donate to his Movember cause (raising funds for prostate cancer) and also follow him on Twitter.


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Hip Hoop Junkies, a Toronto Raptors / NBA / Canada Basketball blog based out of Halifax. Home of the #RAPSTALK Podcast - "Hoops Talk out of Halifax"

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