written by R.L. Bynum
Brown delivers compelling college basketball content on his own website
Before C.L. Brown worked at a couple of smaller newspapers on the way to becoming one of the most respected college basketball writers in the country, he wanted to work in television.
The inspiration came at age 7 while growing up in Winston-Salem when he and his brother Chris watched Bryant Gumbel as an NBC anchor during the 1979 football season, as well as Greg Gumbel.
“Just seeing some black men on television, doing commentary and analysis, that was a bit inspirational and aspirational for us,” Brown said. “We thought and dreamed about, at that time, that could one day be us being on TV and not necessarily NFL, specifically. Even back then, I was probably as big a college basketball fan as I was anything else.”
After first deciding he didn’t like the idea of majoring in business at UNC — “Maybe the numbers decided they didn’t like me, weeded me out.” — he studied journalism in the broadcast sequence.
Impatient that the TV opportunities weren’t coming after graduation — and tired of working at Peaches Records — he became one of several talented sports writers to start their careers at the Rocky Mount Telegram, including Athletic motorsports writer Jeff Gluck, The News & Observer/Herald-Sun’s Andrew Carter, Hugh Kellenberger of The Athletic College Basketball, freelance writer Michael Graff and FiveThirtyEight MLB reporter Travis Sawchik.
After stops at the Columbus (Ga.) Ledger-Enquirer, The Charlotte Observer, The Courier-Journal of Louisville, ESPN.com and The Athletic, Brown is now using some of the skills that would have helped him in a TV career. He’s combining that with his writing ability on clbrownhoops.com, a website that he launched after leaving The Athletic last fall and is still refining.
Time was right to launch website
He first hatched the idea of the website after ESPN laid him off in 2017, but didn’t pursue it after he began writing for The Athletic.
“This time around, it just seemed like better timing, maybe more ready to try and take the step to do it,” said Brown, who is in his seventh season exclusively covering college basketball since moving from Louisville to Durham. “It’s definitely a work in progress. Even when I was thinking this out, I understood it was going to be a one-man band. I was probably more overwhelmed than I thought because of getting the technical aspect of the website off the ground. I did hire somebody initially. But it still ultimately all falls on me and how I work things, so that’s kind of been a lot.”
He hopes to get sponsorships of certain video series or sell ads on the site. Brown admits that this is a challenge and that he may have to hire somebody to help him with that.
“I haven’t really thought out any kind of five-year plan or anything,” Brown said. “It’s really just kind of me spreading my wings and seeing if I can fly right now. And if that is the case, and I can get it to a point where it’s running smoothly, then I’ll kind of set out and think of a bigger picture. But, right now, it’s really just trying to work out kinks and trying to come to a balance where I’m not killing myself to do it and trying to come to a place where this can kind of be on autopilot.”
Several regular video features
Brown’s site brings in elements you’ll find at school-specific websites and sites such as Carolina Blitz or the Maven, with video elements in addition to writing. Brown’s site has videos from press conferences and of players in postgame media scrums in addition to analysis.
Brown wants to do more writing to supplement several regular video features.
Among those video fixtures are “3-point shots”, a game summary that goes up soon after postgame press availability, with Brown analyzing the three key aspects of the game.
“I’ve done some of that stuff because it’s quick and I can get some content out without having to do a whole lot of research and email. There’s not a whole lot to it, it can be flipped pretty fast,” said Brown, who also does quick interviews on “Give & Go” with players. So far, he’s talked with UNC’s Garrison Brooks, Duke’s Alex O’Connell, Wake Forest’s Brandon Childress and Florida State’s Trent Forrest.
Some of the best videos have been “The Breakdown,” in which Brown and Matt Doherty analyze some aspect of the game or a player. Those have gone from just being recorded on Brown’s iPhone to having a videographer record the segment.
Brown meets the former North Carolina player and coach in Charlotte and does a couple of videos during each visit. Recent episodes have analyzed the issues with the Tar Heels’ offense and the impact that Vernon Carey has for Duke. For both, they analyze clips from games during the episodes.
This month, Brown added a segment called “Pick Up Lines,” in which he and longtime Winston-Salem friend and college roommate Jimmy Kelly make game predictions against the spread.
Ties to his brand
Much like UNC athletics has integrated argyle into all its branding, including on its website, his website gives visitors a reminder of the bow ties the always-dapper Brown wears to games, along with a handkerchief in his suit pocket.
“It wasn’t intentional,” Brown said. “But I was just playing around with different designs or different backgrounds. That’s what popped out to me.”
Across the top of the website are bow ties with a basketball in the middle of each, and one of those bow-tie logos is on the lower right of recent videos.
Brown is probably known for his bow ties more than anybody in sports journalism, with the possible exception of baseball reporter Ken Rosenthal of Fox and The Athletic.
The signature bow ties only started because a fraternity brother of his, Kwame Jackson, started his own line of ties. Brown initially just bought a few ties to support his friend.
“It just kind of caught on from there,” said Brown, who decided to wear bow ties when making contacts while covering games for the Courier-Journal at various schools. “I adopted basically wearing bow ties exclusively because nobody else was wearing them. And, to me, it was just another way to try to stand out, so people would know me as the guy with the bow ties. It all kind of worked together to try to build up a bigger network in college basketball. And it worked out.”
While the scope of his site might appear to be limited to Big Four schools, he says that’s only for budgetary reasons. He says that he’s working on a Louisville-related story and that his emphasis is on the ACC, not just the league’s North Carolina schools.
“If there’s a larger basketball issue, like if the James Wiseman situation were to happen right now as opposed to before I had the website up, I’d probably write something on it and give my opinion on elite-level players and their status in college basketball and that kind of stuff,” Brown said.
Weighing the news vs. pop culture
With more of a digital focus at newspapers and the entire media landscape evolving, Brown has seen major shifts in the last five to 10 years in how people like their news delivered and what interests them.
“News is no longer just news. It’s so much more like pop culture now,” he said, pointing to the Pittsburgh-Duke game when Mike Krzyzewski admonished Duke students for including Pitt coach Jeff Capel in a chant.
“People are more interested in that than actually why Duke won the game,” Brown said. “That might have just been a sidebar back in a day. Right now, that’s what’s going to go viral and get the hits.”
Indeed, Brown did write about that confrontation. It was particularly appropriate for him since Krzyzewski was standing right in front of Brown while yelling at the students.
“It’s a little bit challenging to try to find a balance between what I consider to be real news and just kind of the snackable content, if you will, to throw out and feed the social media masses,” Brown said.
Through his years in newspapers, he covered several prominent basketball programs as a beat writer, including Winthrop for The Charlotte Observer, and Western Kentucky, Indiana and Louisville for The Courier-Journal and UNC for ESPN.com.
“I feel like I’m trying to definitely leverage that experience and contacts that I’ve built into good content,” said Brown, who credits that for convincing Doherty to do the “Breakdown” videos.
Brown had written about Doherty’s CBD venture for The Athletic in August and Doherty said, “whatever I can do to help, let me know.” Brown was hoping to get a coach to help with that sort of video when he ran into Doherty at a Wake Forest game. Doherty, an analyst for the ACC Network, was quickly convinced once Brown explained the process.
“I actually thought about trying to do something like that, even if I was still with The Athletic,” Brown said. “Getting a coach to sit down as opposed to me just doing a film breakdown based on what I saw. I felt like it needed a little bit more legitimacy, and having somebody with credibility to sit down and also give a point of view of what’s going on.”
Since leaving the Courier-Journal, where he also covered college football in addition to the Triple-A International League’s Louisville Bats for nearly two seasons, he’s been able to focus entirely on basketball.
“It’s not that I don’t enjoy covering others. And I still watch other sports a lot too, but basketball is my favorite,” said Brown, who was a guard and forward at North Forsyth High School.
Covering rising stars at most stops
He ended up on a baseball beat when Gannett scrapped the Courier-Journal’s longstanding Indiana University beat in favor of using coverage from the Indianapolis Star. Going from covering the Hoosiers to the Bats beat wasn’t terrible, though. Among the players he covered on that team were Aroldis Chapman, Joey Votto and Deion Sanders.
At nearly every newspaper stop, there were rising stars. While at Rocky Mount, he covered a sophomore football player at Southern Nash named Julius Peppers.
“He was obviously a raw talent as a sophomore,” Brown said. “But man, that dude was big. Even back then, bigger than those other kids and just kind of a natural athlete.”
While working for the Rock Hill, S.C., bureau of The Charlotte Observer, Brown broke the story of Winthrop hiring Gregg Marshall and later covered the Final Four when Marshall guided Wichita State there in 2013.
At the Courier-Journal, he covered Western Kentucky when its head football coach was Jack Harbough and the coaching staff included Jim Harbough and Willie Taggart. The Hilltoppers won the 2002 Division I-A (now called FCS) championship.
“I just used to love the way Jack was a storyteller,” Brown said. “He was an old-school coach and he would talk about his time under Bo Schembechler and it was fun. He made it fun.”
A UNC grad but never a Tar Heels fan
Any sports writer can cover their alma mater objectively. But you should never assume that just because a writer went to school at UNC that they were a Tar Heels fan. Brown is a case in point.
He grew up a Maryland fan and cheered for Georgetown in the 1982 NCAA final when the Hoyas lost to Carolina on Michael Jordan’s jumper and Fred Brown’s errant pass. Brown might have ended up attending Maryland if not for the much-lower in-state tuition at Carolina.
In Winston-Salem, where most classmates were UNC fans, with pockets of fans of the other Big Four schools, he cheered for the Terps.
“I basically just went totally left field and adopted a team and nobody else was talking about. But it’s also because I liked the way they played, like Adrian Branch and [Len] Bias, obviously, and Keith Gatlin,” said Brown, adding that he liked how Maryland had four uniform colors at a time when that wasn’t done. “That was my squad. I tend to kind of be — or at least back then — a contrarian. I was never going to take the school that was most popular.”
The first big-time college basketball game he attended was a Carolina home game — but, of course, against Maryland — on Feb. 20, 1986. Bias scored 35 points in a 77–72 overtime victory to give the Tar Heels their first Smith Center loss.
“I was a huge Len Bias fan,” Brown said. “I’ve still got the ticket to that game and my little pictures that I took and everything like that. I’m going to write something, just from my personal experience with that game and how it related to college basketball. ACC basketball in particular.”
Other than writing a few stories for The Daily Tar Heel when Steve Politi (columnist at The Star-Ledger of Newark, N.J., and a former News & Observer sports writer) was sports editor, Brown didn’t write much about sports while at UNC.
Brown had various roles for Black Ink, including editor, and mostly wrote music reviews.
Since leaving The Athletic and discontinuing the “Sibling Rivalry” radio show on WCHL (AM 1360 and FM 97.9) with his brother Chris, he’s appeared more often on Capitol Broadcasting Company radio shows. He’s filled in on “The Sports Shop” when a host is off and appeared on “Adam & Joe.”
“I’m glad when I’ve had opportunities,” Brown said. “I always have fun with it but I don’t envision ever being a real radio personality. But I definitely enjoy going on and interacting like that.”
When he’s not on the basketball beat, he’s a runner with a goal to complete all six world major marathons. He’s run New York City, London, Berlin and, last year, Tokyo. That leaves him only needing to run Boston and Chicago to finish all six.
Brown says that he likes marathon training, even when long runs reach 20 miles.
But his focus is covering hoops during his first season working for himself on his website to ensure that the endeavor has a long run.
“Adam and Joe” moves up in national mid-market ranking
Barrett Sports Media’s survey ranked “Adam & Joe” — the weekday afternoon drive-time radio show on WCMC-FM (99.9 The Fan) — the No. 6 mid-market afternoon radio show for 2019. It only ranks behind shows in Oklahoma City, Memphis, Buffalo, St. Louis and Pittsburgh. The survey defines mid-market as No. 21 market in the country and lower.
The show, with hosts Adam Gold and Joe Ovies, was No. 17 for 2016 and No. 9 for 2017. “The Clubhouse with Kyle Bailey” on Charlotte’s WFNZ (AM 610 and FM 102.5) came in at No. 13 on the 2019 list of 20 shows.
“Adam and Joe” finished a point ahead of a Cleveland show in the point system (20 points for first place and 1 point for 20th place) in voting by 47 radio professionals from 30 cities and 18 companies. Voters were asked to consider 2019 ratings, industry track record, reputation, influence and the ability to consistently entertain and inform.
According to Nielsen, here is where North Carolina radio markets rank: Charlotte-Gastonia-Rock Hill No. 23, Raleigh-Durham No. 38, Greensboro-Winston-Salem-High Point No. 48, Greenville-New Bern-Jacksonville No. 93, Fayetteville No. 129 and Asheville No. 221.
Maven sites in Triangle rebranded
Last month, the Triangle’s Maven sites suddenly rebranded with new names that don’t include “Maven.”
HeelsMaven, which still doesn’t have a publisher after the departure early last month of Brant Wilkerson-New, became “AllTarHeels,” DukeMaven became “BlueDevilCountry” and PackMaven became “AllWolfpack.”
“Not all of the sites have changed, and not all of them were Maven to begin with,” Scott Kennedy, the general manager of Maven’s sports division, said via email. “But we’re trying to localize the brand a little better to resonate with team fans.”
Kennedy wouldn’t give a reason why the localized name excluded Maven branding.
McCann writing for The Triangle Tribune
John McCann began writing stories last month as a correspondent for The Triangle Tribune, which calls itself the voice of the black community in the Triangle.
McCann was a sports writer at The Herald-Sun covering UNC sports before leaving in January 2017 to be the public relations coordinator for the Chatham County Schools,
Among the stories he’s written were articles about N.C. Central forward Paulina Afriyie and the Raleigh Firebirds.
North Carolina-related sports stories of note
There was a huge cheating scandal in Major League Baseball, but, as Shawn Krest wrote in the North State Journal, there aren’t all that many secrets in college basketball, particularly for conference games.
In The Athletic, Brendan Marks visited R.J. Davis, a McDonald’s All-American headed to UNC, in his hometown of White Plains, N.Y. to talk to him, his family and his coach. Marks writes about how Davis learned from the tougher competition in New York City, persevered through a big injury and initially not getting from elite-level colleges. Those offers came after an impressive run through the AAU circuit after his junior season.
In The N&O and H-S, Carter looked into the decline of Wake Forest basketball since the death of Coach Skip Prosser. There have been many factors and some bad decisions that have made Deacons home games go from a vibrant atmosphere that kept fans coming back to a mostly empty arena with little life.
On ESPN.com, Myron Medcalf wrote about his trip with the N.C. Central men’s basketball team for a couple of its early-season “buy games” against Power 6 opponents. He documents the challenges of balancing school and basketball during those draining road trips.
After the death of Kobe Bryant and one of his daughters spawned the #Girldad hashtag, Ed Hardin, in the News & Record of Greensboro, wrote that the death of Bryant’s daughter hit home more for him. That’s because he could relate to raising girls who were active in sports since he has two adult daughters.
In The N&O and H-S, Chip Alexander wrote about Andrei Svechnikov’s second NHL season, which has included some ups and downs and “lacrosse goals” that have created plenty of buzz for the Carolina Hurricanes forward.
In The Washington Post, John Feinstein wrote about Gene Corrigan, the former ACC commissioner who passed away late last month. He documents how Corrigan’s style is unlike most league commissioners these days.
From a devastating injury last season to returning as a reserve, it’s been a challenging last few months for N.C. State’s Grace Hunter. In The N&O & H-S, Jonas Pope IV writes about how she dealt with those tough times before hitting some huge 3-pointers in a win at Duke.
Why did Steve Spurrier end his college football coaching career in the middle of South Carolina’s 2015 season? The Athletic’s Josh Kendall talked to the former Duke coach about that and his regrets about how things ended in Columbia.