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Column: Rooting for good people

By Matt Stypulkoski
On April 15, 2014

Sports journalism is founded on one basic tenant: no cheering on press row.
Yes, there are other basics of the craft, like the inverted pyramid style of writing, how to beat a deadline and the fact that press box calories don't count (when offered free food, you take it without hesitation). But none of those fundamentals are as important as that singular phrase that defines how writers across the country approach their jobs.
Fandom gets left behind when you pick up the pen, paper, recorder and laptop. Sports writers file stories, not cheerleading puff pieces. We tweet facts and observations about the teams we cover, not rah-rah support.
So when I signed up for the UConn women's basketball beat prior to the 2012-13 season, I dutifully dropped my emotional connection to the team. Seriously. The outcome of the games no longer mattered - it was all about the stories.
But here's the thing: good stories are fueled by good people.
And that's why, no matter how emotionally disconnected a reporter may be from a team they will never be as disconnected from its players, coaches and staff. Plus, we're human. We want good things to happen to good people. We all like to see genuinely pleasant people succeed.
That goes regardless of uniform. I've had the pleasure of meeting and speaking to a number of impressive athletes over the past few years, most of which were nothing but pleasant, but a few will always stick out above the rest.
I only spoke with Chiney Ogwumike a couple of times, but when she went No. 1 overall in the WNBA Draft Monday night, I was happy for her. Same goes for Shoni Schimmel at No. 8, among others.
With Stefanie Dolson and Bria Hartley, that feeling was magnified.
For the pair to get drafted in the first round was great. For them to be reunited on the Washington Mystics by a trade, seemingly out of left field, later in the night was even better.
I bumped into Stef inside Mohegan Sun Arena at some point near the end of the draft, about 45 minutes after the Hartley-to-Washington trade had been made official. The look on her face was incredible; nothing matches the expression of someone bursting with pure, unconcealed joy. The same giddiness was evident in her voice, a level of elation that doesn't come around often.
Frankly, she deserved it. I hope Bria wore the same look and spoke with the same glee.
For the past two years, both seniors have been graceful and never less than kind to the media that surrounded them at even the most opportune moments. It would have been easy for either of them to be short with reporters after a crushing loss to Notre Dame or a nail-biter to Baylor. It would have been even easier to take a practice off, so to speak, and be reluctant to talk openly.
But not once did either blink an eye. Instead, they handled themselves with class and a level of professionalism that will serve them well at the next level. They enjoyed it - making jokes and jabs with the media instead of shirking them as some might be tempted to do. And not once was there a hint of ego in any of their conversations. Humility was aplenty.
Simply put, they were nice. They were fun. They were good people. That makes them easy to pull for.
So when Stef wore that look of joy, I wore one for her. She deserved it. They both did. The good ones always do.
And that's why, come tip-off in May, I'll be rooting for them both. Good luck in D.C., ladies.

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