Last week I had the chance to speak with Ricky O’Donnell of SB Nation. O’Donnell is currently the college basketball editor and an NBA contributor at SB Nation, but his ties to the Bulls and the fan-blogging world are very strong. He still writes for SB Nation’s Blog-a-Bull, and he began his blogging career during his sophomore year of college, after starting the blog Tremendous Upside Potential: A Chicago Sports Blog.
We discussed how he got started, the Bulls future and much more.
Ben Rains: How did you get started?
Ricky O’Donnell: I started my sophomore year in college during 2007. I began Tremendous Upside Potential, a play on a Bill Simmons’ column, focusing on Chicago sports: Bulls, White Sox and Bears. I was writing Monday through Friday every week from a fan’s perspective.
During that time I took an internship at the Chicago Sun-Times, which lasted a few summers, and carried into my first year after college. I focused on prep sports, as the web editor. And I was able to get my foot in the door blogging for the Sun-Times when their regular writers were unable to.
BR: How did you start at SB Nation?
RO: SB Nation’s Blog-a-Bull reached out to me in 2011 to write about the Bulls as a staff writer. After writing about the Bulls for Blog-a-Bull I quickly transitioned into my current role as the college basketball editor, as well as a contributor for the NBA as a whole.
BR: How do you cover the Bulls today?
RO: Well it is still from a fan’s point of view because I have never been given a credential for the team. I wrote about the Bulls in college since I grew up as a fan of the team. And today when I write about the Bulls I still am writing about whatever I find to be the most interesting, which is what I did as a blogger.
Today I write roughly 10 columns a year about the Bulls, but up until recently I wrote a Bulls post every Friday.
BR: How did you find your voice as a blogger?
RO: Practice. I wrote every single day. I wrote about whatever was on my mind or what I found interesting. The tone can be light, funny, or stupid. I avoid being overly technical, especially when blogging as fan because there are too many people writing about the game as if they are an NBA coach or scout. I also read all of the time. If you are writing more than you are reading, you are doing it wrong.
BR: How did you try to build your audience as a blogger?
RO: Well I started before Twitter was popular so it was a bit harder. Back then it was more about reaching out via email to bigger, more established outlets.
After the Bears drafted Greg Olsen, I wrote a fun piece about something ridiculous he did during college for Tremendous Upside Potential. I emailed that article and other work I was happy with to bigger sites and blogs. Deadspin picked up that Olsen article as well as some others I wrote, which was huge.
I made the emphasis on having fun with my writing, from a fan’s perspective. I started off writing really emotional posts about the Bulls. I would write really long post game recaps after every game. And I started doing that for the Bears as well.
BR: What is your offseason like?
RO: Since I cover college basketball and the NBA there is no real offseason. There is no real down time. My biggest time commitments are during conference tournaments and the NCAA Tournament, as well as preparing for the NBA Draft and free agency.
There is no real offseason. I guess I write less at night during the “offseason” since there are no games.
BR: How have you tried to build relationships?
RO: I simply show up and try and talk to people at events. But the biggest thing when you interview anyone or try to build a relationship is to never make people feel like you are taking advantage of them.
BR: Do you work on any other platforms?
RO: Yes I do podcasts and Twitter. I will actually be taking over the SB Nation Snapchat account for the NBA Draft Combine today.
BR: What are you favorite things to do as journalist?
RO: I really like to write features on young players, to introduce them to a bigger audience. The jump from high school to the NBA can go by really quickly for the top players, so that makes what I do more fun.
I try to introduce them as people more than players, and I really enjoy interviewing the high school players.
BR: How do you prepare for an interview?
RO: I always try to prepare as much as possible. I read a lot of the other interviews they have done in the past. And I try to learn a lot about them. My goal is to ask them questions they haven’t heard a million times.
The hope is to try and gain an understanding of who they are. It also helps to interview people around them as well.
BR: How was the transition from more of a fan writer, to more of a journalist?
RO: It really is not that different from blogging. I still have a voice; it is just not as a fan all of the time. When I write features I just try to keep it engaging and compelling, and about something I enjoy, so really not that much has changed.
BR: Your thoughts on the Bulls season?
RO: It was terrible. The front office guessed wrong. They brought back the same roster -besides Nazr Mohammed and drafting Bobby Portis – and thought it would work; even with a new head coach. The Bulls found out you cannot keep an entire team built for [Tom] Thibodeau, without him there.
Lots of Bulls fans want Fred Hoiberg gone, but Hoiberg isn’t that bad. It is not all his fault. It is like trying to fit a square peg into a round hole.
BR: Now their offseason?
RO: The Bulls can trade Jimmy Butler only if they could get a sure-thing prospect like Brandon Ingram in return. But there is no real equal value for him out there, so it most likely will not happen. An example of a quick rebuild that the Bulls should look at for inspiration are the Trail Blazers.
In the draft they should look to add another point guard. In terms of needs, first they need a defensive anchor at center. Then they should try to acquire a two-way wing.
The Bulls have not made a trade since before Thibodeau was in Chicago, so the draft and free agency are how they will try and improve their roster.