Being a Sidelines Mentor

First you think about how small you are, standing next to near 7-foot NBA players. Then, you feel a lot bigger, standing on the court as the shoot-around begins, talking to media professionals and players, and watching the game with a box-view.

Two years ago, I had those experiences as a high school student at ThreeSixty Journalism. It was a sudden realization that I was living my childhood dream of covering major sports events. Even though I had been to Timberwolves games at Target Center when I was younger, it couldn’t compare to the behind-the-scenes experience.

ThreeSixty Timberwolves reporting team 2020
ThreeSixty Journalism’s Junior Reporting team included Scholar Danielle Wong, Aaliyah Demry, Sam Stensgaard, Scholar Zekriah Chaudhry and Program Manager Theresa Malloy.

On Jan. 27 this year, I was able to live it again. But this time I was there mentoring another young student who, like me two years ago, was given the distinction of StarTribune Junior Reporter.

The kid’s name was Sam Stensgaard. We talked a little bit before the game started, enough for me to know that he had NBA knowledge. But that was a small part of the task he had in front of him. There is real intimidation when asked to not only go up to interview strangers, but to interview people you see on TV. On top of that, Sam had an extra challenge.

The locker room was distinctively somber. Only the day before, news had broken about the death of NBA legend Kobe Bryant and his daughter Gianna. Bryant’s impact on basketball was as significant as any player from his generation. He was idolized by the very players that Sam was being asked to interview.

Timberwolves Star Tribune 2020
Through a partnership with the Star Tribune and Pioneer Press, ThreeSixty sent four Junior Reporters to cover the game. Left to Right: Danielle Wong, Aaliyah Demry, Sam Stensgaard and Zekriah Chaudhry.

I gave Sam the best advice/pat on the back I could, “It’s a learning experience, so do your best.” I didn’t realize that his best was, in the face of a daunting task, shockingly good. He approached players in the locker room, respectfully, but with the right amount of reckless abandon needed to be a journalist. He wasn’t afraid, or at least he didn’t show it. Sam chatted up players on everything from shoes to life as an NBA player, and still managed to get around to asking the deep questions about Kobe.

I would have liked to take credit for Sam’s boldness, but as I trailed behind him talking to Gorgui Dieng, Andrew Wiggins, and Jordan Bell, all I could really do was smile. He was a natural. By game time, Sam had enough information to put his story together, and I had more incredible memories to remember for the rest of my life.

Read Sam’s story on Timberwolves website