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|| News Item: Posted 2008-12-02

Six Covers In 11 Days
On The Road For Sports Illustrated's College Basketball Preview Issue

By Robert Beck, Sports Illustrated

Photo by Robert Beck / Sports Illustrated

Photo by Robert Beck / Sports Illustrated

These are the six Sports Illustrated covers Robert Beck photographed on this cross- country journey.
Welcome back my friends
To the show that never ends
We're so glad you could attend
Come inside, come inside

- Emerson, Lake & Palmer

That was my mental theme song as we beat the college trail shooting six regional covers in 11 days with 12 assistants and a ton of gear. Of course, not every assistant was in the same place. The King of the K traveled with me and carried spare gear and essential cameras. He booked a few students at each campus to lend an extra hand or two. Andrew Loehman was the point man in Oklahoma with Jeff Cavanaugh filling that position in Connecticut. Darrell Miho rode shotgun in Raleigh, NC, South Bend, IN and Pittsburgh, PA. Shawn "Ironhead" Cullen met up with us in Tempe, AZ.

Preparation is everything on a job like this. Problem solving comes in a close second and shooting, while being the most important, actually takes up the least amount of time. Porter Binks, Sports Illustrated's college hoops picture editor, had to arrange the shooting schedule with the athletes. There were two from each campus, the best male and female from their respective basketball programs. He had to make sure gyms were available too. Keeping in touch with SID's was a constant to make sure uniforms, balls, athletes and so on would be there... On time. The magazine’s managing editor and art director came up with the concepts.

My job was to plan the travel, coordinate everyone/everything and, of course, shoot. Twelve different flight segments with six different car rentals and hotel arrangements. Kojo and Darrell rented two sets of gear from Samy’s and sent them on their way to North Carolina and Notre Dame. Loehman trucked one set up to the University of Oklahoma from Austin, TX. Cavanaugh brought a set to U Conn from NY. Cullen rented from Calumet in San Diego and drove across the state line for our Arizona State shoot.

Our first stop was Oklahoma City, a short steers ride to Norman and the practice courts of Blake Griffin and Courtney Paris. KK and I headed to the Sooner practice gym the day before the shoot and met with the SID to make sure uniforms would be pressed and the court would be available. No problem --- until we showed up the next day with our 10 cases of gear two hours early to setup. A cheerleading competition had invaded the premises and our gym was full of tiny, screaming gremlins with too much make-up and moms with too much time on their hands. The security guard was loath to let us in at all. He wanted to make sure our cases did not contain any firearms or weapons. How did he know!!!??? My sneaky Asian friend and I were here to kill all of the nubile growth challenged cheerleaders of the Midwest to keep them from, I'm not sure.

Photo by Robert Beck / Sports Illustrated

Photo by Robert Beck / Sports Illustrated

Kojo Kinno, left, in action during one of the cover shoots as assistants Super David Enarson and Emma Patti battle for a loose ball in the Dean Dome.
Anyway, we were rescued by the building maintenance guy who got us into the women's practice gym. There weren't as many screamers in there. We got half the court. They got the other half. We set everything up and tweaked our lights till they looked right. The girls left and we had about thirty minutes before the talent showed. That's when the "halftime crew" (the guys who do stunts off of trampolines and throw down hard) of the new NBA Thunder showed. They set up and started doing their thing on the half of the court vacated by the girls. By the time we started our shoot I had persuaded them to venture over to the men’s gym. I have found out that many athletes don't react well to shooting instructions when there is a crowd around. Especially if they don't know them.

Courtney showed first (her Dad is Bubba Paris...multiple ring winner and chief protectorate of Joe Montana in the day). She was delightful. Blake Griffin swaggered in, acted tough but was assuaged into smiling and going one on one with Courtney. Shoot one was deemed a success. We had dinner at a gas station on the way back to the hotel (it was fairly late when we finished cleaning up) and parted ways with Andrew at the hotel.

Early the next morning we were off to Hartford, CT via Chicago. We drove up to Storrs and holed up in the local Courtyard for the night. The next morning we headed over to the UCONN campus and met up with the fabulous Jeff Cavanaugh (Heinz Kleuetmeier's #1 in China). Huskie head coach was nice enough to let us set up on the side of the court while the men practiced. The bad news? Our female hoopster, Maya Moore, was over an hour late.

Once she showed (with her mom in tow) she was great. Her counterpart, Hasheem Thabeet, was great too. We had to shoot a couple of extra portraits of these two as they also headlined the college basketball story. Maya is a self-taught drummer so the UCONN band brought a drum set over for us to use. We set it up in the freight elevator and got a nice grungy shot...And an earful of some cool backbeats. Hasheem semi threatened me when I mistakenly called him Hakeem. We made it out of Storrs with some great images.

Next stop: North Carolina. Kojo and I rolled into Raleigh via DC and checked out the Deano Dome a day early. They would give us one end of the court to set up on during the women's practice. Emma and Super Dave, editors with the campus paper, showed up to help us out. By now we were streamlining our set-up. We new exactly the look we wanted and had measured out light distances and ratios. The only changes were made according to how much light reflected off of the floors and the skin tones of the athletes. Rashanda McCants and Tyler Hansbrough were timely but the stiffest subjects we encountered. We had to coach the heck out of them.

Kyle Mcalarney and Ashley Barlow of Notre Dame were the opposite. They were like magic. Kyle was especially into the shoot. They made the long drive from Chi-town worth it. Prior to the shoot KK and I shopped a bit in the Irish Campus store. I picked up a Notre Dame cheerleading Tee and Kojo picked up one of with the little green weenie striking the boxing pose. We blew out of South Bend just in time to miss their big loss to Pitt (football that is). And where were we going? Pittsburgh!

Photo by Robert Beck / Sports Illustrated

Photo by Robert Beck / Sports Illustrated

From left: Andrew Loehman, Kojo Kinno and JP Wilson (a magician who does birthday parties, weddings and Bar Mitzvahs) do a lighting test in the women's practice gym at Oklahoma.
Best part about Pitt? Our hotel was fantastic …The Renaissance downtown. Darrell got the goods on a hot restaurant. Of course, it was $50... just for the salad. Not the kind of place Kojo and I frequent. He couldn't find taquitos on the menu. We did load up on candy (it was Halloween) from the front desk. That's what it’s there for. Right? We shot in another practice gym where we shot Dejuan Blair and Shavonte Zelous, who won the award for the most tats of anyone we shot. They both worked hard and were a couple of my favorite athletes. And the wife of the men's head coach is from my hometown. And my Dad was from Pittsburgh! Enough already.

You'd get giddy too if you only had one shoot left. How 'bout this for the second to the last travel day of the tour: Pittsburgh to Denver to SAN DIEGO. Pick up our bags and jump from United to Southwest for the hour jaunt into the desert. Shawn Cullen had already scouted the gym and we were good to go. Sun Devil James Harden was good. Late, but good. But Briann January was electric. She was energetic and pushed James to push his act a bit. She is also a black belt in judo so KK remained on his best behavior.

And that was the end of the Great College Basketball Shoot. I'll leave you airline/TSA skeptics with this note. We checked gear onto every flight (12 legs in all) and nothing ever went missing. And everything arrived when it was supposed to. All of our flights were on time. Many thanks to the assistants (Kojo copped them from this website. There is hope for all of you!). We needed every spare hand. 'Couldn't have done it without Darrell, Andrew, Shawn, and Jeff either. Those guys know their stuff. And, well, I would have gone goofy without the help of Mr. Kinno.

(Robert Beck is a staff photographer with Sports Illustrated based in Southern California and is a frequent contributor to the Sports Shooter Newsletter. You can see examples of his work at his personal website:

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