Top Talent On the Court and In the ESPN Compound at Champions Classic

The madness of March may still be far, far off [heck, we haven’t even reached Thanksgiving yet] but ESPN is already prepping for, perhaps, its biggest college hoops productions of the year.

ChampionsLogoTonight, four of the top five men’s hoops programs in the latest AP Poll meet at Chicago’s United Center as ESPN hosts the State Farm Champions Classic, a doubleheader that pits top-ranked Kentucky against No. 2 Michigan State and No. 4 Duke versus No. 5 Kansas.

“It’s like having the Daytona 500 start your NASCAR season,” says Jay Levy, senior coordinating producer for ESPN’s men’s college basketball coverage. “I can’t imagine a Final Four that could ever be this great from a matchup standpoint.”

Led by the producer/director tandem of Eric Mosely and Doug Holmes – who are fresh off the successful broadcast of the Armed Forces Classic in South Korea last Friday – the top ESPN college basketball production and operations team is in the Windy City for tonight’s event.

According to Tom Gianakos, Director, Remote Production Operations at ESPN, set up could not begin officially until early this morning due to the Bulls game last night. F&F Productions’ GTX 15 A and B units were able to park yesterday and some early work on graphics and preproduction were able to get done, but in-arena equipment set up began early this morning at 6 a.m. CT.

ESPN will deploy 18 cameras throughout the United Center for game coverage as well as College GameDay, which will have its traveling set in place in the northwest corner of the lower bowl behind Section 118. Among the arsenal are a healthy dose of specialty cameras including two super slow-motion cameras (one a midcourt handheld, the other in a slash position) and Fletcher cameras both above the backboards and behind the glass.

Levy says much of his inspiration for the camera positions for tonight’s event were inspired by ESPN’s coverage of this year’s NBA Playoffs.

“I remember…I saw Lebron go up for an alley-oop in a Heat game and thought that the shot behind the glass looked incredible,” he says. “Now, you can’t afford to do that on all of your games but for games like this it affords us a special look that I think will be interesting for fans and its probably not an angle we’ve shown much, if at all, for college games.”

There will also be a jib as well as a collection of roving RF cameras with RF capabilities provided by Broadcast Sports, Inc. with help from CP Communications on the audio side.

The opportunity to broadcast a college game out of an NBA venue had Levy, Gianakos, and the rest of the operations team considering even bringing in a Fly Cam.

They chose instead to add a third up camera near the to primary game cameras, which opens up the opportunity for more isolation shots; a key feature for a pair of games loaded with big name talent including Kansas’ Andrew Wiggins and Duke’s Jabari Parker.

On the gear side, this year’s Champions Classic marks a new level of commitment to on-site technology. In the previous two years of the event, the HD team would share resources with the ESPN 3D crew, including an I-MOVIX super slow-mo. With the 3D department shuttered, however, Levy’s team is on its own.

Today, there is no less of a technology complement, only, for the first time, all of that gear is entirely dedicated to the HD production.

There will be plenty of top notch graphics to see as well. The ESPN-designed ART (Advanced Replay Tool) system will see airtime. The high-end telestration system allows graphics to be instantaneously embedded within a replay, providing commentators greater visual resources to communicate analysis to viewers.

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