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ESPN.com starts to feel welcome

By GREG AUMAN

© St. Petersburg Times, published November 3, 2000


By the time college basketball season opens Thursday, Andy Katz will have racked up enough frequent-flyer miles to secure a first-class ticket to the Final Four in Minneapolis.

ESPN.com's senior writer has trekked from practice to practice for the past three weeks, filing previews and postcards from campuses from UCLA to Utah to UConn. His preseason travels end in Gainesville this weekend, and the biggest difference he's seeing this year is that people are actually recognizing him.

"I laugh," said Katz, 32, who came to ESPN.com a year ago after freelancing a weekly column for the site while he covered college basketball for the Fresno Bee. "The difference is like night and day. Suddenly, there's something very unique to national dot coms. We can take advantage of our exposure."

The sheer volume of online readers has allowed Internet writers to leapfrog even national publications in a short amount of time.

"If it's on a site like ESPN.com, you know millions of people are going to read it," said Katz, who sometimes shows up on ESPN's TV coverage and often sneaks his name into the network's "Bottom Line" crawl with breaking news.

And while Katz might have had trouble getting phone interviews identifying himself as an ESPN.com writer two years ago, teams are going out of their way to oblige him now. BYU scheduled its practice earlier so Katz could make it to another campus on the same day, and UCLA practiced on a Saturday so it could fit into his preseason itinerary.

In September, Katz was credited with breaking the news nationally that Indiana had fired coach Bob Knight. But because of an inclination to doubt a story that comes from an Internet source, he has gone out of his way not to report anything too quickly. In July, online reports had Kansas coach Roy Williams taking over at North Carolina, but those reports proved to be premature.

"I knew about Knight at 10 a.m. that morning, but I didn't feel secure enough to report it until three hours later. I wanted a second source," he said. "You have to be that much more careful. It's better to be right than to be first. If you can have both, it's great."

Look for Katz's Florida preview on Monday at ESPN.com, and you can check out the site's college basketball preview at espn.com/ncb/preview01.

CHATWATCH: Bears receiver Marcus Robinson, a high school teammate of Jacquez Green, chats at 1:30 p.m. today at ESPN.com. ... Rutgers women's basketball coach C. Vivian Stringer, who took the Scarlet Knights to the Final Four last season, chats at 2 p.m. today at CNNSI.com. ... Assuming he's still employed, Redskins coach Norv Turner will chat at 8 p.m. Thursday at NFL.com.

TID-BYTES: One day after Al Gore stopped at Bucs practice, Buccaneers.com ran a poll asking fans who they will vote for in Tuesday's presidential election. Sure enough, Gore had 51 percent Thursday night, while George W. Bush had 44 percent. ... CNNSI.com's Don Banks, in his midseason highs and lows, gives the Bucs "worst trade" honors for acquiring Keyshawn Johnson from the Jets. "Keyshawn has hurt more than he has helped Tampa Bay thus far," writes Banks, who honored Johnson's "flashlight' comment about Wayne Chrebet as his "best quote."

- If you have a question or comment about the Internet or a site to suggest, send an e-mail to staff writer Greg Auman at aumanac1@aol.com.

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