January 7, 2017 6:28:38 PM
Finding a comfort level and building confidence take time.
In past years, Andraya Carter would get in the gym and work on her shooting or other skills so she could play a bigger role for the Tennessee women's basketball team.
These days, Carter is talking on the phone, watching plenty of television, and pouring over statistics to find her comfort level and to build confidence, albeit in a new role.
At 1 p.m. today on SEC Network+, Carter will work as color commentator for the game between the No. 4 Mississippi State women's basketball team and Tennessee at Thompson-Boling Arena in Knoxville, Tennessee.
"I have to take the Lady Vol hat off because I don't want to be seen as a former Lady Vol who is commentating," Carter said. "I want to be seen as a young professional who is commentating and doing a good job for both teams."
Carter decided in August to forgo her fifth season of eligibility due to persistent pain in her left knee. Carter's decision was one of two blows coach Holly Warlick's team suffered prior to the start of practice. Tennessee also is without guard Te'a Cooper, who opted to have surgery for a knee injury she suffered last summer. Cooper averaged 8.6 points per game and was named to the Southeastern Conference All-Freshman Team.
Carter averaged 4.8 points and 2.3 rebounds in 36 games (25 starts) last season for a team that went 22-14 and advanced to the Elite Eight of the NCAA tournament. The 5-foot-9 guard from Flowery Branch, Georgia, was a member of the SEC All-Freshman Team in 2013-14 and was named to the SEC Academic Honor Roll multiple times. Unfortunately, her career was plagued by injuries. She missed more than half of her senior season in high school due to a torn anterior cruciate ligament in her left knee. She played the last few games of her prep career with a partially separated shoulder.
At Tennessee, Carter injured her right shoulder as a freshman and played in only seven games before deciding to redshirt. She started 21 and 31 games the next two seasons, but she said the pain in her knee made it difficult for her to run and to cut. She said she hoped last summer she would receive good news from doctors about her prospects for playing in 2016-17, but she said the pain forced her to think more about her future and her health.
"It was a decision I kind of already knew was coming," Carter said. "I had to think about what I wanted my life to look like after basketball. It kind of fell into place after that."
Carter originally majored in journalism and broadcast media, but that field of study required a lot of work outside the classroom that didn't fit well with her schedule as a Division I basketball play. After switching her major to communication studies, Carter said she was better positioned to transition from player to broadcaster. She said she has received a lot of support from coaches, former teammates, and friends in getting started in her new role. She credits current broadcasters Nell Fortner, Andy Landers, Maria Taylor, Carolyn Peck, Gail Goestenkors, and Kara Lawson for giving her advice and for helping her build connections in the industry.
Carter is completing work on her master's degree as she works as a graduate assistant at the Thornton Academic Student Life Center. She said she stays busy working on the academic side with Tennessee's swimming and diving and softball teams.
In addition to that work, Carter has served as a color commentator for three SEC games. Following the MSU-Tennessee game today, she said she will work the LSU-Tennessee game on Feb. 2 in Knoxville. She said she continues to polish her skills and to reach out to other schools to see if she can work more games.
"I think I have done a pretty good job," said Carter, whose most recent game was the North Carolina Wilmington-Tennessee game in Knoxville. "I did a couple of sessions in the audio booth so I could practice speaking and saying statements so I could hear myself, and I have worked on my breathing and how to produce that consistently.
"I felt most comfortable in my third game. A big part is staying comfortable and feeling confident. I have high expectations, but I have to remember I have only done three games, but I think I have gotten some good feedback and that I can only go up from here."
MSU coach Vic Schaefer visited with Carter on Friday morning to talk about the matchup against Tennessee. The veteran coach said Tennessee has taken a "next-player-up" approach after losing key contributors like Carter and Cooper. He still thinks the Lady Volunteers present a formidable challenge with weapons like center Mercedes Russell and guard Diamond DeShields.
Carter said Tennessee is "playing with a lot more joy and playing hard," which are differences she sees from last season. She said playing together is the key for team she feels "has the potential to do really great things."
"Everybody had to step up and everybody has gotten better," Carter said. "I think everybody on the team knew they had to step up . ... It is like any team that has to deal with injuries. When you have injuries, everybody else has to step up. When you have that and the players are holding everybody accountable, that is when it starts to pay off."
Schaefer said he had a "good" visit with Carter and that the SEC Network+ crew was outstanding. He feels Carter is going to be a "great addition" to the pool of women's basketball commentators.
"The whole crew was very thorough and very professional, and I appreciated that," Schaefer said. "When you're a former player and you have that IQ piece, it really brings something to the table that somebody else who maybe does tennis, golf, or Major League Baseball, they may not quite get that piece."
Carter said she plans to keep watching games to learn about all of the SEC teams because she never knows when her next chance will come. She said she also is working on the finer points of broadcasting like being concise, learning how to improvise, telling why something happens, and not stating the obvious. She knows she has plenty of work to do, but she believes she is making progress.
"I have a lot of really good people in place who have critiqued my work and have helped me," Carter said. "I also have had a lot of support from my coaches, family, and even my teammates."
Follow Dispatch sports editor Adam Minichino on Twitter @ctsportseditor
Adam Minichino is the Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.
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