Sleeping With The Beat Writer: Twelve Questions With The Washington Post's Tarik El-Bashir

Georgetown fans have had many reasons to smile recently.  In addition to Georgetown's uplifting play on the court has been the coverage of the Hoyas off of it.  Tarik El-Bashir, the Hoyas beat writer for The Washington Post, has been a breath of fresh air for Hoyas fans who regularly look to The Washington Post for insight into their favorite team.  Tarik has infused life into The Post's coverage, regularly utilizing social media tools to bring fans Hoyas news as it happens.  And since we here at THE GLOBAL PHENOMENON think breaking news is casual, we decided to sit down with Tarik (read: begged him until he had no other choice) and ask him a few questions.  Ladies and gentlemen, our twelve questions with Tarik El-Bashir.

We're just past the mid-way point of the Big East season. What are your thoughts so far?

Is this is a trick question? Or a not-so-subtle jab at my season preview (The Post, Nov. 4) that began: 

"The consensus top three teams are Syracuse, Villanova and Pittsburgh, though not necessarily in that order. Georgetown, [analysts] said, belongs in, but on the periphery of any conversation about title contenders." 

So let's see. Syracuse is in eighth place and fading fast, while Villanova's dropped to fifth and struggling, too.  I'll take the credit for Pittsburgh, though. I knew my Panthers wouldn't let me down. (I went to Howard, by the way, and don't even know anyone who went to Pitt).  Other than being mostly wrong about everything, I would say we're exactly where I thought we'd be on Feb. 2.

11 More Questions after The Jump:

How has your day-to-day life changed since making the switch from the Capitals to the Hoyas?

The biggest change has been on the home front. The Hoyas don't grant media access to practice and, of course, don't travel nearly as much as the Caps. So I'm spending more time with the wife and kids. Which has been great.

Until, of course, Loudoun Co. Schools canceled school Wednesday-Friday for snow last week, and again yesterday for the threat of freezing mist. Now I almost wish I were on a road trip to Edmonton. Almost.

What is one thing that has surprised you about covering the Hoyas?

Within a few minutes of getting my new assignment, I called up both of my predecessors, Liz Clarke and Camille Powell, for a detailed scouting report. So very little has caught me completely off-guard.  However, there has been an adjustment period. Coming from a pro beat where there was a ton of access on a daily basis (15 minutes each day to "work" the locker room and 10 minutes with the coach) to a lot less access has been, um, different.

How has the advent of social media and the proliferation of bloggers changed the way you cover teams?

The rise of blogs (especially informative, well-written ones such as Casual Hoya) has forced me work harder, that's for sure. Because I know that I'm not the only game in town anymore. Ten years ago, The Post's beat writer was in competition for scoops and readers with The Times' writer. Now, I'm in competition with anyone who's got a computer, an internet connection and a Twitter account.

Doesn't mean we can't be friends, though.

Does the Verizon Center give reporters any food? If so, what's the one must have during the game?

Bottled water.

Seriously, though, each arena tenant (Caps, Wizards, Hoyas) provides food for staff, television and radio and working media. I'd love to give you a Zagat rating, but I rarely eat the entrees, which range from chicken parm to fajitas.  It's not the quality or scary behind-the-scene horror stories about arena food. It's the timing. I usually grab a bite at home around 3:30 p.m., then head to Verizon Center, where I arrive by 4:30. I'm not hungry again until after the game and I'm about halfway down the Dulles Toll Road, which means only one thing: a trip to the late night drive thru at Taco Bell in Herndon.

How do you establish a level of trust and rapport with the players and coaches you follow?

It takes time. It takes people skills. And there's no instruction manual. But it begins with gaining their respect through detailed and accurate articles that praise 'em when they're good, criticize 'em when they're bad, but in the end, are always fair and balanced.

Have you noticed a difference between the way professional players and college players react to criticism in the media?

It's been my experience that top athletes (regardless of whether they are paid or not) fall into three categories when it comes to the media. There are those who aren't bothered by criticism. Those who take it personally. And those who take it personally but won't admit to it.  All three, from what I can tell, are represented in the Hoyas' locker room.

One of the most difficult aspects of sports reporting is that your audience is generally people who watched the game the night before and have some idea of what happened. What do you look for to create an interesting story the day after a game?

In my old age, I've made a conscious effort to write articles the way I want sports news presented to me. Which is to say, clear, concise and, whenever possible, with a focus on why something happened, not simply what happened. I'm also a sucker for a great quote, especially those that provide a glimpse into someone's personality or what they were thinking during a critical sequence in the game.

Your articles and insights have been incredibly well-received by the Hoya faithful. What do you think makes you stand out?

That's very flattering. But I'm not entirely sure how to answer this one. So I'll borrow a phrase from JTIII: "We just do what we do."

If you were asked to re-write your season preview article based on what you know now, what would change?

There you go again. I get it. Jim Boeheim and Co. aren't looking so hot right now.  Sue me.

Having written about the Caps for a few years before moving to the Hoyas, are there any parallels between Coach Boudreau and Coach Thompson? How about between stars like Ovechkin and Wright/Freeman?

I do see similarities between Coach Thompson and Boudreau (even if the thought of comparing the two conjures images of Arnold Schwarzenegger and Danny DeVito in 'Twins'). Both are respected by their peers and players. Both seem to be unable to make a small segment of the fan base happy no matter how many games they win. Both are still looking for the Big One.

As far as comparing players, Alex Ovechkin and Chris Wright definitely have similar playing styles. Both are flashy and, on occasion, a little reckless. Austin Freeman, however, reminds me more of Alexander Semin. Quiet, not really interested in the spotlight, sublimely talented.

What has been your personal highlight of the Hoyas season thus far?

As I've said a hundred times during my 15-year career, I sleep the same whether the team I cover wins or loses. That said, like any sports junkie, I still love a thrilling game in a raucous arena. And the Hoyas' OT win at Mizzou was about as wild a game/atmosphere as I've witnessed.

Follow Tarik on Twitter! @TarikElBashir

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