- The Washington Times - Tuesday, May 13, 2003

Stacey Dales-Schuman was offered a sandwich the minute she entered the Connecticut Avenue recording studio to tape a few radio spots with her Washington Mystics teammates. Now that she also doubles as a member of the media, someone reminded her about Rule No.1: If someone offers free food, take it.

Don’t worry, she said, she already knew that.

Dales-Schuman is at home behind both a microphone — she cut her promos flawlessly — and a dinner plate. Tough, double-session practices have burned off the calories and she works out on her own, but she still is one of those high-metabolism types who can live on the buffet line and stay maddeningly thin. Some mayonnaise with that? Absolutely. She proceeded to liberally apply the stuff, with apparent glee, from a squeeze bottle. “I’m a hog,” she said while chomping on a giant turkey hoagie.

“She eats like a madwoman,” said Indiana Fever coach Nell Fortner, who worked with Dales-Schuman in the studio during ESPN’s coverage of the NCAA women’s basketball tournament and is one of many who marvels at her appetite. “It’s hilarious. There was food all over the desk. Then with 20 seconds to go before we went on, it’s, like, clear the desk. I tell her she eats like a cow. She grazes all day long.”

Barnyard imagery aside, Dales-Schuman is taking a big bite out of life, on and off the court.

The 6-foot-1 forward made the WNBA All-Star team as a rookie last season, substituting for injured teammate Chamique Holdsclaw. She was second on the Mystics in scoring behind Holdsclaw, but other traits have surfaced. Dales-Schuman is aggressive and intelligent, already one of the team leaders. Mystics coach Marianne Stanley calls her a point forward, adept at seeing the floor and making quick decisions.

Said Fortner, “Her passing is way ahead of most of the guards in this league. She can find the shooter, she can find the open man, and that’s very dangerous.”

Dales-Schuman also can find a connection with an audience. Her ascent as a broadcaster has been swifter and more unexpected than the sudden impact she made on the Mystics. After all, she played hoops most of her life and was an All-American at Oklahoma, but had virtually no on-air experience.

Yet at 23, less than a year after leading the Sooners to the championship game against Connecticut, armed with a communications degree plus quick wit, a gift of gab and telegenic looks, she started working as an ESPN studio analyst during the women’s college basketball season.

During the tournament, her marathon work with Fortner and anchor Rece Davis produced rave reviews within and outside the network compound in Bristol, Conn. Dales-Schuman from the start was bright and energetic, outspoken, funny and not afraid to challenge conventional wisdom. “I think it’s pretty unusual for her to have been so good, so quickly,” ESPN coordinating producer Tina Thornton said.

“You can work at your craft and you should work at your craft, but either you can do it or you can’t,” Davis said. “Stacey can do it.”

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Dales-Schuman was a top high school player in her native Brockville, Ontario, pursued by several American universities (they don’t award athletic scholarships in Canada) and a member of the Canadian National Team. Her game was not a secret.

As a broadcaster, she was discovered almost by accident.

Each year during an NCAA tournament dinner, players are called on stage for some lighthearted banter in what amounts to a roast. At the 2002 affair, the then-Stacey Dales of Oklahoma went up and wowed the audience, which included Thornton and ESPN senior vice-president John Wildhack.

“She was so natural and comical,” Thornton said. “John said to me, ‘You know, we should bring her in.’ She had an innate and natural talent.”

Dales, who married Oklahoma classmate Chris Schuman a week after the Sooners lost to UConn in the title game, was invited to audition at ESPN. The cable network was beefing up its coverage of the women’s tournament, showing all 63 games with regional broadcasts of the first two rounds.

Davis handled the audition, throwing jokes at Dales-Schuman and even needling her a bit. He said he was “stunned” at how well she handled herself. “I knew she had just gotten out of school, but I assumed she had some type of experience,” Davis said. “I was so taken aback. She’s so natural.”

Dales-Schuman said, “I just went in there and shared my thoughts. I tried to be as much myself as I could be.”

Thornton said eight women auditioned, not counting another 30 or 40 who sent in tapes. When it quickly became clear Dales-Schuman would get a job, it was a matter of whether it would be as game or studio analyst. She worked one game, after which veteran play-by-play man Dave Barnett praised her effusively, but ESPN brass decided her talents were best suited to the studio. “She knew how to be succinct and very opinionated,” Thornton said.

Dales-Schuman succinct? She has many qualities, but brevity is not one of them. This would take some work.

“I like to justify everything I say,” she said. “That’s why I’m always long-winded.”

But she learned to pare her comments, practiced making eye-contact with those on the set as well as the camera, and by tournament time she was as prepared as when she wore the Sooners uniform the year before.

“Before the tournament it’s all preparation, learning all the players and all the teams,” she said. “When you get to the tournament, it’s just like a player going into it. You’re prepared. You’ve gained some precision within your offense and now you’re ready for the showcase.”

And, as the tournament progressed, she got even better.

“Watching her grow from Point A to Point B was pretty remarkable,” Davis said.

Having been there, she not only could relate to the players but also relate the experience to the viewer. That’s the hard part. The TV landscape is littered with ex-jocks who know the game but get tangled up putting the thoughts to words.

“I might know a little bit more about basketball than the average person, so I try to put it in a light that’s simple to them, but make it something they definitely wouldn’t have seen or caught,” she said. “Try to put a little different perspective on things. Give them a new approach.”

Said Davis, “I think she got people’s attention. She provoked some of them, which is a good thing for an analyst. I think at times, some people were surprised at how frank she was.”

ESPN did, in fact, get some complaints from viewers and members of the women’s college basketball establishment, including some coaches, that Dales-Schuman was overly critical.

She said she understands.

“I used to watch Bill Walton and I’d think, ‘My goodness, he is so mean, he is so harsh on everybody, why would he say that?,’” she said. “Now, I think he’s amazing. He makes you feel a certain way by what he says and makes you think about something in a different light. Whether you like it or not it forces you to either agree or disagree, which stirs something in the viewer. … As a viewer, I’m not gonna get up and get some chips. I’m gonna sit back down and listen to what he has to say.

“When it comes down to it, I’m just happy to play basketball and I’m fairly passionate about it. Whatever I’m doing, I feel I’m that way. I just try to be honest and use the knowledge I’ve gained and share it with people.”

Most of the audience seemed to favor this approach. “She gained a lot of respect from coaches for expressing her opinion,” Thornton said. Fortner, with whom she had some spirited exchanges, praised Dales-Schuman’s knowledge and preparation. Coincidentally, the Mystics open the regular season against Fortner’s club in Indianapolis on May 31. Dales-Schuman told Fortner to make sure she puts a weak defender on her. “I’m gonna be giving her all kinds of grief,” Fortner said.

Even Stanley, who is not easily impressed, gave Dales-Schuman a thumbs-up.

“I thought she was refreshing,” Stanley said. “I think she has a great future ahead of her. She has her own thoughts, she can communicate in a user-friendly way. I think people can tune in and learn something from Stacey.”

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Dales-Schuman’s on-air personality reflects her basketball personality, which reflects her personality, period. In other words, she is constantly revved. “That’s who she is,” said teammate Coco Miller, the league’s most improved player last season.

“I will get really feisty,” Dales-Schuman said of her on-court demeanor. “You can’t let people take advantage of you. You really can’t. You’ve got to stand up for yourself, and your teammates.”

This attitude, she said, derives from growing up with her older brother, Burke. He was a punter on his college football team in Canada, was in the Pittsburgh Steelers’ camp last summer and will try out with the Montreal Alouettes of the Canadian Football League. “There was bloodshed,” Dales-Schuman said. “We fought over everything.”

The third pick in the 2002 draft (and the highest pick in Oklahoma history), Dales-Schuman did not lack confidence last season and was not exactly shy. But now, no longer a rookie and more familiar with the team blueprint, she is even more vocal. She is, said Stanley, “not afraid to be a voice in the huddle.”

Nor on the air, which has proved to be a good thing not just for herself and ESPN, but the WNBA, as well. With the league and each team hungry for positive exposure, Dales-Schuman has been unearthed as a valuable resource, a bright, articulate and attractive face, which happens to be “a face people can identify with the Mystics,” Stanley said.

“I think this is great for our fans,” Dales-Schuman said.

But she makes it clear that basketball is priority No.1, that aside from her love of dogs (she has two yellow labs and a golden retriever and works as a spokesman for the National Humane Society), her greatest passion is the game. Despite all her preparation and work in the studio, Dales-Schuman made sure ESPN gave her sufficient gym time.

“I just try to do things wholeheartedly,” she said. “There’s no other way. When I step on the court, I’m gonna try to do everything the coach wants me to do, try to be the teammate I need to be and the leader I need to be. It’s not always perfect. But I try to do it the right way.”


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