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Rare Air: Katy Winge steps up with the Denver Nuggets (part two)

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The Denver Nuggets analyst joins a rather exclusive club in her new role with the team. Today, the second half of an enlightening conversation with Katy Winge.

As the Denver Nuggets opened the 2018-2019 season, they announced the addition of a new radio and televison analyst to the Altitude crew. What made that news historic was that the hire was the uber-talented Katy Winge (@katywinge), who had already endeared herself to Nuggets Nation the previous season as an in-arena host, segment producer, and interviewer. Winge’s obvious skills catapulted her into a game-day position as the first female analyst in Denver Nuggets history. Denver Stiffs was fortunate to get to know Winge a little better, just as an exciting Nuggets season gets underway. Today, part two of two, talking about how Winge sees this upcoming Nuggets campaign and more. If you missed part one, you can find it here.

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Mike Olson, Denver Stiffs: We were talking about your love of Colorado and these Denver Nuggets… If I’m not going to get you into trouble, who is your favorite Nuggets player on the court?

Katy Winge: (laughs) Oof. Not cool. So tough to say. From a basketball standpoint, it’s got to be Gary Harris. I just admire him so much as a player. It’s a close call, as it’s between him and Jamal Murray for me. I love watching Jamal because of the player he’s growing into, and the passion he plays with. I see so much potential in him to be a game-changing point guard, and I think he’s so close to being there.

Gary is just so consistent. I know they call him “Mr. Consistency” and “Mr. Reliable”, but he’s also so smart, and the way that he plays reminds me a lot of the way I used to play, reading defenses and being able to counter the way they’re guarding you. He works so hard on both ends of the floor. He’s a really good defender, and it’s not because he’s the most talented or quickest or strongest or fastest, he just outsmarts people. He works smarter, not harder, even though he does work really, really hard. So, watching Gary defend and be in the right place at the right time and compete with some of the best guards in the NBA and hit game-winning shots is what makes it for me. Seeing him make cuts when his defender is sleeping, or get into the pick-and-roll with Nikola Jokic… for a basketball nerd like myself, I get giddy watching it.

Olson: You and I seem to share very similar opinions that way. That game winner against OKC last season has been the desktop on my computer since the day after he hit it.

Winge: Right? I mean, the easy answer is Nikola Jokic. I always say, “Jokic is gonna Jokic”. He’s getting some really well-deserved attention. Nikola still amazes me, but I weirdly actually now know to expect that amazement from him. I think Gary is a severely underrated player in the NBA, and I truly enjoy watching him play.

Olson: What about your favorite person for interviews, be it players or coaches?

Winge: I love interviewing Michael Malone. He’s just great to talk to. First off, he’s just good people, which I love. He doesn’t give you generic answers, which I really appreciate. He’s colorful, and funny, and wonderful to be around.

As to players, all of the guys have such unique personalities, and that’s one of my favorite aspects of my job. It makes for an interesting challenge, because once you get to know them, you have to tailor your approach to them. You can’t ask the same question of Nikola that you would Jamal or Gary, because that blanket question won’t get the best answer out of each of them.

Olson: Forgive the impolite interjection, but I’m not sure everyone serving in your role as an interviewer has figured that out.

Winge: (laughs) Well, thank you. To your question, I really love interviewing Will Barton. His story is just so incredible, which you know, as Adam (Mares) did such a phenomenal job on that recent double podcast, and it really shone through. Will is everyone’s go-to when you need a quote, the guy you talk to when you need someone to give you something meaningful that you couldn’t have just made up from a templated response yourself. He provides context and gives thoughtful answers. He’s just exceptionally easy to work with.

Still, it’s a tougher question as to who my favorite player is in interviews. I’m very lucky. We have a great locker room. I’m also fortunate that I have established a pretty good relationship with all of these guys. Because of that, they’re all willing to help and chat, and give me the information I need to be able to do my job.

The best part is they know I’m trying to help them. One of my favorite parts of my job is being able to give these players a platform to connect with the fans and inspire people in the way that I want to inspire others through my role. It’s very cool to able to do this with all of these different personalities.

Olson: As an analyst, you get both sides of the coin, as you also have to be critical and look for where things aren’t working as well. Where do you think this Denver Nuggets team most needs to improve?

Winge: I’m not as concerned as some about defense. I think this team can outscore teams if they really want to. It would be great to play good defense, absolutely, and that’s where everybody is pointing right now. For me, the biggest area of continued improvement is consistency. I want to see the “young guys” move beyond being the young guys, even if they are the third-youngest team in the NBA.

I understand age is a thing, but from an experience standpoint, all these guys have a year or more of solid NBA experience under their belt. That means each of them should know their role, be bought in, and bring consistency. Consistent effort, consistent shooting, consistent defense, consistent communication. All the little things that the team can control should be controlled. For me, that’s what it really comes down to. Can we get to a point with these guys that you know exactly what you’re going to get every night, at least with the starting five, but hopefully also deep into the bench. When these guys can get that consistency piece in place, it’s going to be a huge step in the right direction.

Olson: Speaking of a year under a belt, you also have one with this team, and so you’ve seen these changes taking place over time. What differences do you see in the team coming into this season?

Winge: Confidence, for sure. One of the first questions I asked Jamal Murray at Media Day was what would be different for him this season. He half-jokingly said, “I’m a vet now.” He may have been partially kidding, but in a weird way, he’s right. Jamal has already had so much to contend with. So many of these guys have. The team is coming into this season with much higher expectations for themselves. You keep hearing everyone talking about the team saying, “playoffs, playoffs, playoffs”, but for the team, you can see it’s much deeper than that. You see them taking on the task of getting better every day. They all want to be better every day.

It’s amazing to see that all of these guys are bought in. They worked really hard in the offseason, and are really dedicated to taking that next step together. I feel really fortunate to have come to this team when I did. I saw them work so many kinks out last year, and now I’m seeing them start to apply those learnings on a more consistent basis.

For example, in the first regular season game, they were down with four minutes left, and there was no panic. In seasons past, there very well might have been. This year, guys took over and calmed everybody down. Gary hit the shot that he did, and made very good decisions down the stretch. Will Barton was bringing guys together and talking to them, telling them to be the tougher team, and play for each other. Everybody played their role.

For them to know those roles, and not be worrying about things like fighting for a spot on the floor is huge, as everything is established. They all know what they are capable of and what each of them is going to be, all the way from roles to rotations. There may still be a few question marks on the bench from night to night, but for the core team, everyone knows their spot, and that has been much better for everyone this year.

Olson: It obviously plays into your perspective that you are so passionate about the game, and how it’s played. Do you still play? Aside from broadcasting, how are you still involved with the game?

Winge: I wish I could play more than I do, honestly. It’s just a matter of finding a court, which I know sounds ridiculous. I’m on a court all day, every day. But organized basketball is something that I miss every single day. If you think about it, I’m around the game all the time, so not being able to suit up is really hard.

Olson: It’s taunting you!

Winge: Exactly! But make no mistake, when the Nuggets go in to watch film, or any time that the team isn’t on the floor, and I’m in the arena, I’m getting shots up. I can’t resist. I can’t not shoot it. When we did our Media Skills Challenge, if you talk to any of the guys that were there doing that, I went into full competitor mode. I almost left that day a little embarrassed as I realized that was a completely recreational fun-based skills challenge, and here I was absolutely trying to win. It’s so tough to flip that switch. I would love to be able to play in a league, and anytime the staff gets together to play pick-up or during open gym time, I’ll go and play if it fits my schedule. Sadly, I don’t get to play organized basketball much at all. It’s a very rare occurrence for me.

Olson: So, definitively a competitor. In that mindset, what accomplishment are you proudest of as a player?

Winge: I’ll go back to that shift in college with the coaching change where we had eight girls either quit or transfer. The fact that I finished and played all four years and took over that team the way that I did is something that I am exceptionally proud of. To say I made it and gave back to that program that believed in me, even with the sacrifices, still touches me a lot.

There are more. Starting in high school as a freshman was one. Scoring my 1,000th point was another. The basketball I did it with still sits on my dad’s dresser, and it says “1,000th point” and is signed by me. Getting a college scholarship, not having to pay for school while playing Division I basketball, and being able to give that back to my parents who gave so much to me. So it’s bigger than one accomplishment. For me, I am proudest of how the game impacted and changed me, and all that came from that, more than any individual numbers.

Olson: I feel like my follow-up question is a no-brainer, but… What are you proudest of as a broadcaster?

Winge: Well, I mean… where I am right now, I guess. I know you figured that would be the answer, but this has been crazy. You are my fourth or fifth interview in two days. So many people beyond the media have reached out to say they’d love to chat with me, parents, students reaching out to pick my brain, wanting to chat and get some pointers. It’s all so humbling, and I’m so grateful.

You’ve been thanking me along the way for my time, but I’m so grateful for your time. I wouldn’t be here if it weren’t for so many people who gave of their time, and so I’m simply trying to pay it all forward. I’ll go back to that video from Jenny and Doris. To even be in the conversation with those two, is… it’s just so surreal. It’s unbelievable.

My greatest hope is that there’s someone watching, whether it be a girl or a guy, that sees me accomplish this dream, and that someday they’ll see me on a video congratulating them on how awesome it is that they’ve achieved another step. To have that moment would be amazing. Something to aspire to. That to me is what it’s all about. I love the game of basketball, but at the end of the day it’s just a game. It’s a huge part of who I am, but it’s also a platform to me to be an inspiration for little girls who want to play in college or take up a sport. A way to help them be confident in who they are, and have goals to work for.

Beyond that, this is an opportunity for me to bring people together, no matter what is going on in the world. To connect player to fan, connect franchise to communities, and give these guys a platform to inspire others to play. For me to act as an example for those who want to be broadcasters. I love the sport, but for me, it’s so much more than a game.

Olson: Exceptional. So, the other part of being a big competitor is that constant improvement you mentioned. Getting better every day. What is your greatest challenge as a broadcaster, and where do you want to improve/grow?

Winge: It’s a great question. For me, because this role is so new, it’s all about sharpening up these tools and being the best I can be. I sometimes catch myself planning too far ahead. What is the next step, and then what is the next step after that? I have to take a moment to realize that I have achieved something I wasn’t sure I’d be able to get to for a while. So now it’s about figuring out how I can be the best I can be at my role. How do I better communicate over a broadcast? How do I improve my storytelling skills, my interview skills? How do I be concise, informative, and entertaining all at the same time? How can I ask questions in unique ways that may get even better answers out of players or coaches? I want to try to bring new and creative ideas to the table. That’s where the competitor in me still comes out full force. How can I do better?

People have asked me, “what’s the next step?” and for me, it’s about making my skills better and enhancing the broadcast in any way I am able. There is still so much for me to learn about my role. I actually have several roles, which I love. I’m a utility player, and feel like I have so many roles to better learn.

Olson: You have high expectations for yourself. Speaking of expectations, what do you expect this upcoming season for the Nuggets?

Winge: Playoffs. I know that’s a pretty generic answer, but it’s true that yet again that the West is tougher than it’s ever been, and I think people are going to be surprised by this team. For so long, the Nuggets have been overlooked. I think the team has had enough of that, and has a big chip on their shoulder because of it. I love that about this group.

Olson: I’m excited to say the least. Wrapping up here… A lot of Nuggets Nation drops by Denver Stiffs to keep up with their favorite team. Any last words for the fans?

Winge: Enjoy the journey, and stay the course. Enjoy the great times, and it’s ok to be sad about the tough times. But remember that the guys on the other end of the equation are people, and not just players. It’s so easy to get caught up in the competition, and wonder why things are being done, or to propose an easy solution, but you don’t always know what complex things might be going on in the background. They are human beings. Insanely talented human beings who are the best of the best at their craft, but still human beings.

There are going to be ebbs and flows and ups and downs to every season, and I hope people keep that in perspective, because there is no perfect team. We’re not going to win every single game. As long as the Nuggets continue to play the right way, and hone in on what they’re really good at, I think that this will be a very, very fun year. I hope Denver Nuggets fans really enjoy it.

*** Many thanks to Katy Winge for carving out so much time for this interview during a very packed personal schedule. Olson note: this chat took place on 10/19, to give context to the Q&A. If you missed part one, you can find it here.***