They’d noticed one another in weight rooms and training rooms and even whisked by one another in the hallways on the way to class. Then one day Emily Potter stopped Grayson Murphy in her tracks, extended her hand and properly introduced herself despite Murphy knowing full-well who the 6-foot-6 star center is.
“I’m going to interview you,” Potter said.
Utah’s senior record-breaking center whipped out her phone and started asking questions to Murphy, the now three-time all-American senior cross-country and track and field runner. That’s Potter’s job. To ask questions. She is, despite already having her marketing degree in hand, exploring the journalism realm.
Potter is a beat writer.
When she isn’t rejecting shots, adding to her double-double tally or dropping in nifty finishes around the basket, she covers Utah’s cross-country team as part of the sports staff for Utah’s student newspaper, The Daily Utah Chronicle. The senior from Winnipeg, Manitoba, is, as Utah coach Lynne Roberts explains, quite multidimensional in her interests for such a high-level athlete.
“That’s not always the case,” Roberts said. “If it’s something that can augment and add to her [college] experience, she’s going to do it. And I love that about her, and I fully support that.”
Prime example: Once Potter received her degree, she immediately pondered what she’d do next in her final year of eligibility.
“I thought journalism might be cool,” she said. “I wanted to try something different.”
So she took a full course load of communications classes this past summer, joined the Student Media Council after just stumbling upon an application online, where she eventually met the editor-in-chief of The Chronicle. Megan Hulse told Potter the sports staff always is looking for writers. Potter immediately reached out to the sports editor.
Learning the beat
She quickly passed her intro to journalism. Potter found the email for sports editor Brittni Colindres and said she was interested in joining the staff. Potter sent a resume and some writing examples from the travel blog she posted on during Utah’s summer trip to Italy. Colindres hired Potter in August, assigned her a beat that best fit her hectic schedule and let one of Utah’s most-recognizable athletes give it a go.
Colindres said Potter, who does not receive compensation for her stories, regularly meets her deadlines of one to two stories a week, and the two convene on Wednesdays in the office for side-by-side edits on her stories.
“It’s so nice having somebody like her on the staff,” Colindres said, “because she wants to improve her writing skills and she makes time to learn how she can get better.”
It took some time for Potter to learn the intricacies of cross-country.
She worked to understand the scoring systems and how athletes like Murphy prepare to run distances so quickly. Interviews with runners typically are done in person, times carved out around each student-athlete’s schedules or sometimes between classes. Potter catches up with the Utah coaches over the phone.
Her experience in front of microphones and cameras has helped the transition, too.
“I know that sometimes the questions can get repetitive, and I don’t want to ask boring, cliche questions,” she said. “It’s kind of been interesting for me to see both sides and to have experience on both sides.”
Murphy finished eighth at the 2017 NCAA Cross-Country Championships in Louisville, Ky., on Nov. 18, the highest finish ever for a Utah distance runner. Even after an interview is wrapped up, Murphy will flip it on Potter.
“I’ll still ask how her game went or ask her, ‘Do you have a game this weekend?’” Murphy said.
Potter and Colindres recently came to another agreement: When Utah resumes classes after the winter break in 2018, Potter will be back and on a new beat. They haven’t settled on one yet. In the meantime, Potter’s working on her first column. It’s about athletes and how they approach New Year’s resolutions.
“That’s what they assigned me,” Potter said.
Records in sight
The side-by-side edit sessions that dissect her articles have a parallel for Potter, who is as competitive as they come, someone who loathes losing on the court, bowling or even performing subpar on a test.
“I kind of think it as the same way as basketball: Every day we’re told we’re doing something wrong,” she said. “It’s hard. You have to put your ego aside and just take the criticism and try to get better. I take notes [because] you don’t want to make the same mistake over and over again, just like you wouldn’t want to do on the basketball court.”
While her byline will continue to appear on The Chronicle website, she often will be the subject of stories throughout the remainder of her final year with the Utes. She’s almost guaranteed to break another school record Saturday afternoon against Saint Mary’s, just one block shy of becoming Utah’s all-time blocks leader. She currently is tied with Lauren Beckman, who had 225 career blocks from 1998 to 2002.
Potter’s 32 career double-doubles are tied for 10th in the country and tied for first in the Pac-12 among active career leaders.
“I’m not surprised by what she’s accomplished,” Roberts said. “Her want to be great is as high as you’d want.”
Potter said yes, she’s scored a bunch of points and blocked a bunch of shots. She’s still trying to grab more rebounds — that’s one of her goals in her final year. But the finality of her career sinks in every once in a while.
“We have really big goals for this season,” she said, “and I would much rather win games than be the all-time blocks leader if that meant we got to go really far in the postseason. I don’t think I’m this amazing player.”
Roberts said Potter is on the WNBA’s radar. A 6-6, left-handed center, Utah’s coach explained, is like being 7-2 and left-handed in the NBA. Potter admitted there are days when she lets her mind wander, envisioning life as a pro. It’s there she has to reel herself back in. She’s promised herself to stay in the now.
For the next few weeks, it’s just basketball.
And after the New Year, a new beat, more interviews, more reporting.
“I think you really have to just fake it until you make it,” joked Utah’s record-breaking center.
UTAH’S EMILY POTTER
Height • 6 foot 6
Position • Center
Class • Senior
Hometown • Winnipeg, Manitoba
On-court accolades • An All-Pac-12 honoree, Potter’s 32 career double-doubles are tied for 10th in the country and tied for first in the Pac-12 among active career leaders. She’s one block away (225) from breaking the program’s all-time blocks record.
On the beat • Despite already having her marketing degree in hand, Potter utilized her last year of school to try journalism and since has started working on the sports staff ofThe Daily Utah Chronicle.