Transition game: Former ESPN NFL producer Amina Hussein helps steer new-look KIA NBA Countdown

ESPN’s Amina Hussein. (Joseph Faraoni / ESPN)

The revamped KIA NBA Countdown — ESPN and ABC’s NBA pre-game show — is off to a hot start with new personalities like Bill Simmons and Jalen Rose, various new segments and a new philosophy: Focus on big picture NBA topics and storylines.

The coordinating producer behind the transformation? Amina Hussein.

She joined ESPN in 2003 as an ESPN Radio producer. Most recently, she served as coordinating producer for Sunday NFL Countdown.

Prior to the 2011-12 NBA season, Hussein had the opportunity to head west to take the reins of KIA NBA Countdown — along with producer Kim Belton — which emanates from ESPN’s LAPC. It’s a great fit for the Oakland, Calif. native.

Front Row had the opportunity to catch up with Hussein to talk about her ESPN career and the new-look Countdown.

How did your journey to ESPN begin?
Before working at ESPN, I worked at KNBR 680 AM/1050 AM, which at the time was the No. 1 sports radio station in San Francisco. They had rights to the 49ers, Giants, Warriors and Raiders. After the Raiders lost the Super Bowl back in 2003, as a producer I needed a change. I went straight from Oakland to Bristol — I don’t think MC Hammer or Too Short wrote songs about that!

What do you remember about your first day at ESPN?
I remember feeling like it was growing and had great people and amazing producers that I could learn from. After being here a while I found the time to grow as a person, a radio producer and eventually a TV producer.

Why is KIA NBA Countdown a better fit for you than Sunday NFL Countdown?
It’s definitely more challenging. Sunday NFL Countdown was already established long before I was involved. KIA NBA Countdown is an opportunity for producer Kim Belton and me to build a foundation for our premier NBA studio show. When there is something to build upon, it gets me excited.

From a personal standpoint, growing up I always did whatever my older brother did. I played flag football, soccer and in the end I fell in love with basketball. I remember those “back in the day” playground battles. We would determine teams by shoes – Converse versus Nike. Sorry Magic, but I was always on Team Jordan.

Basketball was like the theme song for my life growing up. If there was a game on, I was watching it. If there was a game to be played, I wanted in. So when the opportunity to work on Countdown came around, it was an easy decision. I needed my theme music back!

How do you evaluate the progress of Countdown this season?
Honestly, we are a work in progress. We put ourselves in a tough position by not knowing all of our talent until October, but I’m happy with the foundation. It’s a really smart group of analysts with great minds for the game of basketball. I compare them to any good team — we have the pieces, now we just need more reps. I’m excited to watch the show evolve.

KIA NBA Countdown name association:
Magic Johnson: Respect. Like all of the great point guards, he is a leader and is not afraid to speak his mind.

Bill Simmons: The Sports Guy. He’s knowledgeable and not afraid to say what is on his mind. Not to mention, he’s a Celtics fan living in Laker country and sitting with Magic, which makes for an interesting dynamic.

Jalen Rose: Student of the game. Jalen brings some youthfulness and perspective from a newer generation. Although, I have asked him to stop singing on the set, but I probably won’t win that battle!

Michael Wilbon: Connected. He has been covering the NBA for a long time and is respected by players and coaches alike. He always brings an inside perspective.

What’s the No. 1 change you want to make to Countdown this season?
To steal a quote from Pardon the Interruption producer Erik Rydholm: “Less boardroom, more barbershop.”

(L-R) Michael Wilbon, Magic Johnson, Jalen Rose and Bill Simmons on the set of the Kia NBA Countdown show. (Scott Clarke / ESPN)