Tonight’s ESPN2 WNBA Draft marks start of something new for coordinating producer

Stanford's Chiney Ogwumike (l) is expected to be among the first players selected tonight in the WNBA Draft. She and other collegiate stars participated in a WNBA Fitness Day on ESPN's campus on Sunday. (Joe Faraoni/ESPN Images)
Stanford’s Chiney Ogwumike (l) is expected to be among the first players selected tonight in the WNBA Draft. She and other collegiate stars participated in the WNBA/ESPN Fitness Day on ESPN’s Bristol, Conn. campus on Sunday. (Joe Faraoni/ESPN Images)

Coordinating producer Kate Leonard will work her first WNBA Draft telecast tonight (8 p.m. ET, ESPN2/WatchESPN) from Mohegan Sun Arena in Uncasville, Conn.

A staple on ESPN’s college basketball production, Leonard will tackle her first year overseeing ESPN’s WNBA coverage, including assigning commentators and crews on the 20-game regular-season schedule, the WNBA Playoffs and all production elements tied to the telecasts.

Front Row sat down with Leonard to get her take on covering the 2014 WNBA Draft:

What do you hope to bring to the WNBA Draft telecast?
There are exciting changes to the WNBA Draft this year. The event is moving off ESPN’s Bristol, Conn. campus and relocating to the Mohegan Sun Arena, the home court of the Connecticut Sun. The Sun has the first pick in the Draft and the league is anticipating a crowd of approximately 900 people, which will bring a new dynamic to our Draft coverage.

We have developed new animation looks for player highlights and the opening tease elements and will be utilizing virtual graphics to further enhance the production. We will discuss the new CBA [Collective Bargaining Agreement], Magic Johnson’s ownership [of a portion of the Los Angeles Sparks] and the upcoming FIBA World Championships. And throughout the coverage there will be in-depth interviews with WNBA President Laurel Ritchie and top players such as Chiney Ogwumike, Stefanie Dolson and Shoni Schimmel. We will provide all-access coverage with Ogwumike, to bring the viewer inside the Draft Day experience.

Talk about your path here at ESPN.
I started at ESPN in 2002 as a production assistant in the Event Production department. Over the years I have worked as a graphics producer, ISO producer, associate director, game producer and as senior managing producer. I have worked on college basketball throughout my time at ESPN, but have also had the opportunity to work on college football, college baseball and softball, tennis, motorsports, MLB and X Games.

As the coordinating producer for the WNBA this season, are there any aspects to your job that you haven’t tackled before?
This will be my first experience working on the WNBA, so I am learning each day how the coverage differs from the other sports on which I have worked. ESPN has a great working relationship with the league and there are unique opportunities for player, team and referee access as well as opportunities to bring unique perspectives to our game coverage. It’s an exciting sport to be a part of and our talent and production teams have a great deal of enthusiasm and passion for the project.

Who are some of the people you have you learned from at ESPN?
Over the last few years I have worked closely with senior coordinating producers Jay Levy and Dave Miller on college basketball. They have given me the opportunity to impact production philosophy and guidelines, provide support and feedback to production crews and collaborate with other departments on the overall direction of the sport. Jay and Dave continue to provide me with guidance and challenge me to take on new responsibilities. One of the most impactful things they have taught me is the importance of encouraging creative thinking from our teams and providing the leadership to help bring new concepts to life.