LEXINGTON, Ky. (Feb. 23, 2022) — Some people spend years doing career searches and changes trying to find the perfect job for them. But for one University of Kentucky College of Communication and Information alumnus, all it took for him was six years of watching sports on TV.
Michael Eaves, a 1994 journalism graduate, has spent over 25 years reporting on the sports world. From creating short clips in the local WKYT newsroom, to anchoring for ESPN in Los Angeles and Bristol, Connecticut, his decorated career in sportscasting is ever-growing. And this month when he starts hosting ESPN’s “NBA Countdown,” Eaves will have crossed off the last and most important item of his career bucket list.
“It takes a while to figure out exactly what you want to do,” Eaves said. “But fortunately for me, I figured it out and that was my only goal, and that’s the only thing I’ve ever done from a work standpoint. And thankfully I’ve been doing it for a while.”
Growing up with energetic cousins and a father who loved golf and baseball, sports was a passion implanted in Eaves from a young age. He played his father’s favorite sports, plus basketball and football. While he excelled at basketball, he was naturally talented at golf. Eaves even became the first Black golfer to qualify for the Kentucky High School Athletic Association state golf tournament during his senior year, much to the pride of his father, and was inducted into his school's hall of fame.
Like many young athletes, Eaves had the hope of one day going pro. But like so many other athletic hopefuls, it just wasn’t meant to be for him. However, he knew sports was his passion. He spent every day watching SportsCenter and various games around the nation on television from the fifth grade up to his high school graduation. When it came time for him to leave his hometown of White Plains, Kentucky, to further his education, he knew that if he wanted to be a sportscaster, journalism was his ticket.
“I wasn’t looking at the broadcast as much as I was the athletes, but in the back of my mind, I think that seed was being planted,” Eaves said.
While sports were always in the cards for Eaves, working in television wasn’t. In fact, going into his senior year at UK, he had no broadcast experience, except for one student radio show. That was until he was hired as an associate producer of the WKYT morning show by John Bobel, then news director for the station and husband of Associate Director of CI’s School of Journalism and Media Scoobie Ryan. Within a week, Eaves went from never having been in a television station to producing local cut-ins to air on the news.
“When I got thrown into that environment in a TV station that very first day, that first week, that first month not knowing anything television production, I was able to pick it up really, really quickly because of some of the skills that I developed in the first three years of the journalism program just trying to learn,” Eaves said. “And that to me is the most valuable aspect of college is that it teaches you how to learn, and at Kentucky, I was taught how to learn.”
After two semesters of learning the ropes, Eaves was hired as a full-time news producer where he was able to sprinkle UK basketball highlights into his cut-ins and learn from the sports department. He eventually got the opportunity to report sports and even anchor at the station. That was his official introduction into the sportscaster world.
“Michael was one of those students who, after talking to him for a little bit, you knew he was going to be successful,” Bobel said. “After starting in the news department, he was recruited by the sports department at WKYT, where he was mentored by the professionals there and flourished. But he never lost sight of the fact that sports is news, and the same high standards that we employed for the newscasts also applied to sports programming. He never lost sight of that on his way to ESPN.”
Once he clocked in six years with WKYT, Eaves went on to talk sports for different stations. He spent about three years in Memphis, Tennessee, working for WPTY before moving to Los Angeles for a 10-year stint with FOX Sports. There, he reported on every local team from the Lakers to UCLA, covering about 140-150 games a year. Once he was tired of that grind, he left for New York to anchor for Al Jazeera America for almost two years.
At this point, ESPN wasn’t even on Eaves’ radar anymore, although it was arguably every sportscaster’s dream network. It wasn’t until his National Association of Black Journalists colleague Rob King, former editor-in-chief and current senior vice president and executive editor-at-large of ESPN, suggested he apply for ESPN that he took the leap to join the sports giant. And since then, Eaves said he couldn’t have asked for a better experience.
In his nearly seven years since joining ESPN, Eaves has traveled the world and lived through once-in-a-lifetime experiences more than just once. He has covered Olympics, his first being in Brazil in 2016. He has covered and was part of the telecast doing live interviews for the Masters, something near and dear to his heart because of its connection to his father. He has covered Super Bowls, All-Star Games, UFC matches and everything in between that sports fans dream of attending. He has even earned six Emmy Awards, a Telly Award and the title of Best Television Anchor in Southern California by the LA Press Club in 2013.
Eaves’ most recent Emmy, and his first since working at ESPN, was a 2020-2021 Sports Emmy Award for Outstanding Studio Show – Daily. As a token of his appreciation, he gifted CI’s School of Journalism and Media with the plaque. His hope is for the award to serve as a symbol of pride and inspiration.
Despite all these achievements, his career bucket list still hasn’t been completed — although that’s right around the corner. Eaves’ number one career goal has been to host a national NBA studio show no matter the network. This February, that ambition will be met as he hosts ESPN’s “NBA Countdown” on Wednesday nights, and his bucket list will be complete before he turns 50 in July.
With a successful career under his belt and years of even more achievement still ahead of him, Eaves advises aspiring sports reporters to put their noses to the grindstone.
“You got to put in the work as if you are a professional athlete,” Eaves said. “What you see in the game is only part of what they actually do for the week. If Steph Curry makes seven threes in a game, he probably made 700 two days before. You gotta do the work, and that’s working on your craft, developing your skills, and that’s when no one’s watching. That’s how you get better and that’s also how you separate yourself from those who want to do the same thing you do because this profession is extremely competitive. So just being able to do the job necessarily is not enough, you have to be really proficient at doing the job and efficient at doing the job as well, and that takes practice, that takes reps.”
The University of Kentucky is increasingly the first choice for students, faculty and staff to pursue their passions and their professional goals. In the last two years, Forbes has named UK among the best employers for diversity, and INSIGHT into Diversity recognized us as a Diversity Champion four years running. UK is ranked among the top 30 campuses in the nation for LGBTQ* inclusion and safety. UK has been judged a “Great College to Work for" three years in a row, and UK is among only 22 universities in the country on Forbes' list of "America's Best Employers." We are ranked among the top 10 percent of public institutions for research expenditures — a tangible symbol of our breadth and depth as a university focused on discovery that changes lives and communities. And our patients know and appreciate the fact that UK HealthCare has been named the state’s top hospital for five straight years. Accolades and honors are great. But they are more important for what they represent: the idea that creating a community of belonging and commitment to excellence is how we honor our mission to be not simply the University of Kentucky, but the University for Kentucky.