NBA host's HBCU roots mostly helped him


Kyle Montgomery is the Atlanta-based host of the weekly interactive talk show "The Jump" on NBA TV and, both part of Turner Sports. Instead of picking a college known for basketball or communications, he chose Alabama State, a historically black university (HBCU) in Montgomery. The unexpected resources -- and lack thereof -- helped motivate his success.

I grew up in Kansas City, Kansas, in a predominantly black area, a tough area that was pretty diverse, with a lot of Spanish, Caucasian and Asian kids. I had only been out of there twice. I could have gone to Kansas State or Kansas, but I would have been a minority. My dad always told me, “You’ve got to get a Southern belle.”

Two guys I knew who went to Alabama State gave it a lot of praise -- how fun the parties were, how nice the campus was, how pretty the girls were. It seemed like the greatest school ever.

The first time I saw the campus was the day my dad, uncle and brother drove me down. Let’s just say it wasn’t what I expected from the pictures on the Internet.

I adapted fairly quickly. I made friends the first week. We called each other by the name of the cities we came from. My nickname was KC. Another guy was D-Town, for Detroit, and another was Chi-Town, for Chicago.

Something inside me did not allow me to walk on the basketball team. Instead, I was playing in the finals of a 3-on-3 tournament when an assistant coach invited me to walk on. The next thing I knew, the head coach didn’t have room on the roster. That crushed me.

But if I had played, no way could I have done what I’ve done in TV.

At most HBCUs, our resources don’t compare to larger universities. There were a lot of things we should have had. I even went four days without hot water in my dorm. The cafeteria closed at 6 p.m.

We didn’t have a TV station. We had a very small "student run" radio station that was, weirdly enough, run by grownups that didn’t go to our school. I made do, thanks to the people I surrounded myself with and self-motivation.

My junior year, ESPNU was teaming with the [Southwestern Athletic Conference] to teach students to operate cameras for football games. I thought it could be my big break. But my professor and local news anchor Deloris Keith said, “You will get lost in the shuffle.” She invited me to her local NBC affiliate, WSFA, to intern with the sports department. I was reluctant, but she said, “Just do it.”

When I tagged along with the sports reporter to a high school football game, I thought, “Wow, he gets paid to do this?” I was hooked. I would be at the station until 3 a.m. trying to figure out their editing system.

In class one day I dozed off, waking up with drool on my face to find out I had missed a group assignment. A young lady said she would fill me in, and we ended up talking about everything but that. Cambreisha Bodney, who has lived in Atlanta since she was 13, and I got engaged my senior year. We both graduated in communications. She’s my Southern belle.

I ended up as WSFA’s first African-American sports anchor in their 56-year history.

To make it like I did, you have to have folks who can really help you out. That’s what I got at an HBCU. It is really up-close-and-personal and allowed me to learn on a one-on-one basis. There were never more than 25 people in one class.

The college experience is different than anything you would experience elsewhere. Football classics are the highlight.

In your Sunday best, you drive to the big game. You get two shows: the football game and the halftime show with our amazing band. Most people recognize the bands from the movie “Drumline,” a pretty accurate depiction.

I always had a respect for sports traditions, but to see it on that scale, presented so differently, really broadened my horizons. It did not change my identity as an African-American; it made me more well-rounded and gave me a sense of unique pride. On campus, I saw so many other young African-Americans striving for the same goals as I was, to be successful. I saw positivity.

I would encourage my 2-year-old son Makhi to go to an HBCU as long as he gets a quality education and has all of the tools necessary to be successful in whatever career he chooses, from the medical field to television.

-- As told to Michelle Hiskey