This article, written by Dylan Webber, was originally published in The Red & Black.
Mackenzie Engram is preparing to work professionally in sports, but not in the way some would imagine the second leading scorer of a nationally ranked college basketball team would.
As she enters the final part of her senior season on the Georgia women’s basketball team, Engram finds herself applying for internships at places like CNN and Turner Sports rather than preparing for the WNBA draft.
Engram has dreamed about working in sports broadcasting since she enrolled at Georgia. But that dream actually started even before she got to college. In eighth grade, while visiting Georgia, she had the opportunity to meet Maria Taylor, who was a local sideline reporter at the time. There was a lot about Maria Taylor that Engram looked up to. Among them, it was Maria Taylor’s confidence Engram admired most.
“She is a woman force and I love it,” Engram said. “For her to be on a show, the only female, the main one, it’s definitely inspiring.”
At that point, it was mostly just admiration from afar. It wasn’t until Engram’s junior year at Georgia, nearly seven years later, that her relationship with Maria Taylor grew. Engram got the opportunity to participate in a shootout on the SEC Network. That event didn’t involve Engram’s Georgia teammates though. Instead, it was Maria Taylor, then with the SEC Network, and Engram against Marcus Spears and Tim Tebow.
But that wasn’t even the highlight for Engram. The best part of this opportunity came the following day when Engram got to shadow Maria Taylor around the set and see just how everything works on the back end of broadcasting. For Engram, this was the moment when Maria Taylor became more than just an idol of hers. She had become Engram’s mentor.
Maria Taylor didn’t decide to help Engram just because she was a basketball player, though. She had several qualities that Maria Taylor saw and knew would translate well to the broadcasting world.
“She was outgoing and well-spoken,” Maria Taylor said about Engram. “She was very interested. She wasn’t afraid to talk to me. She wasn’t afraid to voice what she was interested in or express it.”
When Maria Taylor later came back as a guest speaker for the team, she and Engram set up a time to talk over the phone about what Engram should be doing to get experience in the field. As Engram already knew a good bit about the editing process and the behind the scenes work, Maria Taylor wanted to focus on getting Engram more time in front of the camera. And so the weekly team recap was created.
Every week on Georgia’s athletic website, Engram gives recaps of the women’s basketball team’s week and how their season is going. It gives the Georgia fan base something to watch so it can keep up with the team while also giving Engram great experience reporting in front of the camera.
Engram’s recaps give something that almost no other broadcast reporter can give—a first-person perspective. Usually when sideline reporters talk, it’s always about one of the teams or certain players, never about themselves. But Engram is a player; one of the more valuable ones on her team in fact. So when she gives her summary of the week, she often has to include herself, talking about how she did in games and mentioning her statistics.
That approach was debated for a while because Engram isn’t one to gloat about her success. So for her to go in front of a camera and tell the world how she did risked seeming boastful. Everyone working on the recap though felt it was weirder for Engram to refer to herself in the third-person than it was to talk about herself.
“Whenever I do end up as the top-scorer or second I just keep my part real short,” Engram said. “I try to honor the other people more than myself so it’s not like ‘Yeah, I’m so good.’”
Maria Taylor is on the opposite end of that thought. Not only does she think Engram should talk about her own performance, she thinks Engram should leverage it even more.
“A reporter can stand in front of a camera and pretend like they know what’s going on, but Mackenzie was there,” Maria Taylor said. “I told her to put her own spice on it and let people know what it’s really like to be a ‘lady dawg’ because no one else can give that to you.”
For each one of the recaps, Maria Taylor calls and gives Engram feedback. Her main advice has been to focus on the thing Engram first admired about Maria Taylor: Confidence.
That was something Engram struggled with at first. When she first started in front of the camera, she “didn’t want to mess anything up.” It’s a perfectionist mindset that many student-athletes and broadcasters share, Maria Taylor said. When Maria Taylor was just starting out she felt the same way, but she took lessons from her time as a volleyball and basketball player at Georgia to help her move past those mental roadblocks.
“You don’t make every shot, sometimes you miss the free throw,” Maria Taylor said. “You’re not going to be perfect. But some days you’re going to have great games, but some games you’re just going to be a role player.”
She isn’t the only one who offers advice. Georgia head coach Joni Taylor gives her two cents when she can. Coming from a family of educators, Joni Taylor’s advice is rarely about how Engram could be better in front of the camera.
“My mom and dad were both educators. I got grounded one time for ending a sentence with a prepositional phrase… it’s very much a part of who I am,” Joni Taylor said. “There are times where maybe she uses the same word twice in a sentence and I’ll point that out.”
It’s not often Joni Taylor finds mistakes, as she made it very clear that her chances to bust out the red pen on Engram are rare.
Although Engram isn’t there yet, she hopes to be in a position similar to Maria Taylor in several years. Not just as a broadcast reporter for the biggest sports network in the world, but as a mentor for young people interested in the field. She doesn’t have the ability to help those kind of people yet, but she does help those that she can in her current position as a student-athlete. Engram will stay after games or respond to direct messages on social media to offer advice to young fans who aspire to be like her. She has also talked to high school Fellowship of Christian Athletes students to share her journey and help inspire others.
Maria Taylor feels like it is a duty to make sure young broadcasters and student-athletes “have the tools or the role models they need” to find success in the field. Engram sees how much Maria Taylor helps, and realizes with what she’s already doing now, that the sky could be the limit with how much Engram could help others if given a similar platform as Maria Taylor.
With four regular-season games, the SEC tournament and the NCAA tournament, the end of Engram’s playing career may be rapidly approaching. But as she exchanges her jerseys for more business-like attire, a new phase of her athletics career is just beginning.