April 12, 2024 

With passion and care, Andraya Carter is elevating women’s basketball

'We are so passionate about the game'

CLEVELAND —  Long before Andraya Carter blossomed into one of ESPN’s most popular analysts, she was finding a way to make money driving for Lyft — figuring out what was next in her life after her basketball career concluded before she hoped.

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After all, Carter had the goal of playing basketball until she was 50. Her body had other plans, a twist of fate that turned out to be a silver lining for viewers. Despite a series of injuries, including tearing her anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) in high school and then labrum and meniscus while competing as a standout guard for the University of Tennessee, Carter’s spirit remained unbroken. Carter bid farewell to the sport she loved, but her journey was far from over. Little did she know, it was just beginning.

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These days, Carter’s radiant smile and vault of basketball wisdom are everywhere. 

In addition to the pregame shows between the Elite Eight and national championship, Carter appeared on ESPN shows First Take, SportsCenter, PTI and Get Up during a dizzying seven-day stretch. These appearances were significant steps forward in elevating the visibility of the sport and created additional excitement for women’s basketball.

Accordingly, social media has buzzed with compliments.

You will see more of Carter when ESPN televises the highly anticipated 2024 WNBA Draft Presented by State Farm® live on Monday, April 15, at 7:30 p.m. ET from the historic Brooklyn Academy of Music in Brooklyn, N.Y. Ryan Ruocco will return as the host on site, joined by analysts Rebecca Lobo and Carter along with reporter Holly Rowe. Lobo and Carter will break down the picks with reactions and in-depth analysis, while Rowe will interview the newest 2024 draftees following their selections.

Her insightful analysis, enthusiasm, passion and knowledge have made the 30-year-old Carter can’t miss television during the NCAA women’s basketball tournament, which concluded with South Carolina winning its second national championship in three years.

ESPN’s pregame team of Elle Duncan, Andraya Carter and Chiney Ogwumike, on site in Cleveland at the national championship game, prepares for the pregame show. (Photo credit: Rob Knox | The Next)

The explosive growth of this season’s women’s basketball ratings culminated with a record 18.9 million viewers watching this past Sunday’s national championship game between Iowa and South Carolina. The transcendent trio of Carter, Elle Duncan and Chiney Ogwumike have not just provided context around each of the games, but have also been instrumental in growing the sport.

Their connection, compassion and colorful commentary have brought the games to life, opening a window in to the souls of the competing student-athletes. During the Final Four, they were joined by former South Carolina standout Aliyah Boston and former Purdue head coach Carolyn Peck, the first Black woman to win a national championship as a head coach.

“To get all this attention is kind of wild because our focus is the game,” said Carter while eating a plate of eggs and bacon last Thursday during ESPN’s media availability at Rocket Mortgage Fieldhouse. “We don’t ever be like, oh, let’s plan this moment in the show where we can dap each other up. We’re friends who are passionate about the games and comfortable being ourselves as we have this conversation.”

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Fearless in sharing challenging takes

From breaking down the nuances of Caitlin Clark‘s jumpers, to dissecting JuJu Watkins‘ jab steps, to helping viewers understand how Duke upset Ohio State in the second round, to breaking down how South Carolina completed a perfect season, the ESPN crew shared information in a fun way that made viewers care. 

Carter is also fearless in sharing a challenging take, as she did while questioning LSU’s defensive strategy on Clark or the controversial moving screen at the end of the UConn-Iowa game. Carter shared her thoughts on that final play during SportsCenter with Scott Van Pelt, which immediately followed the national semifinals. With 6.3 million viewers, it was the most-viewed SVP edition of SportsCenter on record.

“They are generational talents and are at the top of the food chain as analysts and hosts, no matter the sport,” veteran analyst LaChina Robinson said of the ESPN women’s basketball studio crew. “When the spotlight was the brightest, they were at their best and, because of them, people were curious about what they’d been missing. Hopefully, their success helps executives reassess the value of Black women in leading studio shows or other media coverage areas.”

Carter’s road to television stardom consisted of a lot of grinding. She drove for ride-share companies, worked as a graduate assistant in the University of Tennessee’s athletic department and was a fitness trainer. She was eventually asked to announce women’s basketball games at Tennessee, where her commentating career began. Carter also analyzed women’s basketball games at Kentucky and South Carolina and developed a friendship with NBC sportscaster Maria Taylor.

Still, Carter only envisioned doing it for a short time. 

“I was just doing it for the money,” Carter acknowledged with a laugh. “I didn’t think I was very good at it, but I enjoyed it. At that time, $300 for announcing games was fire to me. Other people said, ‘You can do this, and think about pursuing announcing,’ but I remember saying, ‘I’m a fitness coach that calls games on the side.’ I said that for years, and now I’m a basketball analyst. I’m thankful because it was the people around me that pushed me. Once I locked in on it, I was like this is what I want to do also.”

It’s hard to believe that this career wasn’t her first choice, especially since she’s comfortable in front of the camera and has superior basketball knowledge. However, a significant accelerator for Carter was being part of the initial cohort of the Rising Media Stars program in 2019, started by Robinson. There, she received media training on and off camera, gained confidence and sharpened her interviewing skills. 

‘One of the kindest and most thoughtful people’

While she is talented in front of the camera, what Carter does away from the spotlight makes her unique. Robinson remembers Carter taking time from her busy schedule to review and offer feedback on reels of students in the Rising Media Stars program, writing personal notes and intentionally visiting family whenever she returns to her hometown of Atlanta.

“She is one of the kindest and most thoughtful people you’ll meet,” Robinson said. “She makes everybody feel seen and valued. She goes out of her way for people who can’t do anything for her. There’s a humility about her that is so special and unique in someone as big a superstar as she is. Upon meeting her for the first time in the media world, I was struck by her knowledge of the game, work ethic and discipline. I am glad people are beginning to see her personality.”

Carter is prepared with insightful opinions shaped from hours of diligent studying, reading women’s basketball materials, being a former player and breaking down film. Discussing basketball is Carter’s safe space. After all, she was a relentless, fierce and dynamic player for the Volunteers.  She’s applying that same tenacity to improving as an analyst. In addition to learning from her teammates, she watches Mark Jones, Doris Burke, Malika Andrews and J.J. Reddick, picking up things from each that help her improve.

Andraya Carter poses for a photo pregame of the national championship contest. (Photo credit: Rob Knox | The Next)

Impact felt across women’s basketball

Carter’s impact has been far-reaching and significant. When they aren’t playing, athletes are watching her. Coaches listen to the ESPN trio while they are in their offices constructing strategies. Fans hang on to their every word.

“I just think it’s amazing to see not only women on TV representing our sport but also Black women on TV,” Iowa sophomore guard Jada Gyamfi said in the locker room during the Final Four. “The representation has grown a lot from when I was a little girl, from broadcasters to people playing the sport. So, I think that’s the biggest thing I love to see. They do an excellent job. That makes my heart happy, seeing that we finally have representation on TV.”

Leading into the history-making South Carolina-Iowa matchup, the one-hour NCAA Women’s Basketball Championship Special delivered 2.9 million viewers. South Carolina head coach Dawn Staley‘s face lit up when discussing the gameday crew.

“With Elle, Draya, Chiney, and now Aliyah and Carolyn Peck, Black women holding it down, taking it to another level,” said Staley during the pre-championship press conference. “And it’s quite remarkable. To hear them break it down — and I don’t like to watch it, but I’ll tune in and watch. That’s my background noise. I am wondering if I can find some strategy in this. Can we do this? It’s intentional. They’re doing a magnificent job. They are adding a dynamic to our game and doing it beautifully.”

Following the national semifinal games, Carter displayed her playful personality, transforming the near-empty arena into a personal studio by posing for photos, laughing with colleagues and offering advice to young women. Before the national championship game, Carter spent a few moments engaged in a deep discussion with analyst Ros Gold-Onwude of Yahoo Sports.

She does plenty outside of basketball, too. Carter’s love of snakes has been well documented, but people may not know that she’s an avid reader history books, listens to different genres of music and watches tennis. She also has a 3-1 record as an amateur boxer. Being at Wimbledon is a bucket list item for Carter, who clarified that basketball is her main thing.

“We are so passionate about the game, and the players are so good that it creates this energy between us on the set,” said Carter. “We’re still thinking about the game. So those natural personality moments happen because we’re comfortable, right? Our focus is the game. Having people positively react to our shows and how we’re talking about the games and players has been cool.”

Written by Rob Knox

Rob Knox is an award-winning professional and a member of the Lincoln (Pa.) Athletics Hall of Fame. In addition to having work published in SLAM magazine, the Philadelphia Inquirer, the Washington Post, and Diverse Issues In Higher Education, Knox enjoyed a distinguished career as an athletics communicator for Lincoln, Kutztown, Coppin State, Towson, and UNC Greensboro. He also worked at ESPN and for the Delaware County Daily Times. Recently, Knox was honored by CSC with the Mary Jo Haverbeck Trailblazer Award and the NCAA with its Champion of Diversity award. Named a HBCU Legend by SI.com, Knox is a graduate of Lincoln University and a past president of the College Sports Communicators, formerly CoSIDA.

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