She averaged more than 30 minutes per game in her four years in a Wildcat uniform but needed to be ready for a full 40 on January 7. Three seasons removed from her final basket at the Wildcat Center, Kristen Habbel '18 has been doing plenty off the court to arrive at her opportunity to be the color commentator for the Bryant Bulldogs men's basketball game this past Thursday evening.
Habbel started at Bryant as an intern for the athletic communications department just months after walking the stage at commencement in May 2018. The year-long internship led to another open door as the graduate assistant position in communications was open and a desire for an MBA was already in the front of her mind. She now is the primary contact for seven teams, including women's basketball, while getting plenty of experience working with all of Bryant's athletic programs throughout each year.
"I'll give you until the end of the day," were the words spoken by Assistant AD Tristan Hobbes, Habbel's boss, on Wednesday before the game. Habbel quickly replied, "I'll do it. I don't need until the end of the day." The women's team was supposed to take on Central Connecticut State at the same time as the men's game on Thursday but was postponed freeing up Habbel's sports information responsibilities for the day making this opportunity a no-brainer.
An opportunity to call a game last year had fallen through last minute. "The idea was just something fun and light but when the first opportunity fell through I was actually really disappointed and expressed that it would be something that I'd like to do if it ever were to present itself again."
As easy as that decision may have been, Habbel faced a tougher decision during her time at Johnson & Wales. During her first year on campus, the Fashion Merchandising major quickly fell in love with the opportunities in the Sports, Entertainment and Event Management (SEEM) program. A two-time Great Northeast Athletic Conference All-Academic team member saw the decision to change her major one week into her academic career pay off.
"The SEEM program was a saving grace for me when I first wanted to change my major but stay at JWU" she said. "It opened up career paths that I didn't know existed and showed me what I liked and what I didn't like. They pride themselves in experiential learning and I felt that the professors genuinely wanted you to succeed and would go above and beyond to find opportunities for you."
Her time with the Wildcats not only led to a conference championship and back-to-back NCAA appearances, including the first at-large bid in the department's history, but Habbel reflects more on the connections she made on campus. The lifelong friends made on the team will always be there for her, but she the extra efforts of a few professors and a sit-down with Associate Dean of Student Development and former Executive Director of Athletics Mel Graf.
"I remember sitting down with Mel Graf once to pick her brain about being an AD and what it takes to get into college athletics. I learned a lot about the sports industry overall and more specifically collegiate athletics."
Little did she know that all of the conversations with professors, Graf and others on campus would lead to an opportunity to call her first college basketball game for a Division I team gaining some traction in the national media.
Despite countless games on the court, going from playing the sport to being a color analyst is different, and nerves came with it. "I never expected that I would get as nervous as I did, but when (Bryant play-by-play announcer) Jon (Wallach) started counting down to first go live, my entire body started to shake. I don't think I have ever been that nervous for anything in my life before that."
When it came to highlights, Habbel shares, "Bryant dominated and I got to announce Peter Kiss getting the first triple-double in our D1 men's basketball history. It was also historical because it continued Bryant's best start in D1 history, too. It was cool that I can be a part of that in some way."
What's next for Habbel? "I'm not sure exactly," Habbel said. "I was so shocked at the amount of support I was receiving after the game, even from people I don't really know or talk to on social media. I think it just furthers the idea of women leading prominent and visible roles within men's sports. I think my call of the game can definitely be improved upon and I would love to continue to call games in the future because it was an absolute blast."
Uncertainty is expected but Habbel's transition from the court to the mic was a no-brainer.