Born and raised in the Chicago suburbs, Sarah Kustok was a big Bulls fan growing up. Who in Chicago wasn't back then?
"I grew up with Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen," says the 31-year-old. "As a Chicago kid who loves basketball, it was natural."
That love of basketball, and the love of the Bulls, drove her and she became a top local high school and then college player at DePaul, where she mastered the three-point shot and received both bachelors and masters degrees.
Now, though, she's living in New York (Manhattan, not Brooklyn) and admits, journalistic objectivity aside, she's "hoping for the best" for the team she covers from the sidelines. While her connection with the Bulls was geographic, the one with the Nets is about more personal.
"I've gotten a chance to spend time with these guys, see what they've gone through, watched them put the work in," says Kustok. "They've become people you're with all the time. And even in the short amount of time, there's a connection. These are the guys you're hoping the best for."
There's something else too. While she loves Chicago, and until she moved to YES spent her whole life there, New York was a magnet for her.
"It's hard to anticipate. You don't know what the next step is," she noted of the move. "But like anyone in the business, it's your hope and intent to work in the No. 1 media market. That's the goal and YES was an incredible opportunity."
She's had a number of assignments: sideline reporter, studio host and host of the monthly Nets Magazine. Those who work with her talk about her improvement and her work ethic.
"Sarah has fit right in from Day 1," says Frank DiGraci, coordinating producer of Nets basketball for YES. "She hustles, she is versatile, she is willing to learn and you will not find a nicer person. She loves basketball and works very hard at her craft. The fact she played Division 1 has been a valuable asset. Sarah has been a great addition to our team and we are lucky to have her."
She jokes that she's still working on her Chicago accent, which she has to focus on during trips back home because "My Chicago friends say it gets thicker."
Her overall improvement, she says, comes from just listening and watching YES announcers and analysts, particularly Ian Eagle.
"I knew I would be working with top notch people," she said with more than a bit of awe. "But those guys ... I learned so much. They really get it and are all top level. For me, it's about keep working to get better. Just listening to them, I think these guys really blow it out of the water every night. It's helped me get better."
While she says all of the on-air people and DiGraci have been helpful, she singled out Eagle.
"They all are," she said when asked who's helped her, but added, "Ian Eagle is someone who coming out to New York, everyone raved about...and not just as a broadcaster He is there to talk, to listen, give you constructive criticism. I bend his ear, hear what he says."
An athlete herself --she helped DePaul to the NCAA twice as a player and once as an assistant coach-- she can connect with the players in a way others can't. That was evident during her shootout with Keith Bogans. "He knew me from Chicago. He was always joking, teasing me once about not having a jump shot." In the ensuing shootout, Bogans claims he won.
She also "gets" the team's frustrations. "There's frustration ... It's been a journey to come together, to build the chemistry. Their frustration is that they have moments of looking incredible and others where they don't Their greater frustration is 'how we replicate that?' These guys have all won and they expect more."
As for the personal transition between Chicago and New York, she noted the things she misses most are: not driving and not having a laundry room in her apartment!
Her biggest surprise: the way Brooklyn has embraced the Nets. "I knew it would be cool, but it exceeded expectations. The reason why I love journalism and sports is the emotions and passions. I was excited about the Brooklyn, but I never expected the type of pride and true grit and love that i found. I felt the specialness of the history making aspect of it all."
As for today? "I hoping for a better result."