Basketball is huge in North Carolina. But it’s on an entirely different level in Indiana, where six of the country’s 10 largest high school basketball gyms are located, says Jason Spells.
Spells, 32, should know. For the past seven years, Spells has been a television sports reporter in Indianapolis – first for WRTV, the city’s ABC affiliate. Now he is sports anchor and reporter for NBC affiliate WTHR, where he also hosts the sports magazine show “The Sports Jam” on Sunday nights.
“Indiana natives love basketball in all senses of the word,” Spells says. “I have been asked why we don’t show middle school basketball highlights.”
Working as a sports broadcaster has been a dream for Spells since he was in sixth grade, recovering from an emergency appendectomy. It was March. He was in Greensboro, N.C. There was a lot of basketball on TV.
“There’s no better time to be sick and in the hospital and sitting and watching basketball all day,” Spells says. “That’s where the thought process started.”
Spells played sports through middle school and high school. But once he landed at NC State, he focused on preparing for a career on the sidelines and in the press box. He received his bachelor’s degree in communication and media studies from NC State in 2005. He launched his TV career at Time Warner Cable News as a video editor, eventually working his way up to working on camera.
Spells made the jump to Indianapolis in May 2009 and had little time to get oriented to the city, which boasts leading professional sports teams, the internationally known Indianapolis Motor Speedway and top-ranked collegiate teams nearby.
During his first week on the job, Spells was covering the Indy 500. Soon, he turned his attention to the Indianapolis Colts and its star quarterback, Peyton Manning. Spells followed them to the Super Bowl that year – the first of three that he’s covered so far.
“I had nothing to prepare me for it,” he says. “I was coming into a market with a lot of established sports personalities. I know sports and I know how to cover it. I just didn’t know what to do in that atmosphere of a national team with a national quarterback that’s undefeated. That proved to be a great training ground. It’s either sink or swim.”
He swam, eventually getting scooped up by the market’s top-rated station, WTHR. His show is the No. 1 rated Sunday sports show in the area.
“It was an opportunity to get more experience hosting and kind of get more personality out there,” he says. “There’s only so much you can do in a two or three-minute sports broadcast. So, when you have 30 minutes, you can kind of be yourself.”
Viewers don’t hesitate in approaching Spells on the street, at the store and in the gym with questions about the latest play or recruit. Sometimes they rib him about his Wolfpack roots.
In 2014, NC State’s basketball team lost a game at Purdue University. Spells went, decked out in Wolfpack gear, and sat behind NC State’s bench. When it was clear NC State was going to lose, a photographer captured an image of a dejected Spells.
“They were giving it to me,” he says. “But when I do have the opportunity to be a fan, I will take full advantage of it.”