A Look Inside “Under the Shell”


A Look Inside “Under the Shell”
Mar 3, 2016

Weekly radio shows have become a staple for college basketball coaches: it gives fans an inside look at their favorite team. In 2003, then-Athletic Director Debbie Yow had a different idea for the Maryland Women’s Basketball team:

“What do you think about doing… kind of a reality TV show where the stars are the players?” Maryland coach Brenda Frese recalled Yow saying. “It follows your team, it’s in the locker room, it goes on trips. So we separate ourselves in terms of our coach’s show.”

Under the Shell was born. With the vision of producers Jess Atkinson followed by Mike Springirth, the weekly half-hour show premiered Sunday mornings on Comcast SportsNet and showcased what went on behind-the-scenes in the world of Maryland Basketball.

“I loved it,” Frese said. “It lined up exactly who I was and it’s been a big piece of who we are, from getting into homes and thousands of television sets for recruiting, and for our fans to connect with our team. It’s been perfect making the stars of the show our players.”

Two years ago, Springirth brought Ryan Celli on as a co-producer before leaving Celli as the sole producer the next year. Celli had been working for Springirth as a cameraman and editor since he was in high school.

“He found out I was interested and gave me the opportunity to pursue this career,” said Celli, who produces, shoots, and edits each episode. “He was one of the very few people who were very trusting to give a kid a camera and tell him to go out and shoot.”

Before Springirth left, he gave Celli a piece of advice that still proves useful today.

“Don’t just shoot the game,” Springirth told him. “The game is just the game. If they want to see the highlights, they can watch that easily. Keep your eyes open and look for the story.”

A normal week of filming usually consists of at least two days, depending on how many games are played that week and if any special events take place, like traveling to the Virgin Islands for a tournament over Thanksgiving, visiting Frese’s childhood home in Iowa, or Shatori Walker-Kimbrough scoring 41 points.

For Celli, who the players refer to as “Mr. Under the Shell,” the show is an opportunity to display each athlete’s individual personality. Kiara Leslie and Aja Ellison make a comedic duo on and off the camera, Celli says, while journalism major Chloe Pavlech is able to practice her career skills.

“When you put Kiara and Aja together, you just turn the camera on and you don’t even have to try anything,” Celli said. “Magic just happens. [Chloe]’s got a great sense of finding stories and telling stories… She would probably ask an athlete a question the way an athlete would want to be asked a question.”

The end goal of Under the Show is to tell Maryland Basketball’s story. One of Celli’s favorite parts of the show is getting to capture the moments when the players “just get to be normal college students.”

While capturing the story of one of the top ten programs in the country brings mostly fun, high-intensity, exciting moments, Frese believes some of the most moving stories of every season come from moments of defeat. She recalled a 75-69 loss to Virginia Tech (then 7-14) when the Terps were raked No. 8 in the country in 2012.

“That became a really powerful show because a lot of people saw the passion within the locker room,” Frese said. “You never want to picture a loss, but that game and what unfolded in the locker room and what we rallied behind to then turn our season around, I just remember from fans that that was one of the most powerful shows.”

It wouldn’t be a surprise if players didn’t want to be filmed or interviewed after games like that one. Understandably, moments of defeat are not ones that athletes want well-documented.

“In general, the balance of being an athlete and being a student and being pulled in a lot of directions…I’d probably be really tired,” Celli said. “The last thing I’d want to do is talk to a camera. But I’ve never, ever had one of them give me a hard time. They all drop what they’re doing and they give great answers and they’re willing to talk in a very genuine way. That’s one thing about them that always made my job very easy.”

Frese is a similar case: the coach is well-known in the Maryland community for having an “all-access” personality.

“There’s nothing off limits,” Celli said. “She’s never told me to turn off the camera or not to shoot something. I think it’s an honor to be allowed in that locker room and to be given the trust of the program and the girls and Brenda to follow them around with a camera. That’s what makes the show.”

For the players and coaches alike, Under the Shell offers them the unique chance to be able to look back on a professionally created video scrapbook of their time with Maryland Basketball.

“On trips to the airport, we’ll watch the episode that came out that week on the bus… and then we reminisce even more,” senior Malina Howard said. “It’s like making more memories. That’s been big this year: talking about making memories. They do a really good job of catching us at our realest, at the moments when we’re just being goofy and being like sisters, like a family.”

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