Congratulations to MAXX Client Sarah Kustok on being inducted into the Chicagoland Sports Hall of Fame.
Sarah Kustok, a rising star at Comcast Sports Net Chicago since 2009, has moved to the YES Network in New York.
Would she rather interview A.J. Pierzynski, who once threw a pie in her face, or Derek Jeter? Will she prefer New York pizza to Chicago's deep dish? And why does she tout Luke's Lobster to all other restaurants in Manhattan?
On Sept. 4, Kustok began her duties as a reporter for the new Brooklyn Nets franchise in the NBA and hosting studio shows for the New York Yankees' flagship network.
She will return to Chicago on Wednesday night to be inducted into the Chicagoland Sports Hall of Fame.
"I was shocked and humbled when they called me,” she said. “It was one of the most surprising calls I've had in a long time."
Kustok was the Chicago Sun-Times high school basketball Player of the Year in 2000 while playing at Carl Sandburg in suburban Orland Park. Her brother Zak was a standout quarterback at Northwestern. She also starred at DePaul, serving as team captain as a senior and leading the Lady Blue Demons to the NCAA tournament twice and the NIT twice.
She got the bug for becoming a television sports analyst/reporter/personality while covering the Illinois-Arizona overtime final at the men's NCAA regional basketball tournament at the then Rosemont Horizon (now known as Allstate Arena) while working as a graduate student in DePaul's sports media relations department in 2005.
Why New York?
"It is an incredible opportunity for a variety of reasons," Kustok said. "Any time you get to work for the Yankees, that is an incredible opportunity that you can't pass up. I'm only 30 years old. It is bittersweet to leave Chicago and Comcast SportsNet. They've been a family to me. But when you have an opportunity to challenge yourself again, you look forward to it."
She doesn't think it will be a big adjustment to move from Lincoln Park to Central Park. She didn't have any trouble finding a one-room apartment in Manhattan. She lived in downtown Chicago for 12 years and made seven or eight trips to New York over the past few years to cover events.
"What's the biggest difference between Chicago and New York?" she said. "I must get used to the history and the background of the New York scene and sports. From the time I said I was moving, it is amazing how many friends started talking about the pizza, where to go, thin crust or deep dish, whether you like it or hate it. I'm not a picky eater. New York pizza I can handle. But New York is a busier city, more hustle and bustle. And people are passionate about their sports teams."
Kustok's "must do" list wasn't too extensive. For the most part she has been there, done that. She had seen pictures of the Barclays Center, the Nets' new arena, but she hadn't seen it before. Lobster rolls at one of the three Luke's Lobster shops are a must. And she loves to walk around the city or run through Central Park.
"The busier the city, the calmer it makes me. I find relaxation when things are busy and chaotic," she said.
She got her first feel for the Big Apple while playing for DePaul coach Doug Bruno, who took his basketball teams to New York. She visited the Statue of Liberty and the 9/11 Memorial and got acquainted with the food and the restaurants.
She credits the competitive drive and spirit that she nurtured while playing basketball at Sandburg and DePaul for inspiring her to succeed in life beyond sports.
"You find in high school or college that, at the end of the day, you have to be competitive with yourself," she said. "It brings out attributes you can improve on, that you can't be satisfied with where you are at. You can't worry about the other person. Make sure on a day-to-day basis that you are your best. Practice all the time, research even more.
“I learned in grade school and junior high school that you must make yourself accountable. Only you know how much time you have spent learning something. That attitude carried over from my playing days."
Kustok leaves a lot of poignant and unforgettable memories in Chicago.
First on her list was the Blackhawks' Stanley Cup victory.
"The parade I recall most of all,” she said. “It was a celebration of the entire city. It made me proud to be from Chicago. There was so much support and enthusiasm."
She said she got chills when Michael Jordan showed up at Game 5 of the Stanley Cup final wearing a Jonathan Toews jersey after MJ had put his jersey on his statue outside United Center.
She cheered during Mark Buehrle's perfect game.
"He is one of the people I think has great character, so humble, one of the top people on my list of great athletes," she said.
She was waiting on the field and was the first to interview him after the 27th out.
"I was waiting and waiting, she said. “Will it happen? I couldn't have more respect for an athlete. It was a great moment for me.”
And the Bulls-Celtics playoff series in 2009, Derrick Rose's rookie season. There were seven overtime periods in the series.
"I often think about covering those games," she said. "Why do I do what I do? Because it gives me a chance to see that kind of fight on a daily basis. It is so inspiring. I saw the resiliency and fight of a team -- the Bulls -- that was growing up to being an elite team."
She already is looking forward to the Nets' training camp in early October and meeting former Illinois star Deron Williams (the star of the Illini's dramatic victory over Arizona in 2005) former Bulls C.J. Watson and Keith Bogans and ex-Duke star Shelden Williams, husband of women's basketball star Candace Parker.
"Who will I root for if the Yankees play the White Sox in the playoffs?" she said. "I would have a hard time choosing. I know who is signing my check. I guess I'd have to plead the fifth."