When Kevin Belbey ’13, G’16, L’16 was in eighth grade, he had the opportunity to attend a sports broadcasting camp run by Syracuse University alumnus Ian Eagle ’90. Eagle is the television play-by-play announcer for the NBA’s Brooklyn Nets, Belbey’s favorite basketball team. Belbey came to idolize the former play-by-play voice of the Orange in football, basketball and lacrosse. “My goal was to become the next Ian Eagle,” he says. “I had my heart set on Syracuse University, and I also knew that I wanted to be involved with the basketball program.”
Belbey was his high school basketball team’s manager, and his coach knew former Syracuse assistant coach and alumnus Mike Hopkins ’93. Belbey visited campus during his junior year of high school and, as luck would have it, ran into Hopkins during his tour. “It was an unplanned meeting, and he was so gracious with his time,” Belbey says. “He talked to me about the family tradition that is a major part of Syracuse University and Syracuse basketball.” Hopkins presented Belbey with a challenge. “He said, ‘If you get into the school academically, you’ll have the job of being a student manager.’”
Belbey worked hard and enrolled in the S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications in 2009. His four-year tenure as manager for the men’s basketball team began with tasks that weren’t overly glamorous, like filling up water bottles. “As I spent more time with the program and continued to prove myself, I was able to get more involved and earn more trust on and off the court,” he says. Belbey’s role would grow to include helping players get better in drills. During his junior year, he worked with Juli Boeheim G’97 and the athletics department to develop a new vision for Orange Madness, the preseason pep rally for Syracuse basketball.
As the team’s head manager in his senior year, Belbey supervised a staff of 20 student managers. “It was a lot of responsibility, but it was amazing,” he says. “I got to travel with the team to every game, outfitted in Nike gear just like the rest of the team. And my senior year culminated with a Final Four run in Atlanta.” Though the men’s basketball team came up short against Michigan in the semifinals, Belbey was a part of the four winningest years in program history. “I remember being in the locker room after we lost, and it just kind of all hit me and sunk in that this is all over,” he says.
As Belbey cried with the other members of the team in the locker room, Hopkins approached Belbey and put his arm around him. “He just said, ‘You’ll be a part of this family forever,’” Belbey recalls. “He was telling me my journey and my relationship with Syracuse basketball wasn’t over after that game. And he couldn’t have been more right.” Belbey’s brother Shaun ’19, G’20 walked onto the basketball team in 2015 and eventually earned a scholarship, and their younger brother Ryan ’18 earned a master’s degree from Syracuse in biomedical forensic science.
We stay after every game until every fan gets a picture and an autograph. We really feel like we are the community’s team.
When retooling Orange Madness in 2013, Belbey organized an alumni game. “It was the NBA lockout that year, and we had a bunch of players who played in the NBA come back to Syracuse and play in front of the fans again,” he says. The alumni game was an incredible experience, not only for fans but also for the players. “I think sometimes people forget this, but the players at Syracuse are normal people. They’re just like everybody else in that people think college is going to last forever,” he adds. When 30,000 college fans are cheering their names and they’re playing on ESPN Primetime against Duke or Georgetown, the players experience feelings that can’t be replicated, Belbey says. “Basketball at Syracuse is just so pure. There is so much passion and enthusiasm that they miss it, no matter if they’re playing in the NBA or retired.”
In 2014, Belbey heard about The Basketball Tournament, an open-application, single-elimination event that offered a $2 million prize to the winners. He worked with former members of the team to organize Boeheim’s Army, an all-Orange alumni team that is now entering its sixth summer of operations. “We’ve been able to create something really special that has stuck and resonated with the fans,” Belbey says. In addition to playing in the annual tournament, Boeheim’s Army has offered clinics to underprivileged children at the Boys & Girls Club, and players make themselves available for autographs at the Syracuse Mets games. “We stay after every game until every fan gets a picture and an autograph. We really feel like we are the community’s team,” Belbey says.
After receiving a bachelor’s degree in broadcast and digital journalism , Belbey went on to earn a master’s degree in new media management from Newhouse and a J.D. degree from the College of Law . “I was thinking about being an NBA agent with my basketball ties,” Belbey says. He learned from his Newhouse advisor that sports broadcasters also have agents. Now, as vice president for sports broadcasting at the Montag Group, Belbey is recruiting, signing and developing the next generation of sportscasting stars. “I’m always tapping into the Newhouse network and the Newhouse pool,” he says.
It’s important to Belbey to support students in the way the alumni network once supported him, and he is a member of the alumni mentorship group Newhouse 44 . “I think the Syracuse alumni base is second to none. Every time I ever reached out to anyone for help, advice, a phone call, an email or a coffee meeting, they always got back to me,” Belbey says. The Montag Group represents broadcasters at every major regional sports network. “We have 70 plus clients at ESPN alone. And we represent a ton of SU alums,” he says, including his childhood inspiration, Ian Eagle.