Hello, friends. It's March and Jim Nantz is gearing up for his 27th Final Four.
At CBS Sports/Turner Sports NCAA Tournament Media Day, Nantz talked one-on-one with ThePostGame about his first trip to Northwestern, why he and Grant Hill love college basketball, and covering Hakeem Olajuwon and Clyde Drexler at the University of Houston. He also talked how about the difficulties of calling former college roommate Fred Couples objectively on the golf course.
The NCAA tournament officially begins Tuesday in Dayton with the First Four, while Nantz will call his first game Thursday at a location to be determined.
ThePostGame: So I went to Northwestern. That game last weekend ...
JIM NANTZ: We had the best time. I said in our meeting earlier today, Jeff, that's top five greatest atmospheres of everything I've ever been around. I didn't say it was a top five event. In terms of the appreciation, the intensity, the fact that we were there, people were so thrilled it was a national game on CBS. Of course, they had all the history and what was about to happen with the tearing down of the arena the next day.
TPG: Well, you realize that was the best atmosphere that arena's probably ever had.
NANTZ: I'm not sure any arena's ever had that. I said that. When we came on the air, one of the guys that I work with on every single show that I do, he's one of our audio guys, Kevin McHale, just like the basketball player. Kevin said -- I don't know what the measurement was -- it was the highest decibel level he had ever dealt with in his career.
We came on with a brilliant clever idea by Mark Wolff, who's our producer. Let's play the animation in the arena on the diamond vision, so people know when we're on the air. We got the anthem to go early before we were going to go on at 4:30 Eastern. And we got the PA scripted, to let them know, to warn them, that hey, in 30 seconds, CBS is going to be coming on the air. The place fell with a little silence. All of a sudden, it's rolling, and as soon as people saw CBS on the air, people had chill bumps. Grant said he had chill bumps. He could hardly even contain himself. It was nuts. Good to see your other alumni, buddies of mine, guys like [Michael] Wilbon, [J.A.] Adande, Teddy Greenstein. They came by the table. It was like 19-year-old kids who were back in college again. It was really, really sweet. The team's good. They're going to be really, really good again next year.
TPG: We couldn't hear you during that first shot on TV because it was so loud.
NANTZ: Well, Grant, was sitting -- we're rubbed up against each other -- he could not hear anything I was saying. Bill, was two seats over, so I had no idea what he was saying. It was 112-decibel level. It was nuts.
TPG: When you call college sports, how do you take a different angle than calling the pros?
NANTZ: A lot of people don't realize I haven't called a pro basketball game since the 1980s. I was raised in New Jersey. I was a huge Knicks fan as a kid. I used to watch the Knicks games growing up on Channel 9 in New York. Sometimes, I would come in and go to the Garden and all that. And then luckily, when I got out of college, I got an opportunity to call the Utah Jazz games. I was 23 years old and I was an announcer for the Jazz, along with a guy named Hot Rod Hundley, who's a legend. He got the Curt Gowdy Media Award at the Hall of Fame and was a former first-round [first overall] pick. He passed away a year ago. But anyway, the NBA, just so you know, when I first came here, we had the NBA on CBS. And I did the games with Doug Collins. You may have read the story where Chris [Collins] used to tag along and go into our meetings. He was 11 years old. So it's been a long time. It's not really fair for me to comment on the difference because I'd have to go back to the '88 playoffs since the last time I called an NBA game.
What about pro vs. college sports in general?
NANTZ: Well, I think the biggest thing is I always remind myself, they're just kids. Northwestern showed us again last week that these are young people who are about to embark on their lives. I know, when I say goodbye to them, the seniors, if they stick around that long, I'm most likely never going see them again. Your kids at Northwestern, even the Purdue kids, I went to the shootaround, there's a lot more good stories than I ever have a chance to tell or that anybody ever knows. But I think the biggest difference is the atmosphere. There's an emotion to it. It's an emotional thing. I hate to steal Grant's thoughts on this, but as an observer of a guy who I covered his whole college career, he was a four-year player and now he's a co-NBA owner. He covers the NBA and college basketball. And I'm not saying he doesn't love the NBA. He obviously does. But the possession-to-possession importance of college and the way the crowd is into every game, these guys can really remember every single game of their college careers. I doubt two years later, they can remember all 82 games from the season before.
I remember Chris Webber one time, and he was a two-year player at Michigan, and we did a lot of their games, including their first national appearance. Oddly enough, I ran into Chris one time in Hawaii and one time at a hotel in New York. And he could not have been nicer to me his whole career at Michigan. And I said, how's the NBA? This was probably four or five years into his NBA career. Oh, and I ran into him another time at a hotel in Atlanta. And he says, you know what the difference is. I played in 70 games in my Michigan career. I remember every game. I remember every halftime speech that Coach Fisher gave us. I remember all of it in vivid detail. What I would do to have the chance to go back and have that one more time. Lastly on that, one year, and it would've been '02 in Atlanta, Sacramento was playing the next night in Atlanta after the championship game. Maryland won the title. I had seen Chris on the way down, they were coming in from a shootaround as I'm leaving to call the game. I had a great exchange with him. He remembered having met my daughter over in Hawaii. "What's your daughter's name?" "Caroline." "Oh right, she was so sweet. Good luck tonight. We're playing a game here in Atlanta." Boom. Off we went. I got back from the game. There was an envelope under my door. Chris Webber had written a one-page letter to my daughter, talking about his memeories of knowing her father when he was just a kid in college. That's what's college is about.
TPG: At the University of Houston, as a student, did you call the basketball games?
NANTZ: I called high school basketball games in Houston. I was a public address announcer for the University of Houston games.
TPG: And you overlapped with Hakeem Olajuwon…
NANTZ: I remember the first time I introduced him, he came on to the floor. Clyde Drexler is a dear friend of mine. I named him The Glide. I wrote the foreword to his book. These were my buddies. That basketball program, that's family.
TPG: Did they hang out with Freddy [Couples] too?
NANTZ: Freddy wanted to know all the scoops. Thanks for asking, Jeff. Because he was a star golfer. The guys would come back and they thought I was such a big shot because I was hanging around the basketball team all the time and they were good. Of course, Freddy left after his junior year, so he would have left in the spring of 1980. His first couple years when we were in school, the team was just over .500.
Nantz played on the Houston Cougars golf team, rooming with future PGA Tour pros Fred Couples and Blaine McCallister.
How did you call Freddy objectively in golf?
NANTZ: It was hard. I'm not sure I did. But the sweetest moment of my career was being there for part of the presentation of the green jacket -- April 12, 1992 -- coming up on 25 years.
TPG: As soon as the tournament ends, do you go right into Masters studying?
NANTZ: You know, I try to celebrate Monday night with my CBS team. And the next day, when I get on the ground, I have to really catch up because I have access to the players on Tuesday and Wednesday. The problem for me is that all the players want to talk about is the basketball tournament and I want to talk about golf. And here's the paradox. During the tournament, you meet with the coaches, they all want to talk about The Masters when I want to talk about basketball. It's all upside down, Jeff.
TPG: It's a good problem to have. Thanks, Jim.
NANTZ: Hey, your team, I'm really hoping I catch them in the tournament.
TPG: Nothing is definite.
NANTZ: I think they're going to be in that 8-9 game.
TPG: I hope you're right.