Jim Nantz is heading down the home stretch of another remarkable run behind the play-by-play microphone for CBS Sports.
His call of the Maryland-Kansas Sweet 16 showdown Thursday night falls within a nine-week window that features Nantz calling three of the biggest events in sports: the Super Bowl, the NCAA Final Four and the Masters. It's hard to have a more prominent presence in TV sports than that.
I caught up with him on the phone Wednesday in Louisville, Ky., where he and the rest of the first team of college basketball on CBS were prepping for their Sweet 16 coverage.
Can Maryland play with Kansas?
Maryland can play with anyone. They struggled late in the year. Going into the NCAA tournament, they lost five of their previous eight games. But I don't put a lot of stock in that. I've been around a long time, watched many teams just go through the normal ebb and flow and ups and downs of the season, and somehow it gets rekindled come NCAA tournament time. They find a way to start the engine, rev up the engine again and make a run.
You were courtside for some of the 2002 championship run by Maryland, weren't you?
I called it. I called the championship.
How would you compare these two Maryland teams?
Before we can draw a fair comparison, let's give them a couple more wins. And then, I'm going to really start looking at where this team is at compared to the '02 title team. Yeah, I called that game. I also called at that Final Four, Maryland against Kansas in the national semifinals. That was the last time Kansas and Maryland met. I called that game, which Maryland won 97-88 -- or something like that [88 is correct]. That's the most points anyone has ever scored against Kansas in an NCAA tournament game. It was Gary Williams against Roy Williams.
Speaking of Gary Williams, how would you compare him and Mark Turgeon?
They both are absolutely maniacal about detail -- and really good strategists. I know, there are probably some around Maryland who are saying, "OK, we've been waiting for results from Coach Turgeon." But he had to come in and leave his own imprint on the program. I know they didn't make the NCAA field his first three years. But now, they're back to back and he's getting the players he wants into the program. You know, whatever happens, I think this is the start of a very good run for Mark Turgeon. It's just the beginning. I've been around long enough to remember broadcasting at the Final Four in 1986 when he was the starting point guard for the Kansas team that made it to the Final Four.
Yes, his Kansas history -- as a Maryland fan, that worries me, too, a little, with this game. For many of us, our undergraduate experience is pretty profound and shapes our identity for life. I hope when he sees those Kansas uniforms out there, he doesn't start feeling any love-for-alma-mater vibes -- or start flashing back on running the point for KU in the big game. I'm not sure I'm totally kidding.
Fair point. Some Maryland fans might be concerned that Coach Turgeon can't get Kansas off his brain, because it is part of every fiber in his body, let's be honest. He was born in Topeka. He was the first player in Kansas' storied history to ever play in four straight NCAA tournament games. He was captain of a Final Four team in 1986. He was a graduate assistant and assistant coach there, what, '88 to '92. He was on the staff first of Larry Brown and then Roy Williams. Even his wife, Ann, was manager of the basketball team for Kansas.
Wow, I didn't know that about his wife. If that's all in your head, Nantz, and you're not reading it off a sheet, you've got the greatest memory in the world.
It's all in my head. Ann Fowler was her maiden name. They both are steeped in Kansas basketball history. However, he's gotten a little bit of the awe factor of going against Kansas over and done with, because when he was at Texas A&M, he went against Kansas six or seven times. He's been through that. He's gone back to Allen Fieldhouse and taken a team there. He's hosted them at A&M. He never beat them. I will tell you that: He never beat Kansas. He's winless as a head coach against his alma mater.
Now I'm really worried. Stop.
Hey, he's been saving it up for a much grander stage, the NCAA tournament, perhaps.
Let's talk about your CBS sports team. You've been rock steady in the play-by-play slot, but there have been changes in the rest of the cast.
This is the second year this team's been together with Bill Raftery and Grant Hill by my side, and it has been an absolute joyride. Now, a little history here. When I started at CBS more than 30 years ago, my broadcast partner was Bill Raftery. Raf and I worked together for two or three years in several capacities -- doing game broadcasts, hosting the NCAA tournament studio show. So a year ago, we got reunited, and it is just a blast.
... As for this nine-week period, I've been through this whole cycle a number of times before, and it's just exhilarating. Come Masters Sunday and the green jackets are awarded down in Butler Cabin, I'll walk away from the broadcast and it will all be like this one blur. I always have this one moment in context where I was just showing up for the Super Bowl, and then I had this great time with Raf and Grant and Tracy [courtside reporter Tracy Wolfson] and The Road to the Final Four and now the Masters is over, and it's all over. Now, of course, there are other events to cover, but I love having this responsibility of being able to document these big moments.
CBS coverage of Villanova and Miami starts at 7:10 p.m.
The Maryland and Kansas telecast follows.