All right, basketball addicts, we're down to a month before the Atlantic Coast Conference and NCAA tournaments. We've heard "Swish!" and "charity stripe" a thousand times. The hour obviously is at hand for our first and last radio basketball grades.
Rating announcers is as subjective a task as buying a car. Some people like their play-by-play guys as plain as a Dodge Dart. "Tell me who got the rebound and forget the slap, dash and dazzle." Other listeners want extra equipment. "What was that last guy's free-throw percentage in grade school?"
It says here the best announcers give you four things: a clear, vivid picture of what's happening; a voice that doesn't sound like an air raid siren; an appropriate amount of excitement, and game analysis. The last ingredient often is in short supply.
Remember how your algebra teacher used to talk about grading on a curve, with a few bright kids getting As and most others getting Bs or Cs? That's the way it is in radio basketball. The Cream
This year's MVP award goes to Bullets announcer Mel Proctor (WTOP-1500). No one carries you through a game any better. He uses an unusual kind of imagery to make the action come alive. Next time you listen, notice how Greg Ballard, say, "wheels" into the lane, "whips" or "loops" a pass, or "spins on" Bobby Jones. That Proctor can provide the clearest play-by-play is all the more surprising because pro ball can be faster than college. Another trademark: Proctor uses breaks in the action to recap what just happened. He can't be matched for picking out themes and reinforcing key plays in our mind. Grade: A plus.
What Bob Gotkin is doing announcing George Mason games for tiny WEEL-1310 is local basketball's $64 question. He is one impressive act. You can "see" the game as well with him as with Proctor because he gives you a glib, highly informative, running account. Gotkin seems to do more homework than some other announcers. Against Old Dominion last week, for example, he noted that George Mason had spent the previous night practicing a low-post defense against ODU's center, Mark West. You always know how long a shot is and where it's coming from. Grade: A. Cleanup Hitters
Maryland announcer Johnny Holliday (WMAL-630) makes the starting squad because he is so pleasant to listen to. His is a familiar, comfortable voice. Well-prepared, too. He knows the full names and numbers of all the opposing players, even if he hasn't seen them before. Slightly less glib than Proctor or Gotkin, he makes up for it with self-deprecating wit. "I really don't like to talk to Lefty after these games," he said during a close one earlier this year. "I'd like to have a nice 20-point blowout and he'd be loose when he came over here." Grade: B plus.
Mike Patrick and Bob Ryan, the George Washington team (WEAM-1390), suffer only because of their format. The feeling here is you don't need an analyst on radio. The play-by-play man has got to talk so much to paint a decent word picture that there isn't room for a No. 2 man. But Patrick and Ryan succeed despite all obstacles. Patrick, long one of the best television-radio sportscasters in Washington, is lively and opinionated. His comments about coaches not studying opposing players' foul-shooting percentages, and therefore not knowing which players to foul in a game's closing moments, have been enlightening. Team grade: B. Off the Bench
Can enthusiasm atone for sins of technique? It's a close question with Rich Chvotkin and John Blake, who call the Georgetown games (DC-101). Chvotkin soars to such heights of ecstasy when Georgetown scores that he almost loses his breath. His players "take a seat on the pines" when they aren't "rattling the rim" or getting a "Las Vegas roll," thereby picking up "a deuce." Whenever a Hoya rebounds, "Ajax cleans the boards!" It all makes for a peculiar, flakey, yet enjoyable record. The flip side is you can't always tell who's shooting. Team grade: C plus.
Like Rodney Dangerfield, Glenn Harris and Robert Stephens, the Howard University pair, don't get any respect. Their station (WHUR-FM-96.3) often cuts into Bison games late after a popular weeknight music show. The two-man format also hurts. Harris has most of the tools but lacks polish. He sometimes identifies opposing players by number instead of name, and he could explain penalties more smoothly. Stephens obeys the first rule of colormen: restraint. Both talkers need to be better prepared. Team grade: C.
Pure action, nothing more. That's the philosophy of the dean of local basketball announcers, Navy's John Wagner (WNAV-1430). Wagner is a one-man show, serving as his own engineer and keeping his own stats while calling the game. It's probably too much to ask him to be an analyst, too. Still, the broadcasts suffer on this count. We need more than pure play-calling. As smooth as Wagner is, we rarely develop a feel for strategy or the themes of a game. Grade: C. Down and Out
If anyone wants a crash course in why two-man announcing teams are bad for basketball, he might well turn to the Cavalier Basketball Network's Mac McDonald and Todd Turner (WEEL-1310). Turner, Virginia's sports promotions director, hogs the mike from McDonald in order to tell us what we already knew. Both guys tend to be whiners, boo-hooing at every close call against Virginia. They have been known to splice taped interviews with assistant coaches into live action, recapping a missed play when the tape is finished. It's downright maddening. McDonald, a competent play-caller, occasionally gets a chance. Grade: D plus.
Sadly, listening to American University games with Stan Karas (WEAM-1390) is like driving through a fog. Like Wagner, Karas performs solo, but he isn't as talented. His voice sounds like No. 2 sandpaper. He uses obscure references to "he" and "they" when talking about opposing players. He never helps us understand why Mark Nickens, say, penetrates better against one type of team than another. There's an excuse for not doing commentary when you have to operate your own board, but there's no excuse for not boning up on the stat sheets the night before. Grade: D.