Before the second weekend of this year’s NCAA Tournament in Omaha, Jim Nantz, Bill Raftery, Grant Hill, Tracy Wolfson, and “The Google Boys,” as Raftery calls the research team, were causing a bit of a ruckus in their hotel conference room. Nothing too crazy, mind you. Everyone was having a “lemonade or two,” Raftery says (more accurately the group was sharing a couple bottles of The Calling, Nantz’s wine he makes with wine mogul Peter Deutsch), and preparing for the Sweet Sixteen games — Clemson vs. Kansas and Syracuse vs. Duke — the crew was calling on Friday.
“It’s like being in college,” Nantz remarked about the atmosphere, mentioning a game everyone played where they passed a pepper shaker around the table after every point that was scored as they watched that Thursday evening’s matchups.
The laughs and chatter got louder, and they could be heard from the next conference room over, where the Jayhawks staff was preparing for their game against the Tigers. So naturally, Kansas head coach Bill Self had to stop by to see what was going on after they broke for the night and were done watching film.
“I guess he has trouble sleeping during these things,” Raftery says. “I remember teasing him. Saying something about would you like a glass of wine? He said, ‘No, no, no I got stuff to do upstairs.’ I think he was going to look at more tape. So I joked, ‘Yeah, I saw your last game. You should take a glass of wine.’ I actually felt bad then when he left. Like I didn’t mean it, I meant it as humor, and I’m thinking, ‘Gee, I hope he doesn’t interpret it as he did a lousy job in that game.’ It was great. He was open about his team and about who they were playing. It was really a great little get together.”
If Self did take offense, he didn’t show it, and he certainly didn’t internalize it – his team knocked off Clemson and then Duke en route to a Final Four berth. But it was impossible for him not to notice how much fun everyone was having.
It’s no surprise that energy carries over into the broadcast, as Nantz’s reunion with Raftery gave way to the strength of Wolfson on the sidelines and the growing confidence and steadiness of Turner analyst Hill (who is set to join the 2018 Basketball Hall of Fame class). The relationship between Nantz and Raferty goes back three decades, and the pair started their broadcasting partnership in an unlikely place.
Their first game together was Arizona vs. Miami in January of 1986 at the James L. Knight Center. Miami had recently brought back its basketball program and were taking on Lute Olsen’s Wildcats, featuring Sean Elliott and current Warriors head coach Steve Kerr. The Knight Center wasn’t a typical venue.