It’s the middle of July and I’m watching an old Florida State vs NC State basketball game, and Len Elmore is currently in the process of getting everything wrong. He does this several times a game. He’ll just start talking, and I wonder if he’s actually talking about the teams in front of him. Elmore was a 2nd team All American and he played ten years in the league, so he obviously knows basketball. And he has a law degree from Harvard, so he’s obviously smart. So I wonder if he gets so much wrong because he doesn’t prepare, or just because he becomes so married to his first impression of what teams like to do that he never really cross checks it with reality.
I don’t know all of the characteristics that make a great announcer, but I know one that is critical for me: unlike Elmore, they have to be able to teach me something. Actually, I know two. They have to be passionate about college basketball.
A week ago I was discussing announcers on Twitter. I got lots of feedback on who the great ones are, but many of those who received commendations don’t do that much basketball. And that’s a litmus test for me. I want great basketball announcers, not great announcers who call college basketball games.
So who are they?
No. 5. Dan Dakich
Let’s just get this one out of the way. Sure, most of the time Dakich comes across as a total ass who is unbelievably insecure, like he’s battling Bob Knight for some unknown Title. But put him behind a mic at the scorer’s table, and the man knows what he’s talking about. He’s probably the best in the game at discussing X’s and O’s, and he’s also not afraid to say anything about anyone. He grates at times, but it is refreshing to hear an announcer speak his mind rather than walk the typical company line.
No. 4. Doris Burke
If Doris Burke were a man she’d have been some networks’ top hoops announcer for several years now. Her strength is offering insight with no spin. Her delivery is smooth and concise enough that it often takes a re-watch before I understand how much I’ve learned by listening to her.
No. 3. Dick Vitale
I love Dick Vitale, but he drives me crazy. Watching him call a Duke vs UNC game is pretty much unbearable. But take him away from Tobacco Road and his enthusiasm for the game and its players outshines his shtick. He’s at his best calling smaller games, and is just as amped and prepared for Georgia Tech vs Wake Forest as he is for the bigger guns. What lands Vitale on this list is his boundless enthusiasm for the sport. He doesn’t take himself seriously at all, but he has a deep respect for the game.
No. 2. Jay Bilas
Bilas is a rock. He never waivers. He’s offers a steady diet of information, and he works it into the cracks of games without calling too much attention to himself. Plenty of younger announcers have modeled themselves partly on Bilas’s style, trying to cultivate the smart basketball crowd, but they do it by waving their hands and being smug about how clever they are. It’s dangerous to come across as smarter than most of your audience, but Bilas is able to do it in a way that is both uncompromising and accessible. Now, if he’d just get over his obsession with talking about how tough everyone is…
No. 1. Bill Raftery
There was absolutely no reason to watch Virginia Tech play basketball last season, but if you did – and you saw Erick Green – then you know what it’s like to listen to Bill Raftery. Erick Green was so much better than everyone else on his team that it seemed as if he were playing a different sport. That’s how Raftery is. The gap between him and every other college basketball announcer is huge. It’s no wonder that Fox hired him to work with Gus Johnson and to call the Big East. Raftery has the voice, the delivery, the mojo, and most importantly the coaching chops to bring fresh insight into game strategy. He also cannot be rattled. There’s no situation from which Raftery can’t pull a call.