euphoria of the UMBC men's basketball team's historic 74-54 win
against Virginia in the first round of the NCAA Tournament still hasn't died down in the Baltimore area. The moment was magical for all who were a part of it, including the Turner Sports broadcast team of Jim Nantz, Bill Raftery, Grant Hill and Tracy Wolfson, who called the game for TNT.
Hill, a two-time NCAA champion at Duke who played 19 seasons in the NBA, is a Turner Sports analyst who will be on the call for TBS' coverage of this year's Final Four and national championship game. He spoke to PressBox about being a part of the historic moment, head coach Ryan Odom's future, whether guard Jairus Lyles could play in the NBA and more.
What was it like to be on the broadcast for such a historic moment as UMBC's win against Virginia March 16 -- a game you could not possibly have seen coming?
Grant Hill: I definitely did not see it coming. It was fantastic. You know, that's a long day. You're broadcasting four games the first day of the tournament. Usually that last game you're struggling to get through. But I think the entire building -- there was electricity in that building because of the play of UMBC. And I think everyone was sorta in disbelief in just how they took a very talented, very disciplined, very good Virginia team and just had them confused, had them out of character, did to them what no team had done all season and just really had just a fantastic performance. So it was an honor. It was an honor to witness it, to have the responsibility along with Jim and Bill to sort of broadcast it. And hopefully we were able to give the kids out there their just due.
And the best part -- the game was great and obviously it was a fantastic performance. But then like the next day, they go to practice, they have media responsibilities, we sit with the team. You can see why they were good. There was just a real sort of collective spirit amongst those guys. They played for each other, they respected each other, there was like a genuine love.
Ryan Odom has been so impressive since he arrived at UMBC. How much a part of the story of UMBC's win is he?
GH: It's funny. During the game, you could see that he was just calm and composed. Here his team is just putting on a basketball clinic in the second half, and the whole stadium, the UMBC section but even others who were there were just celebrating. And Ryan, you couldn't read his body language and tell if UMBC was winning or losing.
And then after the game, so we all go back to our hotel, everybody that's part of our broadcast crew. You know, our producer, our director, Jim, Tracy, Bill, everybody that's in the truck. We have food, we have drink and we'll watch the studio show and just kind of hang out. And I'm sitting with Tracy Wolfson, and I'm talking and they show Ryan Odom addressing the team in the locker room after the game. And you see sometimes coaches come in -- I've seen Roy Williams, I've seen John Beilein -- they'll come in after a big game and they're like dancing and cheering or spraying water guns and celebrating. And [Odom] came in like, "Alright guys, good job, let's make sure we get our rest." And we were just like, "Can you believe it?" The biggest upset in tournament history and the coach was just real subdued, real calm, real cool.
And I think that shows. Being around his father and having been around the game, there's a steadiness about that. And regardless of the situation that you just remain cool and almost like, "Hey, you know what, we're expecting to do this. We didn't come out here and just lay down. We expected to win. We play to win." That might have been the most impressive thing, where after the game a coach was just real chill.
Is it crazy to think that a team in a league as high as the ACC could pursue Odom this offseason? Is he just that much of a rock star?
GH: I think so. I think when you have that kind of performance, you've seen it before --coaches being able to jump up to another level or jump up to one of the big five or big six conferences. I think his pedigree, obviously, his father [former Wake Forest/South Carolina head coach Dave Odom], I think that's part of the narrative. And then just how his team played. That's the ultimate test. How they played, how they conducted themselves. How they recovered and bounced back and came out and played well the next night. He is a rock star. He's a bright young coach that's in college basketball. I'm sure he'll have a lot of people knocking on his door, either now or in the years to come.
Is it crazy to talk about UMBC guard Jairus Lyles as a guy who might be able to get a look from a NBA team. Is there any chance he could play at that level?
GH: Yeah. There's definitely a chance. First of all, I think he can play professionally, whether that's overseas or not. But I think there's a chance. He went and not just that game, but even against Kansas State, those are two really good defensive teams. And there was an awareness of him. Kansas State, they were not going to let him get off.
I think he'll get a look. One thing, if you can shoot and you can put the ball on the floor and make a play, you have a chance. I think for him, it'll just have to be the right situation. He's not that big in terms of size and strength. But he knows how to play, he's quick. He'll get an opportunity. It's just about finding the right fit for him at that level.
PB: You're an old school ACC guy. Are you surprised by how much Maryland has struggled in the seven years under Mark Turgeon since Gary Williams retired?
GH: A couple years ago he had a pretty good team. They played in the Sweet 16 in Louisville, Melo Trimble and that squad. But yeah, having grown up in that area and knowing Gary now and really liking Gary, he really got that thing going. It's tough. I don't know if them playing in the Big Ten hurts or what the actual deal is. But yeah, you'd think at some point there, they'll be able to sorta get back to that level where they're playing that second weekend [of the Tournament] year in and year out. That just hasn't really consistently been the case. But I know it's a basketball school, they really love the game of basketball and there's a lot of talent there between the Baltimore and DMV area. If you can retain talent and keep talent local, they have a shot to get back there real soon.
For more from Hill, listen to the full interview here:
Photo Credit: Courtesy of UMBC Athletic Communications