A couple of years ago, in the issue of SLAM that dropped just after UNC won the NCAA Tournament back in 2005, we wanted to talk to our favorite college basketball analyst. So I got on the phone with the one and only Bill Raftery…
Dime Drop: Bill Raftery
by Lang Whitaker
With his authentic excitement for the game and terminology that sounds plucked from the ether, Bill Raftery has become our favorite college hoops color commentator. After stalking the sidelines as a coach at Fairleigh Dickinson and Seton Hall, Raft jumped behind the mic in 1981 and has been there ever since. He’s been an analyst with CBS for the last 23 years.
The day after Tiger Woods won his fourth Masters, we interrupted Raftery while watching a tape of the final round to get his take on the state of the college game.
As Raft might say, let’s go…to the tin!
SLAM: Raft, we called because we wanted to talk to our favorite college basketball announcer.
BR: What, you couldn’t get Packer or Vitale? (laughs)
SLAM: A lot of people think college ball has been hurt by kids leaving for the NBA, but it seems as exciting now as it’s ever been.
BR: Everything in college basketball now has sort of tightened up. The kids all know each other a little bit, so that respect for the bigger schools or big name players is, to a certain extent, thrown out. The kids are also better at the smaller schools, because they get three or four years of playing a lot. Same at other levels — guys leave early, others get time to develop and play. Nobody backs off one another.
SLAM: Which players stood out for you during the tournament?
BR: Sean May, if he played like that all year, he’d be Player of the Year. He had about 15 really good games this season. JJ Redick is amazing, too, how he gets his shot off and is able to do what he does. Salim Stoudamire, he was just hitting big shot after big shot. Bogut I saw a bit of, was impressed. Chris Paul at Wake…Coppenrath, here’s a kid who got an extra year because of health problems, and he really stood out. Eric Williams, too.
SLAM: Did you fill out a bracket?
BR: I was 2 for 4. I went with Gonzaga and Syracuse, but I had UNC and Illinois in the final. But my bracket was basically messed up after the first weekend.
SLAM: Does CBS have an NCAA pool?
BR: No, no. That’s all we need, right? I’d be out of a job like Rick Neuheisel or something. I just fill a bracket out because I’m on radio shows and people ask me for predictions.
SLAM: Since you deal with so many college kids and work for NBA TV, do you think an NBA age limit would help the League out?
BR: The thing about the NBA is that when you know it and understand it, there really aren’t that many problems. It sounds crazy, but what happens is young kids are given things at a young age and they aren’t ready for it. Within time, if they have a good foundation, they tend to straighten out. I think of me, if I was given that kind of money at that age, I’d be insane. I think what a 20-year-old limit does is gives kid two years of college by and large, so that if they were to fail it’s not insurmountable to go back and get a degree, and they can afford it. I think that’s the healthy thing for the kid, and the league, too.
SLAM: I love that you used to be a golf coach, too.
BR: I coached basketball at Farleigh Dickinson for five years, and three of the years I was the golf coach, but I didn’t do anything with telling them how to swing or giving golf instructions — I just gave the kids directions to the golf course and gave them their meal money. I was the basketball coach and was getting my master’s and I taught a golf class for beginners. I was the P.R. man, the assistant athletic director and the golf coach, too, and I didn’t make $6,200 a year, combined.
SLAM: Have you ever thought about announcing golf?
BR: I actually did some PGA Senior Tour and Ladies’ events.
SLAM: Guess you have to keep it kind of toned down on there, though.
BR: You better believe it.
SLAM: Let’s get into your catch phrases.
BR: I don’t hear something and think, Boy, that would be a great phrase. It just comes out, like a nitwit, I guess. I never noticed until early on, I’d be at an airport and someone would say “Mantoman!” and I’d say, What the hell?
BR: That’s strictly guts. You know that!