PORTSMOUTH — If it weren’t for the uncertain future of the sport as it currently stands, the history of college basketball may be just as important, and if not more so, than what the next 10 years may bring it.
Growing up as a youth in the Bluegrass State, there are few things I would have rather done than don the Blue and White of the University of Kentucky men’s basketball team.
Fantasies as a child and physics as an adult made that lofty goal every kid in every small town in Kentucky has just that: a dream.
Fast-forward to the present day and I was afforded the opportunity to interview a hero of a different sport with strong ties with what I can safely consider my most passionate fandom.
While passing through the WNXT Studios as part of the 2020 Reds Caravan, Hall of Fame broadcaster Marty Brennaman discussed with me what it was like to broadcast UK games more than 30 years ago.
Even though Brennaman’s time spent at the intersection of South Broadway and West Vine Street certainly weren’t the glory days in program history, the now-former Reds broadcaster looks back on the time he spent in Lexington fondly.
“I had a great time…” Brennaman told The Daily Times. “I loved doing it, loved Rupp Arena. They really treated me well.”
TV packages during the late 1980s when Brennaman and Ashland native and UK grad Larry Conley were commentators substantially weren’t as broad as they are today.
Present-day fans are accustomed to three different versions of ESPN, the SEC Network, the ACC Network, etc. — all of which show games during the college basketball season. That didn’t happen to be the case over three decades ago.
Those who didn’t have access to watch the games as they aired listened to legendary UK broadcaster Caywood Ledford via radio, Brennaman’s natural habitat. Marty and Conley, however, were tasked with covering the ‘Cats visually.
Cue Eddie Sutton’s third year as UK’s men’s coach to accompany one of Brennaman’s seasons announcing games for WAVE 3 in Louisville.
In addition to his days in Lexington, Brennaman’s basketball announcing serviced itself early in his career when he was an announcer for the Virginia Squires of the American Basketball Association (ABA) and after his time at Kentucky when he would announce games for Westwood One — including the 1992 Regional Final between the Wildcats and Duke, also known as “The Shot” game.
“I’ve often told people that if I ever went back to do college basketball, the only job I would take would be to go back and do UK basketball for a local TV package,” Brennaman said.
A sophomore Rex Chapman led the Wildcats to a 27-6 record before they were forced to forfeit a number of games during the ‘87-88 season for recruiting and academic violations.
“The one game I remember most was when they played the Russian National team,” Brennaman said. “Toughest game I’ve ever had to broadcast because I had to write down all the names phonetically. I had to work for about four days, reading the names and being able to accurately pronounce them because with basketball being such a fast-moving sport, you can’t afford to screw up a name.”
Brennaman discussed his friendship with 1998 National Champion coach Tubby Smith and how he and his wife, Amanda, had planned to attend a game at High Point University where Smith is the current head coach.
Being a graduate of the University of North Carolina, Brennaman’s college hoops taste has aged even better than the Hall of Fame broadcaster’s voice.
“There are certain places in college basketball that if you’re really a true fan, you need to see a game there,” Brennaman said. “You need to see a game in Rupp Arena, Cameron Indoor Stadium, Phog Allen Fieldhouse, Pauley Pavilion at UCLA.”
While college attendance across the country seemingly declines with each passing game, Brennaman himself stated that he hadn’t been back to Rupp Arena since his time as a broadcaster. But it wasn’t for a lack of trying, more of a lack of time.
The Hall of Famer, now retired, sees more of a chance now to fight the traffic of South Broadway and experience a game for the first time in over three decades.
“I may do it more now that I’m retired,” Brennaman said. “I’ve got a standing invitation to go to Rupp anytime I’d like, so I’d like to go back and see another game.”
Reach Jacob Smith at (740) 353-3101 ext. 1930, by email at firstname.lastname@example.org, or on Twitter @JacobSmithPDT © 2020 Portsmouth Daily Times, all rights reserved