Gminski emerges as ACC's TV face

Staff WriterMarch 12, 2009 

At 6 feet 11, Mike Gminski is so tall that when he calls games from the broadcast gondola at Cameron Indoor Stadium, the upper half of his torso disappears into the rafters.

It's too cute to say Gminski towers over the ACC, but in the wake of Billy Packer's retirement, the former Duke center has emerged as the league's television face. With his work for Raycom and Fox Sports Net, no broadcaster has seen more ACC basketball than Gminski this season.

When the ACC Tournament begins today in Atlanta, Gminski will work six of the 11 games, including Sunday's championship game. That's not unusual: Gminski worked last year's title game as well, with Packer away on network duty with CBS.

But this year, he's not filling in for anyone. This year, he stands alone.

Packer had been the face of the ACC for more than 30 years, as vital in that role as he was unique. No one could replace Packer, but it's Gminski's job to try.

"It's been my honor to do the ACC Tournament the last couple of years with Raycom," Gminski said. "That's very special to me, and it's hit home more with Billy retiring and this year with the games that I've done in prime time, especially the Duke-Carolina game for the first time. I feel that responsibility."

All told, Gminski will end up working 36 ACC games this season. No analyst from any network -- Raycom, FSN, ESPN -- has called as many, although Dan Bonner comes close.

Raycom split Packer's workload between Bonner (12 games this season) and Gminski (11 games). Gminski also is the lead analyst for FSN's Sunday night ACC package, which makes him nearly ubiquitous when it comes to big games.

Throw in a few non-ACC games and the first weekend of the NCAA Tournament for CBS, and his schedule is as crowded as an ACC referee's.

With the increased workload comes additional pressure. In February, Gminski became the first person who played in a Duke-Carolina game to call a Duke-Carolina game for Raycom.

Packer had called every regular-season game in that series for Raycom since 1982 and before that for C.D. Chesley's ACC network, possibly as far back as 1975. (Packer started calling ACC games for Chesley in 1972, working with the late Jim Thacker.)

So when Raycom vice president of production Jimmy Rayburn put together this season's schedule, he paused for a moment when it came time to insert someone else's name for that game.

"It was weird," Rayburn. "It was different."

And not only in name. Packer was deeply connected to the ACC, a Wake Forest alum who could move seamlessly between the league's rich history and its present-day success -- in part because his decades of television work helped further that transition.

Gminski is also an ACC guy -- the 1979 player of the year -- but he is arguably better known for his 10,000-point NBA career.

"The history of the league is very important to me, and I used to pick [Packer's] brain about stories and and coaches and personalities and games," Gminski said. "To the extent that I can, I want to try to carry it on."

But there's a bigger gap between the two -- the gap in personality between analytic Gminski and outspoken, occasionally controversial Packer, who "polarized people," as Rayburn put it.

That was Packer's nature, and his calling card. No one could match that. Gminski, for his part, doesn't try. Though he may share Packer's passion for the game, Gminski said his goal is to be as "dispassionate" in his analysis as he can -- a description that never applied to Packer's approach.

"He had opinions, and he brought that out in people," Rayburn said. "No matter what opinion they had, they had one, that's for sure. You miss that in ways, and you don't in ways."

Gminski spent eight seasons as the Charlotte Hornets' analyst after a 14-year playing career, and he figured he'd do that forever -- right up until the Hornets packed up and left town in 2002.

He was already doing some games for Raycom, driving to most from his home in Charlotte, but his workload has grown and grown. This season, he had seen all 12 ACC teams by mid-January.

This week, he'll see them all again in Atlanta, but from a perspective few -- perhaps only Packer -- have been fortunate enough to share. or 919-829-8947

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