DeCock

Stats man delivers numbers at key moments

Staff WriterDecember 13, 2011 

One winter night a few years ago, during the broadcast of a North Carolina-N.C. State basketball game, TV analyst Billy Packer wondered how many times that season Tyler Hansbrough had made a conventional 3-point play. Statistician John Maddrey, who had just noted that exact figure, handed play-by-play announcer Tim Brant an index card before Packer finished the question.

"Tim said, 'Well Billy, you asked, here's the answer,' " Maddrey said. "Packer looked at me like I'm crazy. It just so happened we were thinking along the same lines. That was a rare moment."

There have been a few of those, though, in the three decades Maddrey has been working as a statistician for television broadcasts - while simultaneously juggling a legal career of equivalent length with the state Department of Justice, one that saw him promoted last month to solicitor general, where he handles civil appeals in federal and state courts.

His second career has taken him to 40 states, 15 Women's Final Fours and, this March, he will work his 30th consecutive ACC basketball tournament. That leaves Maddrey joking that there's football season, basketball season, "and then the rest of the year I try to stay married."

Maddrey, a 57-year-old native of Arlington, Va., worked in radio as an undergraduate at North Carolina and as a law student at Virginia. He got his start as a statistician when Jefferson Pilot took over the ACC's television package in 1982. A friend asked him if he'd be willing to keep stats for the announcers, and that night he was in the broadcast gondola at Cameron Indoor Stadium with Fred White and Packer, as Duke took on Virginia.

He was already nervous when the stage manager put a cracked plastic cup full of water next to his notes and charts, which were quickly drenched. But he was able to keep pace with Packer, who demanded detailed stats on the impact of the experimental 3-point line and shot clock, and Maddrey never looked back.

He stopped traveling for a few years when the second of his three children was born, but he heads out on fall weekends for football, and works three or four nights a week locally on basketball broadcasts for ESPN, Raycom and other networks. The soft-spoken lawyer works by a simple creed as a statistician: "To be accurate, to be timely and to be relevant."

Maddrey sits to the play-by-play announcer's left, on a headset connecting him with the production truck and with another statistician sitting at the scorer's table. For local basketball games, that's usually Freddy Kiger, who many college basketball fans might recognize by his mustache, thanks to his frequent TV airtime.

Among statisticians, as with first basemen, left-handers like Maddrey have an advantage, because they can write with their left hand while simultaneously handing over index cards with their right. Maddrey also uses a laminated card with numbers on it to communicate; by simply pointing with his free right hand, he can easily indicate how many points or fouls a player has.

With the announcers he has worked with most frequently, such as Mike Patrick for basketball or Terry Gannon and Beth Mowins for football, much of the information can be communicated without writing anything down, then integrated seamlessly into the broadcast.

Giving announcer numbers that make them look good

"He's a very precise person who loves what he's doing and loves being part of the ACC," ESPN analyst Dick Vitale said. "He's really got a feel for it. He blends in well with the play-by-play guy and the analyst, which is so important. He's one of my favorites. He does a fantastic job, and we can always count on him when the game gets emotional, giving us the numbers that make us look good."

Maddrey keeps lists of the play-by-play announcers and analysts he has worked with over the years, and it's not often these days that he adds anyone. On Saturday's ESPN3 broadcast of the North Carolina-Long Beach State game, Tom Werme became the 94th different play-by-play announcer who has sat to Maddrey's right.

That list include analysts such as Jay Bilas and Dan Bonner pressed into play-by-play duties, and fathers and sons such as Woody and Wes Durham. Maddrey has worked with debutants and departing legends alike, including the last broadcast of former N.C. State basketball coach Jim Valvano's life.

"I'm fanatic about lists and stuff," Maddrey said. "Years ago, I heard Dick Vitale crowing about how many Duke-Carolina games he has worked. So I went back and charted it. I'm up to 56."

The adrenaline rush

The games are great. The people are better. But it's the adrenaline rush when he has the exact answer at his fingertips, when his research and hard work unearths the right number at the right moment, that makes it worthwhile. It doesn't happen often, the way it did with Packer and Hansbrough that night, but it does happen.

On Dec. 8, 1996, Maddrey was working at Cameron with Brent Musburger and Vitale when Michigan mounted a late comeback against Duke. With 30 seconds to go, Duke had the ball during a timeout, and Musburger and Vitale were discussing strategy on the air.

Kiger, at the scorer's table, alerted Maddrey, in the gondola, that Michigan had committed only five fouls. Maddrey furiously scribbled "Michigan has a foul to give" on an index card and slid it to Musburger even as he was in mid-sentence. Musburger gave Maddrey a thumbs-up and pointed out the overlooked foul situation to Vitale. When play resumed, Michigan immediately fouled. The Wolverines ended up winning by one, 62-61.

"We would have missed the moment," Maddrey said. "But it turned out to be something to let the announcers tell the folks at home something relevant to the broadcast. I risked incurring substantial blowback if I had interrupted him with something that was not relevant or right, but it worked out fine."

It was accurate. It was timely. It was relevant. It was a good moment for the man with the numbers, who the next day was back at work for the people of the State of North Carolina.

luke.decock@newsobserver.com, twitter.com/LukeDeCock or 919-829-8947

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