Longtime Duke play-by-play broadcaster Bob Harris is settling in for his 41st ACC Tournament, making him the dean of the conference’s radio guys. Harris worked his first ACC classic in 1976, at Landover, Md. That was the first of five visits to the Washington metro area for the event.
Over the years Harris has worked with at least seven color commentators on the games, although his current sidekick, former Duke sports information staffer John Roth, has had the gig for 18 years.
That tenure pales in comparison with Harris’ football partnership with Duke Hall of Fame receiver Wes Chesson. Harris and Chesson will be working their 36th season together this fall, making them college football’s longest running duo. Harris’ stint dates to 1976, however.
Pitt’s Bill Hillgrove has the distinction of the longest tenure among current ACC broadcasters, although obviously not all of it came in the ACC. Hillgrove is working his 47th Pitt basketball season. He’s also been the Panthers’ play-by-play voice in football for 42 years.
Hillgrove’s basketball partner for the past 37 years has been former Duke basketball and baseball star Dick Groat. Groat was a four-time All-America in both sports and went on to lead the Pittsburgh Pirates (1960) and St. Louis Cardinals (1964) to World Series championships as a major league shortstop.
Broadcasts at the tournament have changed over the years since kids smuggled transistor radios into school to follow the games, Harris noted. That was when all of the ACC crews would broadcast all seven games, back when the league had only eight members. Harris and Roth were the last radio duo to call the entire tournament, broadcasting all 12 games in 2005 from this same Verizon Center, where Duke won the title 69-64 over Georgia Tech.
This year Harris will call Duke’s games in the second round and quarterfinals. He and Roth will do Friday’s semifinals and the Saturday championship, which has been their routine for the previous 10 years.
Does he miss calling every game?
“In some ways, yes,” Harris admitted. “There was something about it.”
At the scene
Still scribbling: While we’re on the subject of ACC longevity, the sportswriters with the longest track record covering the tournament are Dan Collins of the Winston-Salem Journal and Doug Doughty of the Roanoke Times, according to an informal pressroom poll.
Collins, the longtime Wake Forest beat writer, has covered the tournament for 43 years, beginning with N.C. State’s classic run to an NCAA title in 1974.
Doughty, who covers UVa, has done every tournament for the Times beginning with 1976, when Wally Walker and Virginia shocked the ACC world in Landover. However, Doughty also covered the 1975 tournament as sports editor of the UVa student newspaper, the Cavalier Daily, extending his run to 42 years.
Time on their hands: Five clock outages in the opening stages of Wednesday’s first game, between Pitt and Syracuse, had fans upset. The game clock and shot clock above the backboard at the Pitt offensive end failed 5 seconds into the game, and four more times before the game was 3 minutes old. Each outage drew successively more boos from the crowd in frustration.
“Go back to Greensboro!” one fan yelled.
Game officials eventually decided to operate with digital floor clocks in each end zone for the remainder of the game. The clocks on the backboard supports were functioning again for the second game, between Duke and N.C. State.
ACC Senior Associate Commissioner Paul Brazeau said a fusebox on the support apparently got hit by a basketball, shorting out a fuse. He said the clocks could have been utilized for the second half of the Pitt-Syracuse, but game officials decided not to take a chance because they didn’t want to disrupt the flow of the game if they went out again.
Crowd buzzing: After an abbreviated preliminary round of two games the day before, it felt more like ACC Tournament atmosphere outside the Verizon Center on Wednesday with a full slate of four games on tap.
Maybe it was the enterprising two-man jazz combo – a guitarist and drummer – doing a brisk business in tips while set up outside the Grande Place-Chinatown Metro stop adjacent to the arena that created the buzz. Or maybe it was the presence of six more teams and their fans from Pittsburgh, Syracuse, Duke, Clemson, Georgia Tech and Virginia Tech scurrying back and forth along F Street outside the arena asking anyone if they had extra tickets.
One Wake Forest fan stood on the corner negotiating with fans from other schools trying to unload his suddenly superfluous ticket book.
A nearby ticket broker revealed that lower bowl ticket books were going for at least face value, and maybe better for side court seats. But the upper bowl seats were lagging behind face value, especially in the end zones.
First-timers: Pitt seniors Christian Quiros and Marshall Cominsky were enjoying their first ACC Tournament on Wednesday. Quiros hails from nearby Potomac, Md., so he and his friend, clad in their Oakland Zoo T-shirts, are staying to watch for as long as the Panthers are around.
“We’re on spring break, so it lined up perfectly,” Quiros said.
Pitt opened the second-round of the tournament at noon against Syracuse, which was fine with Cominsky. He’s from Utica, N.Y. and an ardent Orange hater.
“I knew they would be playing ‘Cuse, and I hate ‘Cuse,” Cominsky said. “This will be the third time we beat them this year.” The Panthers beat Syracuse at Pitt 72-61 on Dec. 30 and followed up with a 66-52 victory in the Carrier Dome on Feb. 20.
“If Pitt wins, we’ll go to the UNC game (at noon Thursday),” Cominsky added. “Otherwise we’ll go home. But they have to win. I’ve talked too much trash with my friends back home for them to lose.”