(CBS Local)- The Final Four is set for Saturday with both games on CBS and for the voice of CBS Sports, Jim Nantz, it's a milestone. This year marks Nantz's 30th NCAA Tournament and Final Four as play-by-play announcer and it comes in a city that is near and dear to his heart, Indianapolis.
"I called my first Final Four in Indianapolis in 1991, that was one of the legendary, iconic of all-time. It's the eighth time overall that Indianapolis has hosted the Final Four and I've called seven of them overall. This city knows how to conduct a championship. They know how to welcome the world and obviously it's limited as far as the fan bases being here but they are absolutely seasoned at treating people right and making an event special," said Nantz in an interview with CBS Local's Ryan Mayer. "My history here not only goes from seven Final Fours, many Big Ten basketball tournaments, some first and second round years doing the tournament, some regional years, countless Indianapolis Colts games when Peyton Manning was at the helm with Tony Dungy. AFC Championship games here. I did the NCAA swimming and diving championships here. I did the U.S. clay court championships here. I did the NCAA track and field championships here. I did the Pan American Games as a host in 1987 here. And I think I'm forgetting a few things but the point is I have spent more time in Indianapolis than I have maybe my own home through the years and I've always walked away appreciative and in awe of how well they conduct their championship events."
This year's tournament was different in many ways but perhaps the biggest was Indiana being the host state for the entirety of the event with Indianapolis being the central hub for much of its games. That gave the veteran Nantz an opportunity he had never previously had: calling a game from Butler's famed Hinkle Fieldhouse. It was a moment that Nantz was anxiously awaiting before the tournament and having called several games from the site, it lived up to all of his expectations.
"It blew me away. Hinkle, as someone, maybe you can tell in my commentary, I love history and I'm nostalgic at heart so to go into Hinkle which, when it was constructed in 1928, it was the biggest basketball arena in the country. And it remained that way for over 20 years," said Nantz. "Here it is on the Butler campus, here it is the site of all of these Indiana state high school championships, including the fabled, famous Mylan High School 1951 championship game. It's where Hoosiers was shot for the final game. It was a thrill."
While calling games from inside the legendary arena for the first time was a big thrill, what happened before was even more unexpected for Nantz.
"Here we are the first day of my involvement in the NCAA Tournament and I get out of the car and who's waiting for my but Bobby Plump a.k.a Jimmy Chitwood in the movie Hoosiers," said Nantz. "He was waiting with a signed basketball from the 1954 Milan High School basketball team. Blue, the Butler Bulldog, was sitting there on a leash waiting to greet me. I had a whole gift packet from Butler. From Mr. Plump a bunch of memorabilia from Milan. That's before I walked in the door. Way over the top, way more than I deserve but man it made an impression."
The tournament this year, while different, has given plenty of excitement from the first round upsets, to four double-digit seeds making the second weekend and more. Nantz says the biggest thing for him has been, after a year with no tournament, diving back into the unique moments the tournament brings.
"I think we forgot how much we missed it and what a void it left in our lives. And I think to some extent we forgot how this tournament always delivers special and unique stories. I find it, after 30 years, I've always found that it delivers the goods when it comes to wonderful fulfilling stories. We have them this year, there's no question we have an abundance of them this year," said Nantz. "Whether it's the Gonzaga team coming here undefeated or UCLA rekindling the magic of yesteryear. Baylor being here for the first time in almost three quarters of a century. Houston with its tough and gritty run here but also being able to revive a program that was a headliner almost 40 years ago with Phi Slamma Jamma days. There's a lot there to love and the matchups are rich."
The Baylor vs. Houston matchup has a little extra significance for Nantz, a Houston alum. While he notes that of course he will be calling the game straight down the middle with no cheering for either side, the fact that his alma mater, a program that jump started his broadcasting career is here, makes for a special moment.
"This basketball program is a big part of my life. It gave me my start in broadcasting. The late great coach Guy Lewis, who took Houston to five Final Fours, for whatever reason, he gave me the chance when I was a student to be behind the mic for the first time as the public address announcer. He gave me the opportunity to be on television the first time, hosting his coaches show on, at the time, the NBC affiliate in Houston," said Nantz. "It's not just that I'm a fan, that I'm an alum who used to sit in the stands and scream his lungs out. I'm indebted to the program. They have made a difference in my life."
Nantz, alongside analysts Grant Hill and Bill Raftery with reporter Tracy Wolfson, will be on the call for CBS' coverage of the Final Four beginning with the Houston-Baylor matchup on Saturday, April 3 with tip time scheduled for 5:14 p.m. ET.
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