The voice of college basketball will have the microphone Tuesday at the Carnegie Hotel.
ESPN analyst Jay Bilas will emcee East Tennessee State basketball’s “Holding Court,” a fundraiser featuring an accomplished lineup of active and former coaches.
ETSU coach Murry Bartow said Tuesday that Bilas’ college coach, Duke’s Mike Krzyzewski, is expected to join John Calipari, Mark Few and Steve Alford as coaches who will visit one at a time via FaceTime. Joining Bilas and Bartow at the Carnegie will be Sonny Smith, Les Robinson and Bobby Cremins.
Robinson’s smile will evoke images of former Bucs such as Keith “Mister” Jennings, Calvin Talford and Greg Dennis.
Cremins coached at Appalachian State when Smith was at ETSU, and they could each share entertaining anecdotes involving the officiating in a couple of games in Johnson City if the scene gets spirited.
Bartow wanted to “kick the season off with a bang,” and Bilas was glad to assist.
“Murry Bartow asked me if I’d come speak, and I told him I’d be happy to,” Bilas said. “But I left all the details up to him. They’ve put all this together and I’m just happy to participate.
“I told Murry I am at his service. I’ll be there most of the day, and I’m looking forward to it.”
Bilas played against Cremins’ Georgia Tech teams and was an assistant at Duke when Robinson was coaching at North Carolina State.
“I count Les and Bobby among my friends,” Bilas said. “They’re great guys.”
The event will feature some chalk talk, drives down Memory Lane and the trending brand of Bilas. (See Thursday’s Johnson City Press for a story on Bilas’ opinions concerning the NCAA and better compensating student-athletes).
“Number one,” Bartow said, “we’re really fortunate we’ve got Jay coming in to emcee it. … And then obviously to have Sonny and Les and Bobby here … all three of those guys have been great coaches and they’ve got a lot of stories. And then … we’ve got four coaches that will come into the event via FaceTime, and Jay will interview those four and kind of talk back and forth with those four. And that’ll be a fun part of the event as well. It should be a lot of fun, a lot of stories and a lot of basketball.”
Bilas is perhaps best known these days for highlighting some of the NCAA’s more glaring double standards while banging the drum for student-athletes’ rights for better compensation. His intelligence, preparation and passion for basketball have essentially made him the new face of college basketball, with all due respect to Dick Vitale.
“I’ve been a long-time admirer of his,” Bartow said. “Of course, I’m older, so I remember his Duke days well even as a player, you know, when he was playing with (Mark) Alarie and Johnny Dawkins and Tommy Amaker and those early (Coach K) Duke teams. I remember those teams fairly well. …
“And obviously he’s just taken off in TV, and not just with TV, but really being one of the premier guys with college basketball. He’s obviously a very smart guy. He’s got a lot of ideas, a lot of thoughts, and obviously, from a social media standpoint, he’s really got a lot of followers. He’s a really interesting guy, and if you’ve read his book ‘Toughness,’ it’s a very hot-selling book and it’s a really good book.”
Bartow has seen Bilas in action at Few’s Coaches vs. Cancer fundraisers.
“I’ve been to some events where he has kind of emceed them,” Bartow said, “and he’s really, really good.”
Bilas admires Few, the reserved Gonzaga coach who had his Bulldogs atop the national polls last season. Who knows, had guard Gary Bell not gone down with an injury in an NCAA Tournament loss to Wichita State, Gonzaga might’ve made more history.
“I’ve known Mark (Few) forever,” Bilas said. “He’s not only a great coach, he’s an unbelievable guy. You need to look at the work that he’s done with Coaches vs. Cancer and the money he’s raised – he and his wife, Marcy. They have raised an extraordinary amount of money and made a tremendous impact in the fight against cancer.
“He’s not just a basketball coach, he’s a real person. I mean, he’s unbelievable.”
Bilas has connections with seemingly everyone in college basketball, but his history with Alford has a little more color than most, and some of it is green.
“We were both in rookie camp with the Dallas Mavericks,” Bilas said. “We used to shoot for a hundred bucks after practice, and … several times it came down to me and Steve and I could never beat him. He was such a great shooter. And I was a much better shooter than I was given credit for, but he was a phenomenal shooter.”
Another Johnson City connection of Bilas is Steve Spurrier, who came to Duke as Red Wilson’s assistant when Bilas was playing basketball. Bilas speaks with Spurrier from time to time and has remained close with a couple of his quarterbacks, Steve Slayden and Ben Bennett.
“Steve (Spurrier) was considered a genius, but he was so approachable, you know, such a good guy,” Bilas said. “He was the offensive coordinator when I was in college.”
Bilas started on Duke’s 1986 national runner-up team, which fell to Pervis Ellison-led Louisville. The muscular, 6-foot-8 Bilas matched David Robinson’s 10 rebounds in Duke’s defeat of Navy in the ‘86 NCAA Tournament, and matched Danny Manning’s five rebounds in a Final Four win against Larry Brown’s Kansas Jayhawks.
Not that stats or victories are what best stand the test of time.
“For me, (it’s) having played for Coach K and coached under him,” Bilas said, “and then having played with the guys I played with, you know, Johnny Dawkins and Tommy Amaker and David Henderson, Mark Alarie, those guys. We’ve maintained close friendships over the years. … I learned a lot from those guys in addition to Coach K. I was really fortunate to be around such great people.”
And in terms of Tuesday, that sums up Bartow’s outlook.
“I think for someone who likes college basketball,” Bartow said, “when you can sit in a room and, No. 1, talk ETSU basketball, but now you’ve got Jay Bilas in there, who’s so well known, and then obviously you’ve got Sonny, Les and Bobby, that’s really enough. But then when you add Few, Krzyzewski, Alford and Calipari – again, if you like college basketball it’s certainly the place to be.”