Jim Nantz's final Final Four could serve as a homecoming of sorts for the Houston alum
Jim Nantz always has had a knack for framing sports events in historical context. On April 3, he might get a chance to do so on a highly personal level.
He will call his last NCAA men’s basketball final that night in Houston, home of his alma mater, the University of Houston, which is among the favorites to reach that game.
“I get too nervous when I start thinking about that,” Nantz said when asked by Newsday about the possibility in a video news conference on Tuesday. “But my mind wanders off many times.”
Nantz, 63, has worked every Final Four since 1986 and has been the lead play-by-play man since 1991.
Starting next spring he will cede that role to Ian Eagle while remaining CBS’ top NFL and golf announcer.
Nantz said he saw this Houston-in-Houston possibility coming even as he and CBS Sports chairman Sean McManus finalized the succession plan during the 2021 NCAAs.
Houston reached that year’s Final Four, and Nantz believed coach Kelvin Sampson had “built a program that was going to last.” The Cougars reached the Elite Eight last year, and now are 29-2 going into the AAC Tournament and a presumed No. 1 seed for the NCAAs.
Nantz called Houston’s 67-65 victory at Memphis on Sunday and has been around long enough to know how to play it down the middle.
“I would definitely be able to call that game [if Houston is in the final],” he said. “I am trained to be able to look at things objectively, observe and tell people what I see.”
But over the course of an hour during which Nantz appeared to choke up at times, he admitted how special a run by the Cougars would be to him.
As an undergraduate, he was the program’s public address announcer and hosted coach Guy Lewis’ local TV show.
When Houston lost the 1983 final to North Carolina State at the buzzer in Albuquerque, New Mexico, Nantz was there as a fan, and rode to and from the arena with the team as Lewis’ guest.
Nantz said his current career highlight is the 1992 Masters, when his college roommate, Fred Couples, won the tournament.
“We used to practice that scene in college in our dorm room,” he said. “I wanted to work for CBS since I was 11. All Fred ever wanted to do was win the Masters.”
But, Nantz said, “If Houston made it to the Final Four and even won the national championship this would be right up there as one of the top two moments of my career.”
He said his connections to the program are “very personal for me.”
“Houston will be a No. 1 seed, and if the perfect script comes together and the stars are aligned, April the 3rd will be a magical night,” he said.
There are other historical ties around Nantz’s final go-round.
The first NCAA game he called, on March 15, 1986, was Duke vs. Old Dominion in Greensboro, North Carolina. His analyst was Bill Raftery, who will be by his side again in 2023.
The first Final Four he called, in 1991, was the first for his other current analyst, Grant Hill, as a player. Duke won it all in Indianapolis.
And that Houston-N.C. State game in 1983 was played on April 4, making this April 3 a tidy, 40-year bookend.
“It’s bittersweet,” Hill said of Nantz leaving. “It's our friend, our leader, our mortar, the guy that I feel kind of just keeps this whole thing together, and has done it so eloquently, masterfully and respectfully, for so long.
“It’s crazy. It's still surreal that that's coming to an end.”
Hill recalled Nantz speaking to him as he left the arena in Charlotte when Duke lost the NCAA final to Arkansas in 1994 — Hill’s last collegiate game.
“I wanted to thank him for those four years,” Nantz said. “He was a four-year player, a four-year star in college basketball. He did not leave early . . . I thought he had meant to college basketball what he had meant to me personally.”
Nantz added, “All of these things, the storylines and how things kind of come full circle, it’s pretty amazing."