Verne Lundquist, 73, was very much alive the last time the NCAA Tournament visited Madison Square Garden in 1961, but CBS’ play-by-play man for the East Regional never did get to visit the old Garden on Eighth Avenue while growing up primarily in Illinois, Washington and Texas.
Still, Lundquist has fond memories of that long-ago era in college hoops.
“As a 10-year-old boy in Everett, Washington, I can remember going two blocks from our house – we lived across from the high school gym – and they would televise the doubleheader games on black-and-white TVs,’’ he said at a CBS/Turner breakfast Thursday in advance of the four teams’ practice sessions at the Garden, during which he was fighting an ill-timed cold.
“It was so primitive back then that the Sylvania store on the corner of the main street would turn the black-and-white TV out at night and they had a speaker and 10 or 11 of us would gather there and watch the games,’’ he said.
Lundquist has called games at the current Garden, starting – to the best of his recollection – with a Kansas-St. John’s game in 1987. His analyst was Billy Cunningham, who grew up in Brooklyn. Larry Brown was Kansas’ coach.
“I vividly remember that Billy and Larry were teammates and knew each other very well,’’ he said. “Billy did an on-camera with Larry, and I had met Larry Brown when he and Doug Moe played in the old American Basketball Association.’’
Lundquist said he never lobbies for a particular region, but as the matchups took shape he began to get the sense he and Bill Raftery might be headed to New York, and he was happy about that.
“Billy has done more than a hundred games here, but I think it’s still special for him, and it certainly is for me,’’ Lundquist said. “As a boy I wanted to play basketball. That wasn’t in the cards. I was short and slow. But to be able to televise one is very meaningful.’’
Lundquist said his two favorite NCAA Tournament games were a pair of regional finals: Scottie Reynolds’ long dash and basket that helped Villanova beat Pittsburgh in 2009, and George Mason’s upset of Connecticut in 2006.
Raftery, 70, and Lundquist have become one of the most popular announcing teams in the sport, with appeal to people their own ages as well as people young enough to be their grandchildren.
“I think it’s extraordinary for both of us in our declining years, or advancing years, whatever they are, to get the reactions out of the kids that we do,’’ Lundquist said. “It really does keep you young at heart.’’