Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Behind the Scenes With UWM Basketball

Everyone comes to see what happens on the court, but no UWM athletic event can go on without all of the people working behind the scenes. For the Panther basketball teams, two of the most recognizable voices are the people who call the games on the radio - Bill Johnson for the men’s team and Scott Warras for the women’s team.

Johnson (pictured at left) is in the middle of his 11th season as the play-by-play voice of Panther men’s basketball. He also serves as the host of “Rob Jeter on Basketball,” a weekly one-hour talk show with the head coach on WISN, and “The Rob Jeter Show” on Time Warner Sports.

Warras (pictured at right) is in his fourth season as the play-by-play voice for Milwaukee women’s basketball. Not only is he behind the microphone for each and every game, but he also hosts the “Sandy Botham Radio Show” and the “Sandy Botham TV Show”.

This month, we decided to take some time to get to know both of them a little better, having them sit down with the UWM sports information office for an interview session:

Where did you get your start in the sports play-by-play business?
Bill Johnson: “I started out doing color for UW-Stevens Point football games on the campus TV station. Later in Point, I did American Legion baseball from historic Cub Manczevski field. When I started with WAUK, I did high school football and basketball, even a few of Jason Frederick’s games at Waukesha North. Jason Clark actually called WAUK looking for another guy to talk about the Milwaukee play-by-play job. I’m glad that I talked to him first.”

Scott Warras: “I started in broadcasting at Wisconsin Lutheran College, my alma mater, back in the fall of 2002. The first game I ever called was a Wisconsin Lutheran College football game at Adrian College (MI).”

What do you do when not working for UWM?
BJ: “I work full time for Good Karma Broadcasting on 540 ESPN. I do morning sportscenter updates and an evening talk show called “The Game” with Steve Haywood.”

SW: “When I am not working UWM games, you can find me at Newsradio 620WTMJ here in Milwaukee, where I serve as producer for “Midday with Charlie Sykes”; Wisconsin Lutheran College, where I’m the Broadcast Coordinator and football play-by-play announcer; and Time Warner Cable Sports 32, where I call games for their coverage of high school, college, & semi-pro contests year round.”

What has been your favorite game memory with the Panthers?
BJ: “First game ever. At Central Michigan. Clay Tucker, game-winning three as time expires. A celebration in front of a stunned crowd. I loved the first four minutes of the Sweet Sixteen game with Illinois too.”

SW: “My favorite game memory in my four years with the Panthers has to be the one-point victory at Marquette on New Year’s Eve of 2008. Considering the drama of Ashley Imperiale coming off the bench to shoot two free throws in place of the injured Turquoise McCain, with only 3.6 seconds left and her team down one point. The fact that Coach Botham had never beaten Marquette in her tenure up to that point, plus all the rivalry aspects of the game....it ranks #1 for me!”

What led you to choose radio as a profession?
BJ: “I don’t know, I must’ve had a fever. I could always talk, sometimes to my detriment. Radio was a place where I could use my powers for good instead of evil.”

SW: “My freshman year in high school, former Brewers radio announcer Jim Powell granted me an interview for an article I was writing for the school paper. It was that conversation that I believe first got me interested in sports broadcasting/play-by-play announcing.”

Who is your role model/hero in the profession?
BJ: “Bob Uecker. His filler material during bad Brewer games is the soundtrack of my life.”

SW: “I wouldn’t say I have a ‘hero’ or ‘role model’ in play-by-play announcing, but there is a pair of announcers that I really admire - Matt LePay (University of Wisconsin basketball & football radio play-by-play announcer) and Wayne Larrivee (Green Bay Packers radio play-by-play announcer). Their ability to paint a picture and express the emotion/drama of a play or entire game, all while using a very creative vocabulary, are facets that I strive for each broadcast I execute.”

Who has been your favorite player and why?
BJ: “That is very hard - there have been many. I got to watch four years of heroics from Clay Tucker. I got to watch Ronnie Jones light up Freedom Hall. I saw Ed McCants clear the baseline at Calahan Hall with the best dunk I’ve ever seen live. I saw Ronald “Boo” Davis make Youngstown State quit at 5-0 at the Beeghly Center. I saw Avo’s (Avery Smith) steal versus Oklahoma in Jacksonville. Too many great players to mention...”

SW: “I’ve never respected or enjoyed watching a basketball player more than Turquoise McCain. I don’t know if most fans realized this was a young woman that had lost her mother during her senior year in high school and then played virtually every game of her collegiate career in constant pain, as both knees were ravaged by tendinitis. Despite it all, she played as hard and intense as anyone I’ve every covered in person and was an intimidating figure on the floor. Off the court, though, she was the complete opposite -- singing, dancing, doing impressions -- always a character and one of the most memorable players I’ve been around.”

Strangest/funniest situation that has come up on the air/game day?
BJ: “Well, it was a game that we didn’t broadcast. Mount Scenario was scheduled to come to the Klotsche Center in 2000, I think. Anyway, there coach left for another job and the whole team quit. They ended up cobbling together five or six guys, the best of which was there starting QB, Perry something. They played five guys for 40 minutes each. The QB scored 18. The rest of the team scored three. Final score: Milwaukee 100, Mount Scenario 21. Best game of Kevin Schifferer’s career.”

SW: “During a nationally-televised game at Wisconsin in 2008, Traci Edwards was within her average of becoming the all-time leading scorer in Panthers history. Just before tipoff, our SID Kevin Conway turns to me with a bleak look on his face and tells me he miscalculated how many career points Traci had scored up to that point. Visibly upset, he said he was off by 20 points and immediately ran over to the Big Ten Network crew to inform them of the mistake and passed word along to Traci’s dad who was attending the game as well. After several minutes of anger, frustration, and re-calculation, it turned out Kevin was correct with the math to begin with and had to rush back to the TV crew, as well as Traci’s dad, to let them know to disregard his previous correction as the original numbers were right all along. While Kevin may have seen his professional reputation flash before his eyes, all I could do was shake my head and laugh at his emotional ten minute rollercoaster ride.”

Best story from the road?
BJ: “We went to Florida for a tournament at Florida International and a game at Bethune Cookman in Daytona in fall of 2000. No one seemed to speak English in Miami and they didn’t have the national anthem at Bethune Cookman. I think Bo Ryan was convinced that we were in Cuba.”

SW: “In December of 2007 the team played at Central Connecticut State and we arranged for a tour of the ESPN Studios in Bristol, CT. Everybody got a kick out of walking the halls where the infamous commercials are shot, meeting ESPN celebs like Scott VanPelt, Jesse Palmer, & Lou Holtz. Plus, for a guy in sports broadcasting, it doesn’t get much better than having the opportunity to sit behind the anchor desk of SportsCenter and get your picture taken ... trust me!”