Living the Dream of Wall-to-Wall ACC Basketball

A problem with covering ACC basketball for a living is you don’t get to see all the ACC basketball you want to see.

The paradox has to do with the time required to cover an ACC basketball game. While others are watching all those great games on television, the beat guy is getting to his assigned game, preparing for the game, watching the game, and then conducting the interviews and gathering the material required to write about it.

So often I’d leave the hacienda at 9:30 for a noon home game, and when all was said and done, come dragging back in around dinner time. And if the game was on the road – say in Charlottesville or Atlanta or Tallahassee or Boston — then my entire weekend would be consumed with the logistics of getting there, covering the game and getting home.

To find out what transpired elsewhere in the footprint, I’d have to rely on reading the accounts written by others, or talking to friends fortunate enough to see the games.

All of which is why I’ve never watched as much ACC basketball as I have since retiring from the Winston-Salem Journal 18 months ago. That’s also why I’m loving pretty much every minute of it, especially on days such as we had this past Saturday.

I climb out of bed warning my bride Tybee that it’s going to be wall-to-wall basketball. How she puts up with me, I’ll never know.

Nor will I cease to be ever grateful.

But what a slice of heaven this past Saturday proved to be, watching ACC basketball from the tip of North Carolina’s noon game against Miami to the conclusion of Duke’s at Virginia at around 8. Retirement truly has its rewards.

Having spent my career in Chapel Hill and Winston-Salem, I’m drawn more to the Big Four schools. And on this occasion, I was actually happy that Wake had the day off. The Deacons of this day and time, sadly, are rarely worth watching.

But the three Big-Four games played Saturday were classics, with the Tar Heels outlasting in overtime an inspired Hurricanes team playing out of its mind, the Wolfpack gutting out a game at Pitt it absolutely could not afford to lose and the Blue Devils hitting enough 3-pointers to hold off the Hoos in what I always considered the ACC’s most fabulous show place, John Paul Jones Arena.

My only real chore of the day was figuring out what window to run out and procure dinner from a near-by restaurant. I chose the first half of the four o’clock Louisville at Florida State tilt and got back (with take-out lasagna in tow) in plenty of time to see the second half and overtime of the Seminoles’ hard-fought victory over Chris Mack’s high-flying Cardinals.

Conclusions drawn from this wall-to-wall ACC basketball were four-fold.

With Coby White playing like a 6-5 Phil Ford, the Tar Heels are one team no one wants to face come NCAA Tournament time.

State still appears to be running on fumes, though one has to give Jeff Capel and the Panthers plenty of credit for giving the Pack all it could handle.

The Duke freshmen, particularly R.J. Barrett, were highly inspired and motivated by the front-row presence of LeBron James and (to a lesser-degree) Rajon Rondo and wanted to give those guys a sneak peek of what to expect in the NBA come next season.

The best play-by-play/color man combo calling ACC basketball these days, by far, is that of Evan Lepler and Dave Odom.

Here’s where I admit I’m not the most objective critic to be found. Both Evan and Dave are good friends.

I’ve known Dave well since he became Wake’s head basketball coach in 1989 and he always treated me the way any beat guy would love to be treated. And I’ve known Evan since his under-graduate days at Wake going on 15 years ago, and have followed his career with great interest.

It’s been really cool this season to see Evan getting more and more high-profile games. He’s earned those opportunities, and, to my mind, he continues to make the most of them. He’s a bright guy quick to learn, and you can just sense him gaining confidence and polish with every game he calls.

I expect Evan Lepler to be on the ACC scene for years to come, and all of us ACC fans will continue to be all the more fortunate for it.

And Dave Odom has forgotten more basketball than most of us will ever know. He’s also the ultimate people-person, and his love and appreciation for the game he devoted a life to comes across so loud and so clear.

Dave, like Evan, is a bright guy quick to learn. And Dave’s great challenge as a commentator was not in knowing what to say, but learning when to not say anything.

Anyone who knows Dave knows he’s a talker. Any sportswriter who was ever around during Dave’s time will recount the time Dave took 10 minutes to answer a question that another coach would have dispensed with in 15 seconds.

And that’s why every sportswriter I ever met loved Dave Odom. He held us in high regard, and the feeling was mutual.

Dave is also a naturally funny guy prone to say things as only he can say him. To me, that’s a plus in this new pursuit of him.

There’s a natural rhythm in every good play-by-play/color man team, and Dave, as he gains experience, is learning not to step on the comments of his teammate. But I also noticed a natural rapport between Evan and Dave, which warms the heart of a good friend of both.

Like when Dave observed player taking a flop in an attempt to draw a charge and giving up a basket.

Odom: “A lingering question with contact is when do you fall back and give up a shot – not that time.’’

To which Evan responded: “And that’s a question that will linger forever.’’

But my favorite moment of the whole day was a line by Dave that had me laughing out loud. Now Dave is an old-school guy. So I was hardly surprised to find he’s not a fan of the infestation of the Euro-step in modern basketball – which would have been called walking during Dave’s days of coaching high school basketball in Goldsboro and Durham and would still be today if called correctly.

“That Euro-step all these guys are working on – that needs to be left in Europe.’’

What could be better than watching ACC basketball with two great friends like Evan Lepler and Dave Odom? If I find out, I’ll let you know.

But don’t expect an answer anytime soon.

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