A Few Minutes With Billy Packer

MINNEAPOLIS, Minnesota --- For 46 years Billy Packer has been a part of the college basketball scene, first as a point guard for Coach Bones McKinney at Wake Forest where he led the Deacons to the Final Four, then briefly as an assistant coach and for the past 40 years as a color analyst for television broadcasts. Packer will be working with Jim Nantz Friday night when CBS broadcasts Florida's game with Georgetown in the Sweet 16.

Packer earned All-America honors at Wake Forest where he averaged nearly 15 points per game for his three-year career. He first gained notoriety as a television broadcaster working Atlantic Coast Conference broadcasts with the late Jim Thacker for Jefferson-Pilot. Packer burst on the national scene when NBC teamed him with Dick Enberg and Al McGuire. When CBS bought the rights to the NCAA Tournament, Packer moved to that network where he has become a consistent although often controversial voice for college basketball.

Gator Country caught up with Packer for a few moments Thursday afternoon while the teams in the Minneapolis Regional were going through their shoot-arounds at the Metrodome.

FRANZ BEARD: Billy, you've been involved with college basketball --- first as a player, then as a coach and now as a broadcaster --- for 46 years now. Would you talk about how the game has evolved since you played at Wake Forest?

BILLY PACKER: It was strictly a regional sport in those days. Now it's not just a national sport but a worldwide sport. I think the athleticism that we see today is far superior to what it was then. I think probably the fundamentals that were used in those days are at least similar to what they use today. Players are a little bigger but they're also a lot faster and quicker and I think there's more emphasis placed on athleticism.

FB: You played against guys like Oscar Robertson and with a great player in Lenny Chappell at Wake Forest. I've always contended that the truly great players would probably be great in any era. Would you give us your thoughts about that?

BP: There are some guys because of the athletic needs of the modern player probably wouldn't have been able to transcend that but there are other guys who without question would have played and stood out in any era and some of them might have even been superior even to some of these guys we see today because of the skills that they had.

FB: Who was the best you ever played against and the best you ever saw?

BP: The two best that I ever played against in which they were guarding me or I was responsible in some way to be up against them were John Havlicek and Doug Moe. Havlicek, of course, became a Hall of Famer out of Ohio State and then the Boston Celtics, and Doug was a great player at the University of North Carolina. Both of those guys could play in and excel in any era without question. Both of them were a lot bigger than I was and it was kind of tough for me.

FB: And Doug couldn't jump!

BP: He was extremely strong and he was a very solid basketball player. He was so fundamentally strong and a great defender. He had great anticipation.

FB: You were coached by Bones McKinney at Wake Forest. How do you think Bones McKinney would handle things in this era? He was an old school guy but what an entertaining coach!

BP: They could not afford to pay Bones McKinney what his value would be today as a coach and a showman. Can you imagine in this era of television what Bones McKinney would have been? He was famous. I remember when I was in college Life Magazine did a five page spread on him. Today he would probably be a household word around this country with his ability as a minister, a preacher and he was a top notch coach.

FB: I remember him having seat belts put on his chair so he wouldn't jump up and get technical fouls called on him.

BP: He had a great flair for the general public. He really appealed to people.

FB: Now how about the two best players you've seen.

BP: Well at the college level, certainly David Thompson would have to fall in that category. I think he's certainly the finest player ever to play in the Atlantic Coast Conference from the standpoint of an individual star. I think probably the best player I've broadcast in the college game altogether is Bill Walton.

FB: This will be two parts … could Coach John Wooden (UCLA) do it again and the second part of that question is how does Coach Mike Krzyzewski and what he's done getting Duke to so many Final Fours in this era compare to Coach Wooden did in his era?

BP: Coach Wooden is someone I consider a close friend and someone I have admired all of my adult life. Without question he would be great in this era as he was then. Times have changed because in these days he would have never had an opportunity to coach Kareem-Abdul Jabbar for three seasons or Bill Walton for three seasons because in this day and time they probably wouldn't have even entered college much less played three years. So things would be different, but Coach Wooden won before he had those two guys, he won in the interim between those great players and I would assume that today he would still have great teams. Mike Krzyzewski has been comparable to Coach Wooden at least in this respect because in this new era of basketball Mike's consistency has been absolutely amazing. I would say it's only rivaled only by what Dean Smith was able to do with that great consistent program year in and year out despite the fact players left his team early to go in the pros, yet he was able to put quality teams on the floor every year. He was remarkable.

FB: Why has the NCAA Tournament taken off the way it has in the last 20 or so years?

BP: Because teams are capable of winning that next game all over the country. The American dream in sports as well as everything else is give me a chance and then put it on the line. Nobody votes you forward. Nobody can buy your way forward. You have to win tomorrow night's game. I think people can relate to that in their every day way of life.

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