Jim Nantz stands just to the right of center court in the sunken broadcast position of Houston's raised playing floor NCAA Tournament setup. Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski is on the floor at the moment, glaring straight ahead as his team goes through a very business-like open practice.
Officially, Nantz is preparing for the South Regional and its blue blood roster of power programs. But really he's holding court, pressing the flesh and sharing stories.
There's no doubt that Nantz's receiving line is longer than that of even Justise Winslow, the 19-year-old budding Duke star from that anything-but-athletic-factory St. John's School. Then again, Nantz does not have to worry about Coach K staring daggers into the back of his head if he lingers too long like Winslow does.
Nantz — the lead voice of CBS Sports who long ago adopted Houston as his unquestioned hometown of choice — will not rush. He'll greet his people one by one by one by one by . . .
First, it's Barry Warner — with the Houston radio pioneer ambling over with his arm suspended in a big, bulky black sling contraption. Then, it's a few minutes with Fox 26's Mark Berman, another important figure from Nantz's past. Berman introduces him to Rice sports information director Chuck Pool and Nantz tells Pool that he watched the Owls' bowl game on Christmas Eve — "every bit of it."
"If Jim Nantz is not our No. 1 alum, he's right up there. And I don't know who is."
This is Jim Nantz. He always tries to make a connection, always seems determined to see the other person walk away from the conversation smiling.
If Jim Nantz has ever had a bad day at work, you'd be hard pressed to know it. But then the conversation turns to Houston being dubbed "a bad college basketball town" and a slightly more prickly, prideful Nantz comes out.
"Who's saying that?" Nantz asks, challenge in his voice.
When someone else chimes in and confirms that's indeed the talk with Houston's NCAA Tournament TV ratings among the lowest in the country and ticket demand anything but Final Four crazed for this Regional (as if regular people being able to afford to get into these games is a bad thing before next year's sure sky-high prices return), Nantz shifts course.
"I don't know why people are saying that," Nantz tells CultureMap. "They obviously don't completely know their history."
Houston gave birth to Phi Slama Jama of course — and some of the most memorable characters and moments in basketball history. Nantz has already made sure the CBS team has footage of that Game of the Century at the Astrodome cued up for when UCLA takes the court against Gonzaga to tip off this Regional at 6:15 Friday night. "Hopefully, we'll get to work that in," Nantz says.
You can tell Nantz means it too. One of the most powerful and recognizable TV figures in the world is clearly sweating the idea that there might not be enough time to give Houston's basketball cred its due.
When it's your city, you worry about such things. So Nantz notes how Houston players are all over this tournament. He gets into how there were four players from Houston high schools who played significant roles in just the first weekend NCAA site he broadcast from. And that's not even getting into the run Kentucky's had the last two seasons with the Harrison twins.
These are all the type of star potential players who used to go to the University of Houston back in the days of Phi Slama Jama, of course. There is a little hurt in that for a proud UH grad like Nantz. But he believes in Kelvin Sampson, the coach who took an anything but storybook path to Cullen Boulevard.
"I like how hard the team played for Kelvin in his first year," Nantz says. "And they had a little something going by the end of the season."
Jim Nantz & The Power of Money
Nantz called the Final Four that Sampson took Oklahoma to back in 2002. He sat down with Sampson again this October. When you're a UH coach, you'll get support from Jim Nantz.
He powered a benefit for the UH golf team at the Pebble Beach wonderland he now calls home that turned into the largest fundraiser in the program's history.
The conversation turns to Houston being dubbed "a bad college basketball town" and a slightly more prickly, prideful Nantz comes out.
"If Jim Nantz is not our No. 1 alum, he's right up there," Trey Wilkinson, a former University of Houston golfer who is heavily involved in raising money for the university. "And I don't know who is.
"He's such a tireless, classy champion for the university. And we don't need to push him. He's pushing us, wanting to do more."
This weekend, Nantz is back in his city, calling his third Regional in H-Town, already preparing for his second Final Four at the Texans football stadium next spring. CBS is trying out a remote camera that's on rails at NRG in anticipation of using it at 2016 Final Four. It speeds along the baseline during Thursday's open practices, seemingly capable of keeping pace with the most frenetic fast break (if only there were more fast breaks in today's college basketball).
Nantz wants people to latch onto more than the bells and whistles though. Grabbing a piece of Houston's basketball history would be nice. He's not going to hit America — or the clueless critics — over the head with Cougar lore though.
Well, unless there's a natural opening.
"If we had 100 more Jim Nantzs, we'd be in great shape," Wilkinson says.
Jim Nantz himself has stepped away for a moment. He needs to get some work in. Don't worry, he's not done holding court with people in his city though. He'll continue to be a walking, talking, smile-creating symbol of just how big this weekend of basketball still is. CBS' top voice is here. In Houston.
"I'll be right back," he says.
Two steps into a 15-foot walk, Jim Nantz finds himself stopped again by another familiar face. It's going to be a little while.