Culture / Sporting Life

Jim Nantz Declares Houston a Lock For a No. 1 Seed in NCAA Tournament, Envisions a Dream Title Game Scenario and Marvels Over Kelvin Sampson

One Proud Coog Sees Real Magic in Memphis

BY // 03.06.23

MEMPHIS — Standing on the court, five minutes after beginning his last season of calling college basketball games with the University of Houston buzzer beater of his dreams, Jim Nantz is still feeling the buzz. The longtime voice of CBS Sports, the proud UH alum who has narrated so many of the biggest moments in sports, is both gleeful and a little exhausted.

“I’m a little spent,” Nantz says. “That was a thrilling game. It’s not every day that I get to call my alma mater in a buzzer beater.”

Jamal Shead’s stepback J, taken a few steps inside the 3-point line on the right wing with UH’s point guard rising to fire with one second left on the clock, doesn’t just beat Memphis 67-65. It doesn’t just instantly silence 18,437 screaming fans instantly — and bring more than a few of them to tears. To Nantz, who knows college basketball and its high-level decision makers better than anyone, it clearly locks up a No. 1 seed for UH in the NCAA Tournament.

No matter what happens in the American Athletic Conference tournament in Fort Worth later this week.

“This was a huge win for the Cougars no mistake about that,” Nantz tells PaperCity. “Because when Houston has lost, they seem to take a bigger hit than other teams from the Power 5 conferences take when they lose. I wasn’t convinced that that if we lost today, that a One Seed was a lock.

“That is over, done with. They could lose in the first game on Friday (in the AAC Tournament) and they will be on the one line. And they will be going to Birmingham (Alabama for the first two rounds of the NCAA Tournament).”

Yes, when you go 29-2 in the regular season as the nation’s No. 1 ranked team and finish with a perfect 11-0 record on the road, the conference tournament is just a blip. It is a chance to win another AAC championship trophy and perhaps secure the No.1 overall seed in the 68-team NCAA Tournament field. Whether being the No. 1 overall seed provides any measurable advantage over being one of the other three No. 1 seeds is very questionable.

The AAC Tournament is still very important to the fate of a tough talented Memphis team that deserves much better than a No. 10 seed in the Big Dance and longshot dreamers like SMU that can only run the table to get in. But this No. 1 Houston powerhouse team’s resume is already beyond reproach.

The man behind “Hello Friends” knows that the road win at Memphis in a supercharged setting means more than anything the Coogs can do in Fort Worth. And anyone who tells you otherwise is just spinning a tale tall. This was one of Houston’s games of the year, right up there with that win at Virginia.

If you weren’t in FedEx Forum, you missed out. When Nantz tells you he is thankful this was his first college basketball call of the season, you believe him His real love for Houston comes through in every word.

Nantz is as invested in this UH team as the biggest super fan. He’s watched every game Kelvin Sampson’s team has played this season on TV. Every single one. Either live or on tape. He’s formed a real bond with Sampson’s program.

“I’m just so appreciative of what Kelvin has done to restore the glory,” Nantz says. “To make it a family atmosphere with his own family and their fingerprints all over it. And to see such a great collection of people.

“He’s a tremendous leader. A life leader.”

On Senior Night at the Fertitta Center, the University of Houston Cougars men’s basketball team cut down the nets after defeating Wichita State 83-66 behind Marcus Sasser’s 24 points and Jamal Shead’s 25 points
UH senior guard Marcus Sasser and Kelvin Sampson have a special bond. (Photo by F. Carter Smith)

Nantz brings his 7-year-old son Jameson to UH’s shoot-around at the FedEx Forum on Saturday night. He’s already indoctrinating the next generation of Nantzs into UH and the ways of Kelvin Sampson.

“Coach called me right here to center court with my son and the kids were all locked arm in arm,” Nantz says, his appreciation coming through as more than authentic.

Nantz brings Jameson to see Sampson in the corridor outside the visitors locker room after the game too.

A lot of times you’ll see big-time TV announcers rushing off to get on a a private plane as quick as they can after the final buzzers sound. Jim Nantz sticks around after Shead’s shot, wanting to spend as much time around this University of Houston program as he can.

“The way Kelvin brings people in and makes them still feel connected to the program is incredible,” UH athletic director Chris Pezman tells PaperCity.

Nantz even shares a moment with Jamal Shead’s parents, Lysa and Elvin Shead, who are among the few in Memphis’ NBA arena screaming with delight as their son’s shot drops and silence overtakes almost everyone around them.

“I love this kid Jamal Shead,” Nantz says. “I mean I love this whole team. His mom and dad were over there going crazy. They’re wonderful ambassadors to the program. And Kelvin has this basketball team top to bottom just five star in every single thing that it does.”

“I wasn’t convinced that that if we lost today, that a One Seed was a lock. That is over, done with. They could lose in the first game on Friday (in the AAC Tournament) and they will be on the one line. And they will be going to Birmingham.” — Jim Nantz

What Jamal Shead’s Shot Can Mean

Some will say this is just one shot. Just one win. Jim Nantz, who knows a little something about college basketball magic, sees something else. A shot like that — a road win like this in a setting so hostile that even Joel and Ellie from The Last of Us might pause before jumping into it — signals something else to the voice of college basketball.

Every national champion has a few moments like this along the way.

“I hope this was a harbinger of something to come on April The Third,” Nantz tells PaperCity. “That would be one of the great career moments of mine. This basketball program is a huge part of my history.”

On Senior Night at the Fertitta Center, the University of Houston Cougars men’s basketball team cut down the nets after defeating Wichita State 83-66 behind Marcus Sasser’s 24 points and Jamal Shead’s 25 points
UH point guard Jamal Shead knows how to control a game. (Photo by F. Carter Smith)

Nantz used to be the public address announcer for basketball and served as the host of the Guy V. Lewis TV Show during his UH student days. He funds the Three Amigos basketball scholarship — the first endowed basketball scholarship in school history — with his former college roommates Fred Couples and Blaine McCallister. Nantz is proud that star guard Marcus Sasser went to school on the Three Amigos scholarship

One thing is certain about the rest of this college basketball season. Jim Nantz will call his last college basketball game ever in his beloved home city of Houston on April 3 at NRG Stadium. But if the University of Houston is playing in that championship game. . . well, you may get Jim Nantz like you’ve never heard him before.

“I have to put a blue blazer on and put it in a national perspective,” Nantz says. “But on April Third, if they get into that game, all bets are off. In the late stages of that game, I may let my real feelings out.”

Nantz laughs, his unmistakable voice still strong. His analyst Bill Raftery is waiting for him to tape one more postgame hit. But Jim Nantz is talking University of Houston basketball and he’s always ready to keep going when the subject is his Coogs.

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