Culture / Sporting Life

Jim Nantz Wishes Houston Fans Appreciated What Kelvin Sampson’s Team Did This Season, Doesn’t Want Anyone to Feel Sorry For Him

Calling His Last Final Four, the Voice of College Basketball Looks Forward to More Dominant UH Runs, Jarace Walker's Super Bright NBA Future and Doesn't Regret the Lack of a Storybook Ending

BY // 04.01.23

Jim Nantz knows how many people wanted the storybook ending for him — the last Final Four he ever calls having his beloved University of Houston in it, playing in its hometown no less. Heck, Nantz desperately wanted that storybook for himself. But the voice of college basketball now wishes more UH fans would appreciate the season Kelvin Sampson’s team actually delivered rather than lamenting the what ifs.

“Nobody needs to feel sorry for me,” Nantz tells PaperCity. “The fact that I didn’t get the dream script at the end. It would have been nice, but that’s sports. I had such a great time from November until late March being connected to this team. Most of the time from afar.

“I truly would get through the late NFL season and through the playoffs and be either watching the (UH) games live if they were on TV or ESPN plus or getting a copy of the games.”

Even as Nantz gets celebrated in the city that means more to him than any other — receiving the key to the city from Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner, seeing street signs by NRG Stadium renamed Jim Nantz Way and Hello Friends Boulevard (for Nantz’s signature opening), receiving a standing ovation from a whole football stadium on this Saturday night  — he is looking back at Kelvin Sampson’s 33-4 team with appreciation. And wishing more UH fans did the same.

“I love this team,” Nantz says. “They’re one of the great teams in Houston history. They’re not going to be able to hang a Final Four banner. But they’re one of the best we’ve ever had. And that should not be lost on anyone.

“I’m really proud of this group.”

Nantz may be one of the most truly optimistic and joy centric people on the entire planet. It’s part of what gives him his uncopyable charm. But he clearly cannot understand how many seem to be looking at this Houston season — with a Sweet 16 loss to Miami ending it — as some sort of failure.

In fact, Nantz regrets not being able to go into the locker room after the Miami loss and deliver that message. Houston’s locker room stayed closed for a long time after the game and Nantz didn’t have enough time to wait around for it to open before he had to get back on air to call another game.

“I wanted to go pay my respects and shower Kelvin, his staff and the players with a lot of appreciation for the season that they gave us,” Nantz tells PaperCity. “We’re always caught up in what the last result was and it can sometimes blur or overshadow the full body of work.

“But the full body of work was 33 wins, three different stints at No. 1, seven weeks total. And they made us very proud. It was a great season.”

NCAA Final Four, broadcast by CBS’ Jim Nantz, Saturday night at NRG Stadium
Jim Nantz was touched when the NRG Stadium crowd gave him a standing ovation at the Final Four. (Photo by F. Carter Smith)

Now, Nantz finds himself calling the ultimate underdog Final Four for his swan song. San Diego State stunning Florida Atlantic at buzzer is the 352nd NCAA Tournament game he has called. UConn vs. Miami becomes the 353rd NCAA Tournament games Nantz has broadcast. His last national championship game on Monday night will be No. 354.

On semifinal Saturday, Nantz puts up a picture of his beloved mom Doris Nantz and dad Jim Nantz Jr. near his monitor at his broadcast position at center court. His mom just died in October with his father having passed more than a decade ago after a painful Alzheimer’s battle. But Jim Nantz is still determined to make them a part of any big moment of his.

He brings them into any game he calls.

Some of Nantz’s proudest moments include getting the Nantz Alzheimer Center going at Houston Methodist Hospital in honor of his dad and making sure the press box at Houston’s TDECU Stadium is named after his mom.

“I love this team. They’re one of the great teams in Houston history. They’re not going to be able to hang a Final Four banner. But they’re one of the best we’ve ever had. And that should not be lost on anyone.” — Jim Nantz

In many ways, this has been a difficult last run in college basketball for the University of Houston icon and proud graduate. The 63-year-old Nantz suffered through the deaths of his mom, his longtime broadcast partner and good friend Billy Packer and most unexpectedly his longtime statistician Pat McGrath, “the brother” who sat next to him for so many of sports’ biggest moments.

Through it all, Nantz has been buoyed by what Kelvin Sampson’s Houston team did throughout the season, putting UH at the center of the national college basketball conversation for month after month after month.

“I’m grateful,” Nantz says. “I’m grateful that Kelvin has built something special that the city and school will hopefully look at as being such a massive success. They gave us something to be proud of and we were all riveted.

“Not just for March. For weeks and months. We were No. 1 in the nation. We were No. 1. And we were the best team in the country. You’ve just got to make sure you’re playing as the best team in the nation for three weeks in March.”

Jim Nantz Enjoying the UH Ride

Nantz ended up calling Houston’s last game of the regular season — that thrilling 65-63 win over Memphis on Jamal Shead’s buzzer beater — and all three of its NCAA Tournament games. He grew to make connections with the players he closely followed from afar during the NFL season. And he leaves the run impressed with UH super freshman Jarace Walker, who goes into this June’s NBA Draft as a lottery pick lock.

“(Former NBA superstar) Grant (Hill) is a huge believer in his ability and a great career to come,” Nantz tells PaperCity. “I’m just grateful that he chose to come to Houston. And he was a big-time recruit for us. And he came to Houston to have the experience he had. . .

“He got coached. He got the best coaching you can find. He was eager to get better and he did. And you know what, these last few weeks I got to know him as just a person hanging around the team and you know what? He’s first class. We’ll always be proud to be able to say he’s one of us.

“He’s a Houston Cougar.”

University of Houston Cougars men’s basketball team defeated the Tulsa Golden Golden Hurricane behind Marcus Sasser’s 25 points, Wednesday night at the Fertitta Center
University of Houston super freshman Jarace Walker seemed to enjoy his time with his teammates.. (Photo by F. Carter Smith)

In some ways, even as he calls his 32nd and last Final Four, Nantz is looking forward to next year when he’ll just be a fan following UH during basketball season. He’s going to try to make some games in person when his NFL and golf TV schedule permits, that’s already being planned for his only from college basketball broadcasting retirement.

“These last few weeks I got to know him as just a person hanging around the team and you know what? He’s first class. We’ll always be proud to be able to say he’s one of us. He’s a Houston Cougar.” — Jim Nantz on Jarace Walker

Nantz also tells PaperCity that he and UH coach Kelvin Sampson will try to get together in the offseason. After all, Nantz still wants to show his appreciation — and get an early preview of what it’s to come.

“This is not a one shot deal,” Nantz says. “This is going to be a program that’s going to be back in this NCAA Tournament with a very high seed for years to come.

“There’s a system in place that’s going to continue to be rewarded with great seasons and a chance every year to contend for a national championship. I really believe that.”

Sure Jim Nantz might always see the bright side. But with this University of Houston basketball program and Kelvin Sampson, he believes it’s blinding — and very real. No storybooks needed. In many ways, this is the UH team that brought new levels of national recognition and focus — a spotlight like no other — back on the university Nantz loves.

“I hope it doesn’t take 20 years for them to reflect on it, but they achieved a ton this year,” Nantz says. “And you know what. Not many people can say they accomplished what this Houston team accomplished this year. That’s for sure.

“I’m so proud of them. I’ll never forget them.”

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