In my broadcasting career, which began in 1970, I can honestly say I never lost the excitement of “game day,” when I would do the play-by-play of a basketball or football game somewhere in the country. In addition to enjoying the preparation, but not always the bus rides, I had the opportunity to visit 40 states, many of which I would never have seen otherwise, including Nebraska and Mississippi. Early on, I did hundreds of high school games, followed by Kent State basketball and football for four years, then Cleveland State for 23 years.

After a while, the games and the personalities run together, but many stand out. Larry Shyatt, a Cleveland Heights High School product, was a Cleveland State assistant coach when I started doing their games on radio. Shyatt went on to be the head coach at Clemson and Wyoming, and claimed an NCAA title as an assistant under Billy Donovan at Florida. He continues to coach today on the staff of the Dallas Mavericks.

Today, great players come from everywhere, not just from the power conferences. Almost every game is on tape these days, so a player can be seen doing good things and bad things throughout his playing career and, in many cases, even practices can be found on tape. A former football player, who didn’t quite make it to the NFL, once told me that during a tryout, he made sure he would do something that would stand out. Once, in a 40-meter dash, knowing he couldn’t beat the two others in the race, he dove across the finish line, just so the coaches would remember him.

I did at least 12 games of Cleveland State versus Wisconsin-Green Bay, led by Tony Bennett, the son of their coach, Dick Bennett. He was special and could have played anywhere in the country. While some sons of coaches succeed, others don’t. Tony played a couple of years in the NBA, but his career took a different path, as this past season, he coached the Virginia Cavaliers to the NCAA championship.

CSU’s win over Indiana, and their run in the 1986 tournament under coach Kevin Mackey was probably the highlight for me, but other games stick out. In 1989, the Vikings traveled to Northern Iowa for a Mid-Continent Conference game at the UNIDome, an indoor facility made for football. The Panthers were coached by Eldon Miller, who had been fired by Ohio State. This quote has been attributed to several coaches and players over the years, but it was said that the only person who could stop Clark Kellogg was Eldon Miller.

The game went at a pace that Mackey loved and Miller hated. Heading down the stretch, Nick Nurse of Northern Iowa made three foul shots in the final 20 seconds to send the game into overtime. With CSU leading, 98-96, the Vikings missed a foul shot, then the ball was recovered at the top of the circle by a Panther player, who unloaded a 75-footer that swished through the nets at the buzzer to give UNI an incredible 99-98 win. From 1989 until this year, I hadn’t heard the name Nick Nurse. Now he is coaching the Toronto Raptors in the NBA Finals, 30 years after I saw him help beat a Mackey-coached team in the UNIDome, not to be confused with the Carrier Dome in Syracuse, the site of Cleveland State’s greatest win in the history of their basketball program and one of the greatest upsets in college history – an 83-79 win over No. 3 Indiana and coach Bobby Knight.

Follow Les at Facebook.com/Cleveland JewishNews.

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