Final Four: Bill Raftery doesn’t agree that an octogenarian is the face of NCAA basketball

The biggest name for the NCAA’s Final Four men’s basketball tournament is an 80-year-old man with fantastic hair.

“You need help,” Bill Raftery said.

The loooooooong time basketball color man is not being modest. He means it.

In this era of men’s college basketball, as players move from school to school, or jump to the pros, there are fewer personalities associated with the game we know and can follow. CBS’ Bill Raftery is one of the precious few.

Can you name five players, combined, from the Final Four teams: N.C. State, Purdue, UConn and Alabama?

Zach Edey from Purdue. In the last three weeks, N.C. State’s big-body DJ Burns has become a star. UConn is the machine with two players who are projected as NBA lottery picks, but there is a decent chance you can’t name either.

Bama is the basketball team from the football school.

Can you name the head coach from Alabama? Or N.C. State? Maybe you know UConn’s Dan Hurley, and Purdue’s Matt Painter.

In the last few years so many men who helped to establish the sport have retired, stepped away, or passed. Coaching legends Bob Knight and Lute Olson have died. Fellow national-title winning coaches Jim Boeheim, Jim Calhoun, Roy Williams, Mike Krzyzewski and Jay Wright all have retired.

The voice of the Final Four, Jim Nantz of CBS, retired from calling this event after the 2023 championship. College basketball’s crazy uncle, Dick Vitale, has been unable to consistently call games on ESPN for the last two years because of multiple cancers.

Who are we to know, and identify with college basketball?

There are a few coaches who have been around long enough to know; men like Bill Self, Kelvin Sampson, Jamie Dixon, Tom Izzo, Matt Painter, John Calipari, and a few others.

Raftery is one of the few remaining people in the sport that not only everybody knows, but likes. He’s a hard guy to dislike. He remains as effortlessly charming at 80 as he did at 50.

“People are friendly because you are a part of their world,” Raftery said in a recent phone interview. He is handling the color duties of CBS’ Final Four telecast. “Someone you grew up with is a better way of saying it. I sorta understand when someone says, ‘You had a great game,’ it means their team won. It’s not me.

“I just find people enjoy watching the game and are pretty much cordial.”

Today’s audience just knows Raftery as the grandfatherly voice who calls basketball games. They don’t know that Raftery was a pretty good coach at Seton Hall from 1970 to 1981. After he left Seton Hall he walked into broadcasting career that began in 1982.

Much like Hubie Brown, who at 90 is still calling NBA games, Raftery is one of those rare voices who can offer biting critique without it sounding like a knife; he’s not the standard color guy who says cliche sports words to occupy air space on a broadcast.

When he called N.C. State’s win over Duke in the Elite 8, most of the attention focused on the Wolfpack’s offensive tackle-sized forward, DJ Burns.

“He needs a cab to get to the other end of the floor,” Raftery remarked. “They need to run him.”

Over the years Raftery has become known for an array of sayings that set him apart from nearly every other broadcaster, with the exception of maybe Vitale. It never feels like Raftery forces these, either.

“Any of those are just the way I grew up; it’s nothing preconceived,” he said. “Saying, ‘the bank shot,’ was bland. So I made it, ‘A kiss.’ When I say, ‘Lingerie on the deck,’ it’s because my mother would have been upset if I said jockstrap on the table.”

(A personal favorite, “Send it in, Jerome!”)

Raftery is not one to worry about the state of the game, which despite its many challenges, the ratings and attendance suggest it’s healthy. Not what it once was, back in the ‘80s or ‘90s, but it’s fine.

Talk of NIL, collectives, one-and-done and the endless conversation about the “transfer portal” have all become the central topics of conversation about the sport. They’re also not bothering Raftery.

“For what I do, I don’t have issue with it because once the game starts that’s my job,” he said. “The outside noise is a function of leadership, which I have little to do with. We do need a czar (for college basketball), but the legislative part is so far above the coach and broadcaster; they are dealt a deck and they have to deal with it.”

A broadcaster is no different.

When is the game? Where is the game? Who are the two teams? He will prepare accordingly, and call what he sees.

What he sees is another basketball game. A game that has changed over the years, but still a game.

“I blame this all on Steph Curry,” he said of the proliferation of 3-point shots on every level of basketball. “I say that affectionately.”

Because it’s Bill Raftery, we all know he means it. Because we have known him “forever.”

Because he’s one of the last guys with college basketball we all know, and like.