ATLANTA — North Carolina may have earned a first-day bye in the ACC Tournament by virtue of earning the top seed, but the team's color analyst, Eric Montross, didn't.
The former Tar Heel big man was on the airwaves for all four games Thursday, and took a break in the middle to answer questions about his fourth straight season analying the tourney for theTar Heel Sports Network, his favorite tournament memories as a player, and his thoughts about UNC's noon match-up against No. 8 seed Virginia Tech.
Q: What's more draining in the ACC Tournament -- playing, or doing color commentary?
A: Doing this. Sitting right here on media row is tougher than being on the court ... because you can't get up and stretch. [Laughter.] It's been a lot of fun; both of them have their challenges. Now I can watch all the games; as a player, you don't get to watch all the games, but you miss the humanistic side of things. Now you sit to get here and watch all the great plays that develop, and the players that have the tournaments of their careers. You get to watch performances like [Georgia Tech's] Lewis Clinch had this afternoon, the second game. It was great fun. The first game, you could barely keep your eyes open, but now you look forward to the evening. You watch these teams all year long, and it's fun to see them all come together -- some of them playing for the third time; some of them for just a second. But it's a treat.
Q: A lot of people might not know that you cover all the games -- meaning four Thursday and four Friday. How do you prepare for that, and what is it like?
A: The fun thing I have, I'm literally watching these games, and it's easy to comment on something. There's a lot of preparation, just statistically speaking, primarily. Most of what I do is commenting what's going on currently, but you have to know a certain amount of statistical data to back up what you say. Woody [Durham, the voice of the Tar Heels] has been doing this for so long, he's such a pro at it, that I just fall in line and be careful not to fall on his shadow.
Q: How do you think you are different and better at this job than you were the first year?
A: You probably have to ask Woody that question, and I'm not sure I want to hear the answer. It's like anything, there are nuances when you're starting something new in your career, a new project, and the longer you work on it, the better and more fluid you are in your commentary. One of the things that's hardest for me is fitting comments into a small window, and knowing that people listening on the radio -- sure, some turn down the sound and listen to us, but the majority of them don't have a picture to associate with what we're saying, so they've got to hear play-by-play. If I tell them something from an analyst standpoint, I've got to do it efficiently and paint the picture well enough that I can get in and out in four or five seconds. That's something I'm not always good at, but I have fun trying.
Q: In your four years of doing this, do you have a comment you regretted, and/or a comment you wish you would have made?
A: No, I pretty much speak my mind. My only regret would be if I thought I was overly partisan. My goal, and it may be hard for a Wolfpack fan or a Wake Forest an to believe, but my goal is if someone turns on the radio, that they not know I'm a Tar Heel broadcaster. Because I think that's what the majority of the listeners want to hear. It's nice to be able to fall over into the light blue category whenever I want to, and get away with it -- fine, that's who we're supposed to be positive for. I love the game, so I feel like if you don't call the game as you see it, then you're doing the game a disservice.
Q: What was your favorite ACC Tournament moment as a player?
A: The snowstorm in Charlotte and the lights going out [in 1993], at least that's the one so many people talk about. I think, certainly our victory over Duke my freshman or sophomore year, when we won by 22 points or something like that, that was the beginning of me really living the Duke-Carolina rivalry. And it was in Charlotte, and it was great fun. ... It's a great rivalry-filled tournament, so the ones you remember, at least for me, are beating your biggest rivals.
Q: You're thoughts on UNC's first game here, against Virginia Tech?
A: Certainly, being up in Blacksburg just a week and a half ago, we're all aware of what they can do. And certainly, [A.D.] Vassallo has a lot of history across the ACC; he's a great player. He didn't shoot lights-out today, and ... [Malcolm] Delaney, he hit what, 1 of 10 from the field? My guess is that he'll get right back to his average of 40 percent tomorrow -- go on a run, hit 6 for 10, or something like that. Jeff Allen is another guy who really impresses me for Virginia Tech; he's got a lot of tricky moves, he's got pretty good awareness on the court, makes a lot of plays that you've got to be on your toes for. So they've got three really legitimate threats, and anyone else they bring in the mix is a bonus. So maybe they don't have the number of guys who can score a big number of points, but they've got a very capable team.