VCU alumnus, CAAHoops.com founder and bocce enthusiast Mike Litos (@VCULitos) will join the VCU Ram Radio broadcast team for the 2012-13 season as color analyst. He’ll join play-by-play voice (and former child acting star) Robby Robinson to bring VCU Men’s Basketball into your living room (and car, and mobile device, etc.).
I recently caught up with Litos to get some answers to the questions that are burning up Ram Nation right now, such as, “Would you be supportive of a Wham! reunion?”
CK: A select few get to come back to their alma mater and put in a position like this. How exciting is this opportunity for you, as a long-time fan?
ML: I’m rarely at a loss for words, lots of them, but I’m still having a difficult time articulating how exciting this opportunity is for me. I will say it’s extremely humbling to even be considered…we’ve got incredible momentum as an athletics department and a university, so to become a bigger part of that is thrilling. I very much look forward to digging in and contributing where I can.
CK: Your predecessor, Mike Ellis, was known for his knowledge of Xs and Ox, his stories and his undying devotion to officiating. What can fans expect when they turn the dial to listen to the game this year?
ML: It’s possible I’ve given aid to an official who, shall we say, may have erred in his interpretation of the rules. I’ll continue to help out the zebras. But really what people can expect is an answer to the question why. My goal is to be invisible. What I mean is that the radio audience gets a mental picture of what’s occurring on the court. Robby does a great job explaining what’s happening; my job is to depict what’s happening that impacts what Robby is describing.
Similarly, I want to give the web viewers something to look for. What I mean there, for example, is showing the weak spot in a 1-3-1 zone and how it can be exploited. Or explaining why we are trapping in one area of the floor or another. My job is to know the opposition inside and out, so our fans know their opponent. They should never be surprised an opposing player has a certain skill. In any case, I am invisible because our fans and listeners are thinking about the game and not what I’m saying.
Boy, I hope that makes sense.
I prefer to look at it in a baseball context. Yankees fans were concerned about losing Joe DiMaggio. They got Mickey Mantle.
CK: Other than the players and coaches, the radio guys are usually the most popular guys associated VCU Basketball. How do feel about your newly-elevated status in the hierarchy of fan worship?
ML: Ha–hilarious. “Worshipping” people like me got Noah’s Ark off the ground. I don’t look at it that way. I’m talking VCU basketball with my friends, no more and no less. I’ll have the same conversations, and I can’t wait. The only difference to me is that when the game starts I go sit next to Robby.
CK: It’s been two years since we lost longtime VCU play-by-play man and fan favorite Terry Sisisky, who was never dull. Give me your favorite Terry Sisisky story.
ML: Here are three anecdotes that aren’t really stories, but how I remember Terry. First, the season I was color analyst for home games I was struck that Terry is very grateful. He thanked the producer every time we cut to commercial and cut back and it was clean. He was truly appreciative. We all think of Terry as a mad scientist–and he was–but he was so much more than that. Second, I ran into Terry one time at Target, just a general Sunday afternoon, and he was the same way. Caffeinated. We had a conversation where I stood still and he darted around an eight-foot circle, waving his arms like someone had just made a left-hand turn from the right lane. I think he shopped every aisle in the store in three minutes. Terry was always Terry. And third, I still find myself muttering “brother, brother, brother” just like him when I’m hit with adversity like when it starts raining and I’m halfway through mowing the lawn.
CK: What’s your earliest memory of VCU Basketball?
ML: The VERY first one is a TV recap of NCAA selections in 1983. We popped up on the screen and I thought “that’s cool, another Virginia school.” But my first real memory is hopping on the city bus in front of Johnson Hall in November 1986 and heading down to the Coliseum to see my first VCU game in person.
CK: What’s the craziest thing you’ve ever done in the name of VCU Basketball?
ML: The 2004 NCAA tournament story is real. I was bummed because a very important business meeting had been scheduled so I couldn’t go to Raleigh. Around 3:00 the day before the game it got cancelled. By 5:00, with no tickets and no hotel room, I was on the interstate. That isn’t crazy compared to what the kids do these days, but pretty good for an old guy.
CK: Did you get into the game?
ML: Yep. Ran back and forth at the hotel from the bar to the front desk that night, making sure I was first in line in case of a cancellation. It came around 9 p.m. I have no idea how I got a ticket…Dr. [Richard] Sander may have come up with one for me since I was a season ticket holder. But I remember Chris Paul not missing a free throw down the stretch. We played well that day but just didn’t get over the hump. Bobby Anthony Walker was a stud as a freshman and didn’t back down. Loved him as a player from that day forward.
CK: In your mind, what do you think is the most underrated moment in VCU hoops history?
ML: This is going to sound awfully silly, but I honestly believe Eric Maynor’s Dagger is underrated. Stick with me here. We were close in 1996. Closer in 2004. That win, that shot, got us over hump and proved it can be done. It galvanized everything we aspire to accomplish. It showed it can be done to the doubters and confirmed things for the fence sitters. It validated the believers. It was “Duke,” which matters, and it was a last-second shot, which matters. When you look at moments in which anything pivots, you look for that moment of coalescence. That was ours.
Look at it this way. It is also one of the reasons our Final Four run was viewed very differently than George Mason. This isn’t a slight to Mason, but they didn’t have a recent NCAA win to reference. Their run was more a surprise. Ours–we could point to the recency of an NCAA tourney win. The view was that we are a good program so we shouldn’t be surprised at the success; rather delighted by the quality of play and how far we were moving our program forward with every win. But every early highlight of our run was Maynor flushing that jumper.
What I mean is that the next time we go to the Final Four, we won’t point to the 2011 Final Four run as “when success became real.” We will point to Maynor’s shot.
CK: My brother got married on March 25, 2011, the night of the VCU-Florida State Sweet 16 game, which opened a seat on the team charter to San Antonio for a certain, unnamed, CAA blogger for the two biggest wins in VCU history. What will you…I mean, what will he, be getting my brother for his anniversary this year?
ML: A Markeiff Morris autographed photo.
CK: VCU has produced a lot of characters (players and coaches) over the years, from Sonny Smith’s down-home charm, to the quirkiness of Jamie Skeen. Name your favorite and why?
ML: It’s difficult to pick anyone other than Skeen. He was hilarious in San Antonio. The team would come flying off the practice court, and five minutes later Skeen would come down the hall, looking like Fred Sanford. He was always a 78-year old man, until the clock started running. I’ve always been a big John Brannen fan since I saw him at a Wanda Sykes concert. A big rumor back in the late 1980s was Martin Henlan being so smart he did Mike Pollio’s taxes for him one year, but that was never proven.
CK: For the last few years, you’ve covered the CAA through your blog, CAAHoops.com. What will you miss the most about the CAA?
ML: Without question, the camaraderie of the CAA community. I’ve always said it was the best college basketball community in the country and I mean it. Everything is so personal; it’s a spirit I hope we can replicate.
CK: I know your wife was a fan of those trips to Wilmington, N.C. What’s going to be the new Atlantic 10 Conference getaway city for VCU fans?
ML: I must make it known I’ve already called Bernie McGlade about adding UNCW. She wasn’t as receptive as I thought she’d be, mumbled something about call screening, but I’m working on her. Honestly, Philly is always a favorite of ours. Thanks to the trips to Drexel, we’ve got a good feel for that city and love the trip. (Translation–we know the good restaurants.) I haven’t been back to Pittsburgh since I went to see the opening of Whatever Bank Park but I enjoyed that city. And I’m eager to visit Olean, N.Y. –I mean that. I grew up a country boy, so green grass and trees are always welcomed.
CK: What do you think will be the most challenging aspect of VCU’s move to the Atlantic 10?
ML: A lot of people talk about the newness, but I don’t think it’s that. The kids don’t worry about travel plans and practice facilities. Darius Theus isn’t scheduling shootarounds. To me, we are going to have to adjust to a different level of hostile environments. Dayton, Xavier, etc. are all going to throw a new level of distraction and noise. I saw a game at St. Joseph’s a few years back and that barn got loud. It will be fun, for sure.
CK: Give us your “way-too-early” keys to VCU’s 2012-13 season.
ML: Here’s an admission: most of the smart stuff I say comes from a coach. For instance, Shaka mentioned to me a few weeks back that we have to be better in halfcourt defense, because that’s how games end. So I’ll take that very true point and put flowery words around it to answer your question. I absolutely think our ability to play halfcourt defense matters. Even in the CAA, many of the games were rock fights–two possession games in the last four minutes. I expect that to continue, if not heighten, in the A-10. Our ability to get key stops from the 8:00 mark in the second to about the 2:00 mark is where games can be won. “Stop-and-score” will be something people hear from me.
I also think a second 3-point threat has to emerge. If we can get opponents to fear Troy and, say Melvin Johnson, that opens driving lanes for Tre Graham and baseline jump hooks from Juvonte. A second 3-point threat just plain makes us a more dangerous team because we’re harder to guard. And it isn’t VCU-specific, but I’ve always put an emphasis on making your first free throw.