As I listened to Kevin Harlan and Doug Collins wrap up the Phoenix Suns’ 99-90 series-clinching win over Portland last night, I couldn’t help but think about the variety of play-by-play and expert analysis broadcasters that are coving the NBA playoffs this year. I’ve always been a big fan of the Collins-Harlan duo, but what about the other peeps? Some people enjoy the classic stylings of Marv Albert and “The Czar” Mike Fratello. Other cats like the commentary of Reggie Miller and Kevin McHale – a posse of which I am not a member. Some prefer Doris Burke, Mark Jackson or Jeff Van Gundy on occasion, and then there are a lot of fans that like to stick with the local homer guys – where every foul call and loose ball should obviously be called in favor of the home team. When you get out of the NBA game though, there are also a few gems tucked away in the college circuit.
In Spokane, a name you might remember – mostly for the guy whose shoes are on half of our readers’ feet – has been calling games for the Gonzaga Bulldogs for more than a minute now. And even though Craig Ehlo has been happily and vivaciously giving his own brand of game analysis about Mark Few and Company during every college season, it doesn’t mean he’s stopped hooping on the side with his buddies – a group that includes John Stockton.
This past January, I was able to witness the University of San Francisco upset Gonzaga 81-77 in a ridiculously crazy overtime match at USF. As the teams were loading up their respective busses to board out of the City by the Bay, I was able to catch “Mr. Everything” and follow up with him for a conversation in Dime #56.
Memories fade away, but images last forever. If you try to conjure up an image of Craig Ehlo, it’s most definitely a remembrance of something he can’t seem to escape. Yet only few know that he was a 14-year NBA veteran and one of the most valuable pieces of the Cleveland Cavaliers contingent along with Mark Price, Brad Daugherty and Larry Nance in the late ‘80s and early 90’s.
A three-point shooter, slasher and defensive menace – whose legacy is sadly marred forever by “The Shot” he’d love to erase – Ehlo could do it all on the hardwood. “Mr. Everything” was the proverbial hard-working everyman that the city of Cleveland embraced. At 6-6, Craig could battle with bigger defenders in the low block and step out to stroke the long ball with consistency – for which he had a knack of knocking down in pressure situations. His best year stat-wise came during the 1989-90 season, where he averaged 13.6 points, 5.4 boards and 4.6 assists for the Cavs. Not so much of a finesse player, Ehlo’s scrappiness and work ethic kept him around the League for a lengthy career. Drafted in 1983 by the Houston Rockets, Ehlo then bounced around to Cleveland, Atlanta and Seattle before deciding to hang up his NBA laces for good.
These days, the 48-year-old Ehlo makes his home in Spokane, Wash., just shy of two hours north from his collegiate alma mater of Washington State in Pullman. With his professional playing days behind him, Ehlo now serves as a key broadcast analyst for FSN Northwest and the Gonzaga Bulldogs – a title he’s had since 2003. With Gonzaga already having exceeded expectations this season and looking good heading into March’s dance, it presented us with a good excuse to catch up with Mr. Everything and talk a little basketball.
Dime: Do you still play in pick-up games around Spokane?
Craig Ehlo: I play twice a week. You’re going to like this one, I know you’re familiar with John Stockton; he built a gym here (in Spokane) using the old Utah Jazz floor from the Salt Palace. He bought a couple of old warehouses and he’s got five courts in there – he opens it up on Sundays for us to play. A lot of old Gonzaga players play, like Casey Calvary and Richie Frahm – so it’s an old guys thing – but he also lets the local high school kids come in. So they get to kind of learn and play against better competition. It’s fun and if you know John, he doesn’t goof around. It’s games to seven and you play your butt off or you don’t play at all.
Dime: Do you guys ever bust out your old NBA jerseys during the games?
CE: Now here’s the funny thing, John wears his old shorts from probably when he was in high school that come up around mid-thigh and some old Nikes that I bet you are 1984 models. So he’s nostalgic. It’s funny too because we play skins and shirts, and sometimes him and I have to take our shirts off and it’s not pretty – but John’s in the kind of shape that he played in for 19 years and he can run forever. Matter of fact, just yesterday we won three games in a row and I was like ‘I can’t go again, it’s too much,’ and John was like ‘get your butt up here, we’re going to go again.’
Dime: So what made you get into broadcasting?
CE: Well I coached high school from 1999-2003 and that was just about the years that Gonzaga was starting to make a good run. The local stations started televising their games and asked me if I would help. I said sure, but I was still coaching high school at the time. They put every game on TV, because no one else was covering it, and I’ve been there ever since.
Dime: Have you ever had any mishaps on the air?
CE: Actually I subbed in one time to be the color (commentator) for the Sonics up in Seattle with Kevin Calabro – who by the way is one of the best play-by-play guys in the NBA – and he choked on some water and couldn’t talk from the tip-off to probably about five minutes into the game. So I had to do both play-by-play and color – which are two totally different things – and I got tongue-tied. So I have much more respect and admiration for play-by-play guys since I had to do that by myself. I don’t know if I would ever even consider doing play-by-play.
Dime: Do you see yourself going back into the coaching ranks or are you content staying behind the mic?
CE: Coaching high school was very rewarding, but I think I always thought about going a little bit higher than that. Here’s the thing – and I’ve heard Doug Collins and all these (other analysts) say it – when you’re on the sidelines calling the game, you can pretty much coach from that position, but you don’t win or lose that day. You just call the game, so there’s no pressure on you. I kind of took that to heart because you do; how I was taught in broadcasting, was to say why something happened out on the court. Having played basketball for 14 years in the NBA, four in both college and high school, I had a lot of years of basketball and knowledge.
Dime: You weren’t a first round pick in the NBA, yet you worked hard and carved out a good career, what advice would you give younger guys who have aspirations for the League, but aren’t given the same chance as a first-rounder is?
CE: Yeah, I was a third-round pick in 1983 and in those days you had to go to a rookie camp in the summer, just to be invited back to the veterans camp in the fall. So you’re fighting with ten other guys all trying to get a job in the NBA. For me, I just really, really love the game of basketball; I could play it in a driveway for countless hours. My advice is no matter who you are – if you’re the fifth guy on your team or the twelfth guy – you just have to believe in yourself and you have to believe in your abilities. I’m not saying be arrogant or be over-confident, but those things will drive you to succeed in what you want to do. That’s exactly what helped me; nothing was given to me, I had to earn everything and I think there’s no better reward than when you earn something – especially if it’s something that you have a passion and a love for.
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