Raftery will be calling the Wisconsin-Duke game tonight for CBS.

By Sarah Berkowitz

billBilly Raftery was a very good player on a very good LaSalle team in the early 1960s (left), and when he graduated in 1963 he got drafted in the 14th round by the New York Knicks.

After he got cut from the Knicks, he spent 16 years as a head coach, first at Fairleigh-Dickinson University and then at Seton Hall, compiling a 217-189 record before the era when even mediocre college basketball coaches became multimillionaires and some of the biggest stars in sports.

In 1981 he jumped at a job doing color commentary for weekly Big East Conference games, figuring it would eventually pay more than his $50,000 salary. When it came time to prepare, he began the same routine he followed as a coach.

So when it was announced last week that Raftery and Grant Hill will be calling the Final Four this April in Indy, Hill greeted greeted him with one of the Raftery’s signature phrases — “with a kiss” even when no bank shot is involved.

Raftery and Hill will work as analysts alongside play-by-play announcer Jim Nantz, CBS and Turner Sports announced.

Raftery has been telling fans defenses are in “man-to-man” or that a player’s clutch shot took “onions” for more than three decades during the NCAA tournament. But this is his first Final Four for TV after 23 years of handling the radio call.

The 71-year-old Raftery said he hadn’t thought much over the years about the chance to call a Final Four on television. But now that he’s been afforded the opportunity, he added, “It’s quite a thrill.”

And Raftery looks forward to getting more in-depth with his analysis on TV.

“On radio, you’re a bump in the road for the play-by-play guy,” he said.

Hill remembers Raftery’s calls back during the heyday of the Big East in the 1980s when the future ACC star was growing up in Northern Virginia. The former Seton Hall coach has worked for CBS Sports since 1983 and spent more than three decades at ESPN, before following the reconfigured Big East to Fox for last season.

Raftery hopes his experience in a successful three-man booth on ESPN with Sean McDonough and Jay Bilas prepared him well for the new partnership. Raftery and Hill will work alongside Nantz and sideline reporter Tracy Wolfson for the first time for the Big Ten tournament semifinals March 14 on CBS.

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