Dick Vitale and Jay Bilas may be college basketball’s household names when it comes to television, and that’s just fine with one of the best and most versatile play-by-play men in the business.
“I’m exactly where I want to be,” said Dan Shulman.
As ESPN’s lead announcer for college hoops, the 47-year-old Canadian will be courtside with Bilas on Saturday night when top-ranked Kentucky meets Florida in Gainesville.
So how did a Canadian become the World Wide Leader’s top play-by-play man on two of its biggest sports?
Shulman worked three years at the University of Western Ontario campus radio station before graduating in 1990 with a degree in actuarial science. Six months as an actuary, however, caused him to try radio full-time.
He started at a station in Barrie, Ontario, 50 miles north of Toronto. A year and a half later, Shulman moved to a Toronto sports station. Five years after that, he transitioned into television where he did the Toronto Blue Jays games for seven years.
It was seeing him work the World Basketball Championships, however, that caused ESPN to hire Shulman in 1995 for college basketball. He began working exclusively for ESPN in 2002. He became Sunday Night Baseball’s lead announcer in 2011.
Major League Baseball ends just as college basketball begins, which makes for a heavy travel schedule.
“I estimate I sleep in a hotel room about 140 nights a year,” said Shulman via phone Thursday from his home in Canada. “The travel part is not glamorous, but it’s a means to an end. I’m blessed to have the job that I do.”
Wait a minute; aren’t all Canadians crazy hockey fans?
“As a young kid, hockey was the only thing I knew,” Shulman said. “I was 10 when the Blue Jays came to Toronto and I was hooked on baseball from the day they got here.”
Shulman played high school basketball, but his first exposure to American college basketball came when his family visited his grandparents in Florida for spring break.
“This was March of ’83, the year where North Carolina State made the Cinderella run and won the national championship,” said Shulman. “I was hooked. Everybody else was going to the beach and I’m just sitting and watching basketball all day.”
He is also a huge football fan — his favorite team being the Green Bay Packers, so Shulman is “still stinging” from the NFC Championship game loss to the Seahawks.
“If my career had taken a different bounce, I could have just as easily been a hockey/football guy,” Shulman said.
Instead, he is a baseball/college basketball guy.
“Sometimes people will come up to me and know me as a baseball guy and hardly even know I do basketball,” Shulman said. “Sometimes people will come up to me as a basketball guy and hardly even know I do baseball.”
The pace of the two sports is different, presenting unique play-by-play challenges.
“I liken it to during baseball season, I’m walking on a treadmill, then on Nov. 8, or whatever it is, someone triples the speed of the treadmill and I’ve got to get going fast,” he said. “I’m equally comfortable doing both, to be honest with you.”
He’s also comfortable working with different partners. Shulman said his goal is to get the most out of his analysts. It shows.
“One of the producers I work with makes the analogy that we’re a basketball team and I’m a pass-first point guard,” Shulman said. “That to me is about the highest praise I can get. I don’t need to make the basket, I prefer the assist.”
He sometimes gets an assist on the road. Two of his three boys are huge sports fans. His 14-year-old wants to visit all 30 Major League Baseball parks. (He’s at 19.) His 21-year-old is looking forward to attending the ACC Tournament in March.
“It kind of alleviates some of the loneliness for me from being gone so much,” Shulman said. “If I can take my kids with me and show them a really good time that’s a good thing for everybody.”
Just as making that career switch was a very good thing for a certain Canadian.
“I love being a play-by-play announcer for games,” Shulman said. “I’m lucky that the thing I wanted to do is the thing they hired me to do and they’ve allowed me to keep doing it.”
Credit to the Lexington Herald-Leader who originally posted this article