Arizona basketball: Dave Pasch on Bill Walton and UA hoops

Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

We caught up with ESPN play-by-play announcer Dave Pasch to talk about his partnership with Bill Walton, Arizona basketball and Aaron Gordon's NBA future.

Play-by-play man Dave Pasch wears a lot of hats. He's an Arizona Cardinals regular-season game announcer but also works the college and NBA games on ESPN. Pasch has caught a lot of Arizona basketball this year, and we caught up to him to discuss his career -- specifically, how he works with Bill Walton -- Sean Miller's basketball team, and how he thinks Aaron Gordon projects in the NBA

Pasch will be calling Wednesday's Arizona-California game that will be broadcast on ESPN2.

Kevin Zimmerman: I know you're a really busy guy this time of year. What's your schedule like in terms of how you handle everything, the grind?

Dave Pasch: It gets really busy in November through March when basketball and football overlap. Now I got college and NBA going on at the same time. Yeah, on a daily basis and weekly basis there's a lot of travel. You know, when you have games that are in Phoenix or in Tucson, it's a little bit easier. I've been doing this for about a decade now, so you kind of get used to the grind and know it's just part of the job. It's fun in a way, but the best part obviously is doing the games. You know, I used a lot of Big East, and while I enjoyed the Big East when you're going back and forth every week, across the country, it gets pretty taxing.

With the Pac-12 on ESPN from a travel standpoint, you feel better, you feel much more refreshed each week so that when you have a week where you have three games in three nights, you feel like you can handle it much easier.

KZ: Obviously doing college and NBA and going back and forth is different, but how is it working with different personalities? Last night you were with Jon Barry and then you go to Bill Walton a few days later.

DP: That's the great thing about ESPN is you've got so many different analysts with different strengths and unique personalities. As a play-by-play person, you have to adjust based on who you're working with. Doing a game with Bill Walton, you're going to call the game differently and you're going to set up Bill differently than you would working with (former NBA coach) Hubie Brown. They're just different. As a play-by-play person, you're doing a disservice to the viewer if you're not cognizant of that. Your job is to call the game but also to get the most out of your analyst.

Part of that is fun, too. I have friendships with all these people. Bill certainly is different than all of them. There's nobody being even close to like Bill. When you do a game with a Jeff Van Gundy or a Jon Barry, you get a little bit of, 'OK, I'm not sure what he's going to say.' Obviously with Bill, it's like that the entire game. A lot of analysts are great game analysts and you know for the most part what they're going to say, and then all of a sudden you're not going to get a "Grateful Dead" reference.

With somebody like Jeff, you might get a random comment, which is great. You just have to be ready and it's part of what makes it fun. The games are great and the venues are great, but really what makes it for me a lot of fun is the different personalities and the people you work with and the friendships you develop.

KZ: With Bill specifically, it seems like he just goes off and you genuinely don't know exactly where he's coming from or what he's talking about. Is that kind of from your point of view (where you say), 'Well, how do you handle that?'

DP: You're right. I genuinely don't know where he's going. We don't really discuss it before the game. He really doesn't like to talk much before the game at all, about anything because he wants it to be completely spontaneous on air. I'm sure you've watched, there's times where he says, 'OK, well what do you want to talk about now?' It's just how he likes to work and I think it's probably what's best for our show – is when it's spontaneous. Because then you react appropriately, I think that's one of the reasons why we have good chemistry is because we're both reacting to the game and to each other. The game is spontaneous, so why not have the commentary be spontaneous?

Certainly there's some structure when it comes to an open or it has to go to break. You can't completely go off the rails. Bill knows TV. He's a smart television person, he's been doing it for 30 years. He's got a pretty good television sense. I think he looks at it as entertainment, really, that's what it is. It's about documenting the game but also making it entertaining to the people watching.

KZ: Getting to Arizona, I don't know how many Arizona games you've called, but it seems like a lot this year. Just from watching Sean Miller, and how he handles the players and how he acts during games, is there anything that stands out that makes him unique as a coach?

DP: I think Sean, you know, we probably need to start talking about him in the upper-echelon of coaches in the country. When he wins 25 games three times in five years, he recruits the way he does. You watch shootaround or practice, he's so hands-on, he's so dialed-in. He encourages, he leads. The way he speaks to the players, he's respectful but honest. He's got it all. The way he manages his game – he's just a great coach.

I think that Arizona with him and the way they recruit and the way he coaches, I think there's no reason Arizona shouldn't be a national title contender for years to come because they've got the right guy at the top, in Sean.

KZ: The Brandon Ashley loss hurt quite a bit but (the Wildcats) have seemed to turn a corner this past week. So leading in to California, what do you see as far as where they stand? It seems like they might be able to hang on to that first place in the Pac-12. Where do they are nationally in terms of tournament hopes and all that?

DP: They played their best game since the Ashley injury against Colorado. I was there. They sort of found their new identity without him. I mentioned this on the air – I think you really have to give them some consideration for the number one overall seed in the NCAA tournament. I know we still have some time to go, but you look at their wins, pre-conference. They're likely going to win the Pac-12. The Pac-12 Tournament is going to be wide open, but if they were to win that along with the regular season based on their pre-conference wins …

The tournament committee is supposed to look at the whole body of work. They'll weigh the losses without Ashley. But they might see Arizona that way, too.

I think the game on Saturday the best I've seen them play this year in person. I just think that they're one of the top three or four teams in the country. They might be the best team. Syracuse lost two in a row. Wichita State is undefeated, went to the Final Four last year, you obviously look at their schedule. And then Florida, they're running through the SEC, but how good is the SEC? That's the other question.

KZ: Let's talk about Pac-12 behind Arizona, as far as UCLA and kind of that second-tier. Who do you think is the most dangerous there, whether it be Cal, UCLA, I guess Oregon could even get it going?

DP: I think it's UCLA. I like UCLA's talent. The fact they met with Arizona one time so early in the year is unfortunate. I think if they were to meet in the Pac-12 tournament, it'd be a great matchup. I think you're right about Oregon, I think chemistry is a great issue there. Offensively there just isn't a lot of chemistry.

Last year it worked with all the transfers because they had guys like (Kyle) Singler and (Arsalan) Kazemi who were defensive-minded, who worked not just looking for points. You know, Stanford's talented, Utah is another team, and I think Arizona State. I think Arizona State's a really good team, I think they're a tournament team. Vegas is a place where Arizona State could have success.

KZ: Circle back to Arizona for one quick thing. Since you kind of rub elbows with the NBA guys, what do you think about Aaron Gordon as far as an NBA player. Defensively he's off the charts, offensively he has some work to do. I don't know if you have any inside info or anything, but what do you think about his NBA future?

A lot depends on when he goes to the NBA and what's expected of him. He's not going to be a guy who averages 20 points per game in the NBA. Now, he might grow into that. He might need another year of college.

I think it just depends on if he goes to a losing team or a winning team.

I think he's a winning player. I think he is a great kid who is an excellent teammate who is coaching, who wants to be great. I think it would help him to go to a team that's established. I'm not saying he's a role player – I think he's got a chance to be a very good NBA player. But his upside offensively is not like Jabari Parker and some of these other guys. I think you have to know what you're getting there.

But then against Colorado he hit that three, I think that helped his confidence. I think the foul trouble may have been because he's looking for confidence. I really think he's got some great upside.

Hollis-Jefferson is another guy. I've heard his name a lot. I don't want to put a number on it … Hollis-Jefferson has a ton of skill. He has a chance to develop to be as good if not better as Aaron Gordon as an NBA player. You'd love to see both guys stay and improve their game and help improve college basketball and help Arizona.

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