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Friday, February 23, 2001
Classic catches up with "Goose" Givens

By Phillip Lee
Special to ESPN Classic

Jack "Goose" Givens led the Kentucky Wildcats to a national championship in 1978. Givens is well remembered for his outstanding performance in the 1978 NCAA tournament final win over Duke, when he exploded for 41 points in the contest. His total was just three points shy of the all-time NCAA championship game mark. Givens' collegiate accomplishments made him a first round draft selection of the Atlanta Hawks in 1978. He then started a career in broadcasting. He has held analyst positions with Turner Sports, NBC Sports, ESPN, Jefferson-Pilot Productions, USA Network and Host Communications. Givens has also served as color analyst for his alma mater on the Kentucky Basketball Network. Phillip Lee recently got in touch with the Goose to find out how things were going.

Phillip Lee: What are you doing right now?
Jack Givens: I'm a TV analyst for the Orlando Magic.

PL: For how long?
JG: Since 1989 when the Magic came into the league.

PL: How have you enjoyed being a broadcaster?
JG: I enjoy it very much. It's definitely a way to stay close to the game. It's a good opportunity for me to see the best players in the world play every night. But the main thing is that it gives me a real good opportunity to stay close to the game.

PL: Talk about your ties with Kentucky and 1978. Everyone knows about your 41 points (in the 1978 NCAA championship game). What goes through your mind when you think about that?
JG: I just know that was a great chance for me in my life and the things that I'm doing now. That helped me out a lot. It was just a lot of fun to experience it. No question about that. You know, you play your whole career hoping you have the opportunity to win a championship and it finally got to that. It was definitely a great opportunity and a great experience.

PL: Talk about the championship game and how you played.
JG: It was just one of those games. You have a lot of confidence going in. I never expected to have the kind of game that I had in that ballgame, but I knew that it was going to be a great opportunity for us to win a national championship. I felt pretty confident that we were the best team that night, as I did most nights that year. I thought that if we played our game the way we were capable of playing we could beat Duke because I thought we were a better team. But, as far as my game personally, you know you dream about having games like that obviously in the final game, although I don't even know if I dreamt of having one as good as I had. I was very, very excited about the game I had. I was pleased that it came when it did. But, most of all, I was just glad that we won the game because it was a pressure-packed year for us, and we set a goal for ourselves and anything less than a championship would have been a big disappointment that year.

PL: Were you aware that you were so close to setting the record for a championship game?
JG: No, I wasn't really aware of it. I knew I had scored some points. I never thought I was the star. I really didn't. I just knew I was having a good game. I knew I felt good. I felt like I could make everything I threw up there. No question about that. Sometimes I think back on it, and I wish I knew how close as I was because I missed some free throws that I might have concentrated a little bit more on. Late in the game, I missed a shot or two that might have made a difference. On the other hand, had I known, I might have choked up and not had the kind of game I had. So, I'm pretty happy it played out the way it did.

PL: Obviously the NCAA championship was probably your most memorable moment. Are there any other fond memories you have from Kentucky?
JG: Well, I think back to my freshman year when we beat Indiana at the finals of the Mideast region. Indiana, I think at that point, was undefeated. They had beaten us pretty badly early in the year. We were playing the game at Dayton. I just remember the police escort, the caravan we had coming back from that game afterwards. That game put us in the Final Four. I remember the feeling we had after winning that ballgame. It was just a tremendous game. To come back and beat Indiana after being beaten so badly up at their place earlier in the season was a great feeling for us and a great accomplishment for us. I remember playing against UCLA and John Wooden in his final game at UCLA. They beat us in his final game. I remember that. As I think back on it, there were a lot of great experiences there. No question about that. We had some very successful teams. But nothing quite ranks up there with winning a championship because I think that's the measure. I mean, not many teams have an opportunity to win a national championship and it's great to be able to be on top.

PL: How important was it for you to play at Kentucky, being a hometown kid?
JG: Well, you know, what was interesting was that I didn't follow Kentucky basketball growing up. Growing up at that time, there were not a lot of black players at the University of Kentucky, so I didn't have anyone there that I could say "hey, I want to be like this guy." It was a whole lot easier for me to look around the country at other programs and other schools and kind of mimic those players. So, while it was great to be able to play there, it wasn't something that I always dreamed of doing.

PL: So, what was the deciding factor for you to go to Kentucky then?
JG: As I grew up and got older, they began to change things at the University of Kentucky and bring in a lot of players, some black guys that I could relate to. I learned that the fan support there was very good. The people definitely wanted me to go there. Joe B. Hall was there, as opposed to Adolph Rupp. Joe B. had a different approach to the game, I think, than Adolph Rupp did, and that made it easier. It was a lot of factors that figured into it, but the main thing was that I wanted to stay close to home and the opportunity to play at, what I feel, is the best basketball university was there, so I jumped at the opportunity.

PL: Do you still go back to the university?
JG: Yeah. I get back there quite often, actually. Have an opportunity to visit a lot of my friends up there. I still have family there. My wife's family is from there. So we have the opportunity to get back up there quite often. I haven't been up there this year for a game; I usually try to get up every season for at least one home game. I haven't had a chance to get up there this year, because the schedule has been kind of crazy. But I still love going back for games there.

PL: Talk a little about your NBA career. Now, you were a first round draft pick for the Atlanta Hawks, but you only played two years. Why was that?
JG: Such a big part of it of being in the NBA is being with the right team and the right time. I just don't think that the Atlanta Hawks at that time were the right team for me. I wasn't as successful as I would like to have been. I didn't enjoy the NBA game as much as I had hoped I would. I had an opportunity to play overseas for a few years, so I took advantage of that opportunity.

PL: Where did you play overseas?
JG: I played in Italy, Belgium and in Japan.

PL: How many years did you play over there?
JG: About five total.

PL: You must have great stories about competing overseas.
JG: You know, it is a great way to see another country. Pretty good basketball, although nowhere close to the NBA as far as the talent level is concerned on a nightly basis. Individual talent is not as good as in the NBA, although the experience and the teams look pretty good. I just remember visiting and seeing countries and visiting places I probably would never have had the opportunity to visit without the opportunity to play basketball in those countries. It was a great experience for me, a fun experience. I still wish I would have been able to see the future and play a few more years in the NBA. When I was playing, it was the pre-ESPN days, the pre-big-time endorsement days, and all of that changed soon after I left the NBA. I just kind of wished I had played a little bit longer and experienced that a little bit more. Of course, if I had it to do all over again, I would have found a way to enjoy it more and stayed more active in the NBA.

PL: Now, when you got back, obviously you were still pretty young. Did you have the opportunity to hook on with an NBA team? Did you try out with one?
JG: Well, I tried out with the Chicago Bulls at one time. I went to Dallas in the expansion draft. They picked me from the Hawks in Dallas, and I tried out there. Unfortunately, I was just not as confident in my game as I was coming right out of college. I had had a difficult time and a difficult experience with the Atlanta Hawks, and that hadn't gone real well, so I just was not as confident as I should have been. I missed some opportunities to play. But, I had a great experience overseas. I feel real good about my career. Although, as I say, if I had it to do all over again, I would have tried to find a way to enjoy the NBA a little bit more and spend more time there.

PL: Once you finished playing basketball, did you immediately start up a broadcasting career?
JG: I sure did. I started broadcasting high school basketball games in Lexington, Ky., with a radio station there. And, then I started doing some area college games on TV. I went on from there to the University of Kentucky basketball network, then just kept going from there. I've worked with ESPN, NBC, and all the networks basically, before I had the opportunity to come work with the Orlando Magic. Since that time, I still work with Turner Sports in Atlanta. I do various games with them and, in fact, I worked some during the playoffs with Turner Sports broadcasting NBA games. So, I keep pretty busy with it now. We do probably between 75-80 games with the Orlando Magic every year, so that keeps me pretty tied up.

PL: Was it a big adjustment getting away from the game and becoming an analyst? Did you see things from different perspectives?
JG: I tried to use all of my experiences to become a better analyst. I think the fact that I played helps a lot, because, while the players change, a lot of situations are still the same. It takes the same things now to win basketball games as it did when I played. So, some of the basic things have not changed although the game itself has evolved and changed some. I try not to belittle the players and, you know, make them feel bad or make them look bad with my comments when they make mistakes or are not playing quite as hard, because I've been through all that myself.

PL: You can sort of relate more.
JG: Exactly. But, I think at times I relate more with players struggling, particularly in the professional level, than I do with guys being very successful. Because I've been there and I know what that's like, although I have been successful as well, and I've scored points and I know what that's like too. So, I think I can go throughout the spectrum and relate to the guys and what they're going through in any given situation. Those experiences I've had have helped a lot.

PL: You have a son and a daughter. Are they interested in basketball at all now?
JG: Yeah. They both play. They are both very good little athletes and do a very good job of playing. My boy's 14 and my girl's 11, and they are both very, very interested in the game.

PL: What's the relationship between you, your kids and basketball?
JG: Well, you know, that's interesting. It's a little easier with me and my daughter than it is for me and my son, because the first question out of everyone's mouth is, when they see you have a son, is "does he play basketball?" The last thing I want to do is put that kind of pressure on him. It's kind of a fine line, I guess, between pushing him to be the best he can be and getting the most out of him and not pushing him too far and too hard.

PL: How did you get the nickname Goose?
JG: Well, Goose had played with the Globetrotters years ago, and guys on my high school team said I resembled him and his style of play, so they started calling me Goose after him, and it just kind of stuck on.

PL: Now, right now, what's in your future?
JG: I would look at opportunities to coach, depending on the situation. I have interviewed with a lot of coaches and I've talked to a whole lot of others about getting in the business. If I did something other than broadcasting, it would be coaching, if the right situation came along. I've had some opportunities to get into coaching that weren't necessarily the best opportunity, so I stay where I am, because I love what I do. I'm very happy doing what I do. If a good opportunity to get into coaching comes, I will definitely take advantage of that. If I stay where I am for the next 20 years, and I'm able to retire doing what I'm doing, I'll be very happy.