Sometimes Tar Heels Do Bleed Red: A Conversation With UNC Broadcaster, Eric Montross
It is an image that will be etched in the minds of Tar Heel fans everywhere for the rest of their lives. Duke was in town, and the Dean Dome was rocking. It was a hard fought battle and by the end of the evening UNC’s star center and crowd favorite was covered in blood. Now anyone born after 1990 might assume that I am referring to the infamous 2007 “Gerald Henderson elbow” game. However, Tar Heels who are a little longer in the tooth know very well that before Hansbrough’s broken nose, there was the “Bloody Montross Game.” It is the game Tar Heel fans ask him about most often even more than the 1993 National Championship game.
I guess one could say that game was a turning point in my now 31 year obsession with Tar Heel basketball. Montross has said in the past that the first whack was his fault as he failed to protect himself against the defender. However, as a ten year old kid watching the game, the only thing I knew was that one of my beloved Tar Heels and favorite players was bloodied and needed stitches. From that point on for me, “Mine enemy, thy name is Duke.”
One could also say that Montross blazed the trail for Indiana big men at Carolina. UNC won a hard fought recruiting battle with Indiana and Michigan when Montross chose to play in Chapel Hill. Since then, fellow Indiana big men Sean May and Tyler Zeller have followed suit. An avid outdoorsman and fisherman, Montross now lives with his family in Chapel Hill where he is a broadcasting analyst for the Tar Heel Sports Network. (You know that station we listen to when we don’t want to listen to Dick Vitale). I recently spoke with Mr. Montross and asked him about broadcasting, his years as a player and his opinion on next year’s team.
MB: How did you get into radio? Was it something you were always interested in or did you just stumble into it?
EM: (Laughs) It’s funny you should say that because if I were to describe how I got into radio, those are the exact words I would use, “stumbled into.” Monica, I never had any intentions of doing radio. When I first moved back to Chapel Hill in 2003 after I finished my NBA career, I went to games like everyone else. Then I started going down to the broadcast desk in between halves to talk to Woody and Mick. We would chat about the 1st half and what we could expect in the 2nd half. Then I would go back to my seat and go home like everyone else.
After the Tar Heels’ 2005 Championship, Mick Mixon left to join the Carolina Panthers broadcasting team. I was approached with the opportunity and decided to try it out for a year just to see if you know I liked them and they liked me. Fortunately, it turned out well, and here we are 7 years later.
MB: Our site Keeping it Heel has started doing a few live, radio broadcasts, what advice do you have for people starting out in radio?
EM: I’m not sure I am the best person to give the gospel on that subject. Like I said I sort of just stumbled into it. But the best advice I can give is to learn as much as you can about every aspect of the broadcasting industry from production, behind the scenes, etc. Take advantage of any opportunity you can to get your foot in the door.
My colleague, Jones Angell spent ten years studying the broadcasting industry and was basically the understudy of Woody Durham. All of which helped him become the outstanding play-by-play guy he is now.
MB: That was going to be my next question. Do you consider more of a play-by-play guy or a color commentator?
EM: I am definitely not a play-by-play guy. I think those guys have a real gift, and it’s the most important part of the broadcast. I like to watch the game and dissect aspects of the game. I think I’m better suited for it. Ask me in 7 years, and I may have a different answer, but right now I am most definitely more of a color analyst.
MB: Mick Mixon once said that after a game that he was wired and said, “It’s like you’ve played the game.” Do you feel the same way?
EM: Having been a player, I can say that for me personally the experiences are totally different. You know I share in the emotions of fans, the team and former players. But, I don’t get nervous before games like I did as a player. I definitely get excited before calling a game, but it is much easier to distance yourself from the outcome. As a broadcaster, I am on the sidelines and know that nothing I could have done would have changed the outcome of the game. I can go home and sleep at night. That is not the case for coaches and players. As a player you think about what you could have done differently. There is more personal responsibility and a lot more sleepless nights.
MB: You’ve played against some of the best big men to play the game, Shaq, David Robinson, Chris Webber. Who is the best big man you’ve ever played against either in college or in the NBA?
EM: Hakeem Olajuwon. I played against a lot of great players, Patrick Ewing, David Robinson and Robert Parrish at the end of his career. But, Olajuwon is the one that stands out. He was a phenomenal player.
MB: How much did UNC’s graduation rate and player’s GPAs factor into your decision to go to Carolina?
EM: That’s a really good question. I had the good fortune to be recruited by programs like Michigan, Indiana and Carolina that all had high graduation rates. But, yes graduation rates did play a part in the schools that I considered. All of the schools I seriously considered had comparable graduation rates. In the end, it just came down to where I thought would be the best fit. It was what I like to call the “pit feeling”. You know the feeling that you get in the pit of your stomach. Carolina was the place I where I felt I belonged.
MB: What are you most excited about for the 2012-2013 season?
EM: I haven’t really given much thought. But one thing is next year’s team will not be as heralded as this year’s team. I think there will be a lot more room for growth. With a younger team, you have to rely a lot more on coaching, hard work and diligence. UNC has such a strong coaching staff. I love watching practices especially the early ones in October and then watch them in March or April and see how the team has developed. I think next year’s team will be a lot like the 2006 team with Bobby Frasor and Tyler Hansbrough and we all know how they finished their careers.
In closing here are 5 things you may not know about Tar Heel Great, Eric Montross:
1. Montross was a baseball pitcher in high school and was drafted by the Chicago Cubs in the 1994 MLB draft.
2. His Jersey Number “00” is the only number still available to wear that has been honored both times it was worn by Montross and Brendan Haywood.
3. Montross’s sister Christine was a student at Michigan when the Tar Heels defeated the Wolverines for the 1993 National Championship. His father and grandfather also played basketball for Michigan.
4. As a child Montross wanted to be a trashman or a fireman because of his fascination with trucks.
5. As a UNC player, Montross had a personalized Indiana License Plate, “TARHEEL.”
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