As Jay Bilas and Dan Shulman are quick to point out, they’re not doing manual labor. Or as Bilas puts it, “We’re not breaking rocks.” But still, what the ESPN broadcasting duo is attempting to accomplish this week is impressive nonetheless. Bilas and Shulman are in the midst of a seven-day stretch that will see them call 12 games in two very different locations, nearly 2,600 miles apart.
As I type this, Bilas and Shulman are preparing to call the championship game of the 2017 Maui Jim Maui Invitational. The final in Maui will represent six games in three days for the pair. As soon as the title game is over, they’ll hop on a red-eye and fly to Portland to call the PK80 – Phil Knight Invitational.
At the PK80, Bilas and Shulman will call two games on Thursday, two more on Friday, get an off-day Saturday and call two more on Sunday. That will end their crazy week, but they’ll still have to travel to Bloomington, Indiana as the Hoosiers will host Duke in the Big Ten/ACC challenge.
“I’ve never had a stretch like this, I don’t think anybody has,” Shulman said.
Bilas agreed saying he had never done anything like it. His season started at the Champions Classic with the game between Duke and Michigan State and he added this note, “That was the 14th of November and by the 30th I will have done 16 games. Which is, I think, the most I’ve ever done in November. And all in 16 days.”
While that seems like an exhausting stretch — especially given the amount of prep work that goes in to each broadcast — neither guy is complaining.
“It’s an enjoyable grind,” Shulman said. “I enjoy it. I enjoy the preparation — not as much as the games, but I enjoy the preparation. So when you enjoy putting the work in it’s not a problem.”
Both men agreed that if you’re a fan of the sport, there’s nothing better than being there in person calling games. “I’d be watching these games anyway. I’m a fan and the games are great,” Bilas said. “The competition is incredible.”
Shulman recently gave up his Sunday Night Baseball play-by-play duties at ESPN in order to spend more time with his family in Toronto. So I asked him what made college basketball worth keeping on his docket.
“The games are better than they’ve ever been. Like Jay said, I’d be watching if I wasn’t here,” Shulman said. “The freshmen you have coming in are so much better, so much more prepared. They’ve played so much basketball. The quality of the games is great.”
The upcoming PK80 tournament is a one-time event that both guys said they wanted to be a part of, even though it butted up against their time in Maui.
“This PK80, it’s the only time you’re ever going to have that and you want to go watch it,” Bilas said. “So if we miss a few hours of sleep or have to take a red-eye, so what?”
“I jumped at the chance to do this (stretch of games) and I think Jay did too,” Shulman said.
It’s easy to imagine what to do with a few hours off in Maui, but with only one fully free day in seven, Shulman said relaxing will take priority over sight-seeing.
“We have an off-day Saturday in Portland and I’ll probably do more just hanging out in the room watching football than touring or something,” he said.
While being away from family, traveling and working a ton may be tough, Shulman was adamant that the pair love what they do, “Like Jay said, we’re not breaking rocks for a living. We’re watching games on tape or updating basketball stats.”