It's almost March Madness time and if you ask a college basketball fan to name his or her top five play-by-play announcers, chances are Gus Johnson's name will pop up.
CBS is carrying the Florida-Kentucky game at Rupp Arena this Saturday but we don't yet know who will work the telecast. Johnson has already done two Kentucky games -- the loss at North Carolina and the win at Louisville.
Johnson does a variety of sports in his role at CBS but he said college basketball is his favorite.
"I love college basketball; that's kind of my thing," Johnson said in an interview on "The Leach Report" radio show. "I love all of the other sports, the NFL, the NBA, boxing, martial arts, but I think when it's all said and done for me, college basketball is the sport that I gravitate towards. Sometimes when you look at the crowd in some of these buildings, you see all this positive energy being showered upon these young players out there, some of them 18, 19 years old, and people want them to do well. People want their schools to do well. There's an innocence about it."
What Johnson described may best be encapsulated by Kentucky.
"When I was at that Carolina (vs. Kentucky) game, I was looking around and - wow," Johnson said. "Kentucky-Carolina, some of the names associated with the programs over the years -- Michael Jordan, you just think about stuff like that. Being at the Dean Dome, it's really cool, and I feel the same way and even probably more when I get a chance to go to Rupp (Arena). Twenty-three thousand fans all plugged into the team. They know the history of Kentucky basketball. I had some of my greatest moments as an announcer at Rupp Arena."
Johnson's family has roots in Kentucky. His cousin, who he has never yet met, is former Wildcat and Shelby County High School star Charles Hurt.
Johnson said his grandfather migrated from Lebanon, Ky., to Louisville many years ago and Johnson's father and a dozen siblings spent much of their youth there, so Johnson still has family connections in both communities.
"(My dad's family) grew up on 14th and Walnut," Johnson said. "We used to drive to Louisville from Detroit every summer for family reunions and I got a chance when I was a kid to play (basketball). I used to go back there with my cousin Beau and his buddy Flick and they were big-time ball players. I would go back there where they had all the courts and you would see people coming from all over the area -- black people, white people, everybody. It was kind of like the project setting and you would get some of the greatest games back there."
Johnson's roots are a big reason why he enjoys calling Kentucky games so much.
"It was fun to go back to Louisville to watch Kentucky play Louisville," Johnson said. "That's a big thing for me. It's like a homecoming."
Fans love Johnson's energetic style of calling a game, and if you're watching an NCAA Tournament barnburner of a contest, that approach just enhances the drama on the court.
"I think it's more of an instinctive reaction, theatrical in a sense," Johnson said. "You want to make sure you bring a certain energy to each game. No matter if it's Kentucky-Carolina or if it's the boys club taking on St. Theresa, you want to keep a certain energy level that doesn't dip. I think that allows me to stay engaged in the game no matter who's on the court or no matter what talent level we're seeing. To me, my job is a lot of fun. I'm really lucky to have a chance to have a job like this and I think that every time I go to work, it's important to me to serve as a storyteller and to keep my energy level at certain degree, and hopefully allow the fans to watch and get into it as well."
It's not a problem for Johnson to "get into" the games because he has a genuine passion for college basketball.
"College ball is totally different," said Johnson, who does a lot of work in the NBA as well. "There is so much great energy in the building. You have kids playing that are out there playing for their schools. The college kids out there are rooting for them. There is a purity to the game of college basketball and just a genuine excitement."
And it turns out that the legal profession's loss is college basketball's gain.
"I was in college and I was studying political science in college and I was thinking about becoming a lawyer," Johnson said, adding he changed his mind after spending one day shadowing a lawyer on the job. "After that one day, I knew I didn't want to be a lawyer, that's for sure. I told my mom, 'I don't want to be a lawyer. They work too hard.' She said, 'Baby, anything you want to do, make sure you find an occupation that you'll jump out of bed in the morning to do even if it just pays you enough money to meet your bills.'
"So I went back to school that next fall semester and I just kind of ran into broadcasting and I was an intern for this radio station. Literally, it took me about two weeks and I knew it was something I wanted to do for the rest of my life."
College basketball fans are grateful for that change of course.