You all know me as a big-time Syracuse guy, so it's rare that you see me so eager to interview a Blue Devil. With this, I had to make an exception. ESPN College Basketball Analyst Jay Bilas, and former Duke player and assistant coach, has become one of the premier voices on all things college athletics, from play on the court to his opinions on collegiate amateurism and NCAA policies. I'm happy to have had a chance to interview Jay recently.
Brandon Steiner: What sparked your interest in basketball early in life? Who were some of the players you looked up to growing up?
Jay Bilas: Like any other kid, I played a lot of sports growing up. I played baseball and basketball, and basketball was my favorite from early on. It was a sport I could play anytime, anywhere, and I loved it from the first bounce of the ball. Growing up in Los Angeles, I was a big UCLA fan. I really admired Bill Walton, but my favorite player when I was a kid was David Meyers. I loved how hard he played and how good he was. I also loved Jerry West when I was really young, and Magic Johnson when I was in high school. Magic was the first guy that was my size that played the point, and he was simply amazing. I was a sophomore in high school when he put up 42 against the Sixers when Kareem was out, and Magic jumped center and totally took over. Incredible.
BS: You played for and coached under Mike Krzyzewski. What was it like to learn from one of the greatest basketball coaches of all time?
JB: I’m really grateful to have played for Coach K. I have known him for over thirty years, and he has been a profound influence in my life, in and out of basketball. If not the very best, he is certainly one of the very best coaches ever, but he’s even a better guy. I’m lucky to have him as a mentor and friend.
BS: When did you know you wanted to pursue a broadcasting career?
JB: Pretty early on. I always thought I might want to try broadcasting after my playing days were over, and I worked in the industry as a production assistant from 1983 on. I really learned a lot, and thought it would be something worth trying. I never thought I would love it this much, but I do. I’m awfully lucky to be doing exactly what I want to do.
JB: It was very nice. It’s a little bit of an odd feeling to have a book out there with your picture on it, with a title like Toughness. The book isn’t about me, because I am hardly the epitome of toughness. I’m sure Coach K finds it wildly ironic that I wrote on that subject, considering that I was not all that tough as a player! But, I have learned a great deal about it, and wanted to share what I learned from others who know a heck of a lot more about it than I do.
BS: On the topic of toughness, a lot of discussion in college basketball this year has centered on the interactions between players and fans, coaches and officials, etc. There seems to be a certain level of hostility this year in the college game (i.e. the Marcus Smart incident and Jim Boeheim’s tirade, among others). Why?
JB: We seem to have a lack of civility in sports right now, and it is a bit troubling. The interaction between coaches and officials on the college level is concerning, and I believe it would be best for that to be dialed down. Coaches negatively interact with officials for one reason, and that is to influence them. If we feel that such interactions do influence officials, we need to stop it. If we don’t believe such negative interaction with officials influences them, we should stop it because it looks bad, and sends the wrong message, and makes people think that officials are being influenced. Either way, we should put a stop to it. We should not have a game where NBA coaches behave better than college coaches.
BS: With the advent of social media, you’ve been one of the more outspoken and opinionated people in college basketball and on the topic collegiate sports in general. Specifically, you talk a lot about collegiate amateurism. What’s the future for the college athlete? Should they be paid?
JB: This is a multi-billion dollar business that is professional sports in every way. Every person is allowed to get fair market value except for the athlete. I think that is wrong. I don’t believe there should be a mandate that all athletes must be paid, I just believe that all restrictions from providing an athlete more than a scholarship should be removed. There should be no barrier to athletes being compensated in the same way as every other employee. In fact, no other student is restricted from fair market value. Only athletes are. Money and education are not mutually exclusive, as the NCAA would have you believe. And, the entire multi-billion dollar enterprise does not teeter on athletes remaining amateur.
BS: Most people know you for your work as a broadcaster and are unaware that you are a practicing lawyer. How do you balance your two careers and what advice do you have for collegiate athletes as they pursue careers outside of sports?
JB: I am still Of Counsel with the firm of Moore and Van Allen, PLLC in Charlotte, North Carolina. I was a full-time litigator for years, but I haven’t carried a full caseload for years now. Basketball is a full-time, year round endeavor, and I can’t do both anymore. I chose the path that got me to more games. As to advice, I would say to follow your passion. I have loved what I have done ever since I left high school, and I feel like I have never worked a day in my life. I have benefitted greatly from my pursuit of education, and I commend graduate school to anyone, athlete or not. I loved going to college. But, my love for college and my love for the game would not have been affected in any way had I been allowed to earn money while I was in school. Love doesn’t work that way, in spite of what the NCAA will tell you.
BS: Thank you, Jay.