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Stan Van Gundy gets us fired up over March Madness, Magic’s future | Commentary

Orlando Sentinel logoOrlando Sentinel 3/15/2023 Mike Bianchi, Orlando Sentinel

Stan Van Gundy is in the middle of watching game tape of the 13th-seeded Louisiana Ragin’ Cajuns when I call him earlier this week to talk about his role as a color analyst for this week’s NCAA Tournament games in Orlando.

Stan is watching tape of 16 games — two games each for all eight teams playing in Orlando — to familiarize himself with the first- and second-round matchups at the Amway Center. Just as he was when he was one of the top NBA coaches in the league with the Orlando Magic, Stan the broadcaster also is a stickler for preparation.

His knowledge and love of the game, his engaging personality, his sharp wit and even sharper opinions (check out his Twitter account) is why Stan has rapidly shot up the charts as one one of the top NBA color analysts in the business at TNT and why he was chosen to do the NCAA Tournament by the network as well.

A longtime resident of Central Florida who got his start as a college basketball coach, Stan is obviously amped up about broadcasting March Madness in his hometown. He took some time out recently to discuss the tournament, his broadcasting career and the future of the Magic.

Here are some excerpts from our conversation:

MB: The NBA is obviously your field of expertise so how hard has it been to prepare for this NCAA Tournament?

SVG: “I’m lucky because I’m part of a three-man crew with excellent college basketball broadcasters like (veteran color analyst) Dan Bonner and (award-winning play-by-play commentator) Kevin Harlan. Dan’s been doing the tournament for 30-plus years. He knows the rules of college basketball inside-out. He knows the history of the tournament inside-out. He knows the teams inside-out. I watched Kevin and Dan do the Mountain West Conference final the other night and I was like, ‘Wow, these guys are great. Why in the hell do they need me?’ "

MB: You’ve quickly shot up the charts as a TV analyst. Would you take it as a compliment or an insult if somebody said, “Stan Van Gundy was a good basketball coach, but he’s an even better basketball broadcaster?’”

SVG: “That’s a nice compliment. I think a lot of coaches who go into broadcasting hear that because when you’re coaching you lose some games — and when you lose games then fans hate you. But when you’re broadcasting, you’re undefeated and therefore everybody loves you. Since I got out of coaching, I haven’t lost a game in two years as a broadcaster.”

MB: What are some of your initial impressions of the marquee teams playing in Orlando?

SVG: “Tennessee, Virginia and San Diego State not only are really good offensive teams, but they are three of the absolute best defensive teams in the country. If San Diego State plays Virginia in the second round, that game might be 32-30. And not because they’re bad offensively, but because their defense is so good. The thing I think is intriguing about the first-round matchups in Orlando are that the higher seeds are really good defensively and the lower-seeded teams from the mid-majors are really good offensively. It’s gonna be fun to watch.”

MB: What are some of the things you observe about the difference between the college game and the NBA game?

SVG: “The one thing that really stands out to me is that the college game is so much more physical than the NBA game. They allow so much more contact in college. The other thing is there are a lot of really good, skilled big guys in college basketball. Like Oral Roberts has a 7-foot-5 guy [Connor Vanover] who can shoot 3s and pass and hit fadeaway jumpers. In college, they still play through the post. In our league [the NBA], it’s gotten tougher for the bigs because maybe they can’t defend out in space.”

MB: What about the talent level in the college game?

SVG: “Even when you’re watching a team like College of Charleston, you notice there are a lot of really, really, really good players in college basketball. No, you’re not going to see them in the NBA or maybe they won’t be playing for money anywhere, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t really good players.”

MB: Duke will be in Orlando with Jon Scheyer in his first year replacing Coach K. How tough of a job does he have?

SVG: “Impossible. But he’s doing a great job. It helps that he’s a Duke guy and a Coach K guy, but, still, he’s replacing an icon. What I’ve seen from the outside is this: He’s won the ACC Tournament in his first year with five of his top six players being freshmen. What’s incredible to me is he has those five freshmen and a sophomore in his top six and everyone of those guys has NBA aspirations and half of them could jump this year — and, yet, they are an incredibly unselfish team. They are really playing together. That’s pretty impressive from a coaching perspective.

“But I will say this: I don’t know what’s happened to the Duke brand. Since Grayson Allen has left, there’s nobody at Duke to hate. We had Christian Laettner, we had J.J. [Redick], we had Grayson Allen.

“(Laughs) I thought Duke was supposed to give us somebody to hate, but now, there’s nobody. In that regard, Jon Scheyer has failed.”

MB: You got your start as a coach in college basketball, but you were fired after only one year as the head coach at Wisconsin. Are you still bitter about that?

SVG: “One year is not a lot of time, but at the same time, we didn’t have as good a year as we should have in that first season so you’ve got to own that as a coach. Getting fired certainly hurt at the time, but I got really lucky because I got fired just months before Pat Riley left to go to the Miami Heat, and it gave me the chance to get my foot in the door in the NBA. So, no, I’m not still bitter because I think the NBA fit me better as a coach than college did.”

MB: Stan, this has nothing to do with college basketball, but Magic fans have endured a lot of losing since you left as head coach. Will the Magic ever be good again?

SVG: “Oh, yes, they have the makings of a good team right now. I think the two best young rosters in the league are Oklahoma City and the Magic. Paola Banchero and Franz Wagner give them two really good young players to build around and I like their other frontline guys, too — Wendell Carter Jr., Bol Bol, Moe Wagner. Their guards are OK and good rotation players, but I’m not sure their guards are good enough moving forward to get them where they want to go. I think Jamahl Mosley is outstanding as a coach. He’s shown a real resolve and patience and the players buy in to what he is saying. I think the management team of Jeff Weltman and John Hammond have built a good roster and Magic fans have some real hope for the future.”

(He laughs)

“Believe me, nobody wants the Magic to get good more than I do. I told Jamahl this earlier in the season: ‘I need you guys to be a playoff team so I don’t have to travel and can get some home games on TNT.’”

Email me at Hit me up on Twitter @BianchiWrites and listen to my Open Mike radio show every weekday from 6 to 9:30 a.m. on FM 96.9, AM 740 and HD 101.1-2

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