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Pitt vs. Syracuse: Q&A with ESPN broadcaster Dave O'Brien

Pitt has a colossal game tonight with Syracuse and ESPN was kind enough to make Dave O'Brien available to us, who will be calling the game. O'Brien, though, isn't limited to hoops and has really had a remarkable career. Check out his answers to my questions below on Pitt, Syracuse, and his career in calling games.

I've got to ask a few non-Pitt things first just because you've had such an amazing career. You had the opportunity to call Barry Bonds' 755th and 756th home runs. What was that like and can you describe the atmosphere on those nights? Those events are viewed as negative by a significant portion of the population (including, a great many out here in Pittsburgh), but those were two special moments, right? Were those the biggest things you've called?

That's a fascinating question, and one I'm practically never asked, because - for obvious reasons - Barry Bonds isn't seen as the legitimate home run king. Yet, in San Francisco the night he hit 756, it was like that ballpark was wrapped in a plastic bubble that no outside negativity was allowed to penetrate. It was a full-scale celebration by Giant fans - who behaved as if the reality of how he did it didn't matter at all. I felt the call of that moment - to a national audience - had to reflect the ambivalence of the country to it, but also had to be documented properly, for history. It was the toughest moment of my broadcast career. When I covered Barry as a Pirate, he was a Hall of Fame caliber player. But when he became the size of a Mack truck as a Giant ...

You've also had the chance to call practically everything in the world of sports - Major League Baseball, NBA games, college football and basketball, the World Cup. What's been your favorite to do?

As a play by play man, it is true: I've had a lot of good luck. 9 World Series. 7 no-hitters. With the Red Sox (who I call on radio in Boston around my ESPN schedule), the 2013 season was one of the most special, ever. The '04 ALCS comeback against the Yankees is an all-timer. So many great basketball games - like a triple overtime contest where we thought, "this kid for Texas - Durant - might be pretty good!" ... But looking back, being in Berlin for the '06 World Cup might have been the most amazing experience for me. The place where Jesse Owens won 3 gold medals, right in front of Hitler. It gave us chills to walk into the Olympic Stadium, wrapped in that history. I'll never forget it.
Anything you wish you could have done or would still like to do?
I believe most people who call sports for a living feel the same way: we just look forward to the next game being a great game. Hopefully memorable, maybe unforgettable. I don't yearn to do a Super Bowl, for example. Look at the last one - a terrible game. True, it's the biggest audience in television. But I'd much rather announce a spectacular Pitt-Syracuse thriller, that comes down to the last shot, than a non-competitive Super Bowl.
Onto Syracuse (sort of) - where do you see Carmelo ending up when the dust settles in the NBA offseason?
I know Carmelo said last week he did not see himself winding up with the Lakers, and he sounds like what he wants to do now is win. But he is also in a prime earning position, and that leaves a lot of NBA teams out of the running. Although it sounds like a lot of pieces would have to be moved for it to happen, my money is on Chicago for Carmelo.
The DaJuan Coleman injury has really left Syracuse shorthanded as the team is down to virtually seven players. The Orange have a talented starting lineup, but do you think that lack of depth will come back to bite them at some point?
Depth never seems to be a major concern for Jim Boeheim, does it? He is comfortable with 7 players, and every year that's what he takes to the NCAA Tournament. They are undefeated into mid-February with C.J. Fair, Tyler Ennis, Cooney, Grant and company, and it hasn't been an issue. Everyone says, "There isn't a great college basketball team this year" and maybe that's true. But Syracuse is great at what they do. Still, they can be beaten: they've come from behind a ton, and that speaks to how well they are coached that they've won them all. But every team is beatable this year.
A lot of Pitt fans have bemoaned the fact that the team doesn't have the 'statement' win they should, having lost all of their games against teams now ranked in Syracuse, Duke, Cincinnati, and Virginia. The flipside is that this team doesn't have the bad loss that plagues a lot of others come Selection Sunday. Pitt doesn't have the look of an elite team, but do you think they have the tools to make a run in the NCAAs?
I like Pitt a lot, and no doubt they have the ability to go deep in the NCAA's - although Durand Johnson is a bigger loss than most people are saying. If you play defense like Pitt, value the basketball like they do and you have Lamar Patterson (and the other guy doesn't), I think you are dangerous. They really attack, too.
During the game, we'll be treated to another C.J. Fair/Lamar Patterson contest. We're splitting hairs here, but to this point in the season, who do you think is the better player so far? Overall, I think Fair may be the better player, but I consider Patterson more valuable to his team just because Pitt has no other real stars.
I wouldn't disagree that CJ Fair is probably more talented, but Lamar Patterson is a bit more valuable to his team. In the first match-up, Lamar hit those monster threes to keep Pitt right there. Without those, Syracuse opens up an 11 or 12-point lead in the Dome. Fair has had a terrific year, however, as well. Twenty-eight points against Duke in what so far has been the college basketball "Game of the Year" tells you he's a special kid. Those 2 and Jabari Parker have been the best players I've seen in the ACC this year.

If the Panthers are going to win against Syracuse, how will they do it?
Pitt has to keep Tyler Ennis out of the lane at all costs. Such a heady kid - smart, knows when to score, when to pass it. Plays like he's been at Syracuse for 4 years. But nobody has had the success against the 'Cuse zone that Pitt has, and Jamie finds a way to get Patterson in the middle of it to score or find others to score. Another hard-nosed, Big East-style, outstanding basketball game.

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