Photo courtesy Room 17 Productions
Jock Sutherland hasn’t seen a University of Louisville basketball game in person since 2001. That’s a long time for a man who was immersed in the sport for most of his 90 years. But he’s still very much a UofL basketball fan, describing his time with the program as “one of my bonuses in life.”
Since he can’t play golf or travel for basketball games, he relies heavily on his big screen TV to follow the sports he loves. “Being 90 isn’t easy, you have to learn things all over again,” he said. “I see as many Louisville games as I can although it is sometimes a challenge finding UofL games in Central Kentucky.”
Sutherland was a member of the UofL basketball radio broadcast team from 1981 to 2001. He raised the concept of color commentator to another level, entertaining fans with a zany sense of humor, unrelenting candor and folksy stories. A former member of the University of Kentucky coaching staff, he was often critical of UK on the broadcasts.
The Observer caught up with Jock by telephone on Monday at his Nicholasville home that he shares with his wife Phyllis, adjacent to the Lone Oak Golf Course. He played golf regularly until about five years ago, often participating in UofL golf scrambles, before being sidelined with arthritis in both knees.
Sutherland, who coached Lafayette to the state high school championship in 1979, got his start in media a year later as an analyst with Dave Conrad at UofL games on WHAS TV. “We didn’t have replays in those days, and it was tough explaining the technical stuff,” he recalls.
When Conrad left for another job, Van Vance asked Jock to join the Louisville broadcast team. “I had the worst voice in the world and I didn’t know anything about radio,” he said. “I was so bad we made a pretty good team. He just wanted me to talk so I talked. It was wonderful. I had a great time and got to know a lot of Louisville people. I wouldn’t take anything for that experience.”
Sutherland and Vance have stayed in contact over the years, getting together at the Cracker Barrel in Lawrenceburg to rehash memories. “Van was a great guy to work with and quite a character,” he said. “He was the ultimate bachelor, with some quirky habits. He would eat supper at weird hours, nothing for him to go to Kroger at 4 o’clock in the morning.”
Jock, who retired from broadcasting the same year when Coach Denny Crum left the program, was obviously disappointed with some of the off-the-court activities affecting Louisville basketball in recent years. “The dorm activity never would have happened with Denny,” he said. “There was no way, we had too many people on campus. We had a coach there (in the dorm) every night. I don’t think Rick Pitino had any idea what was going on.
“That one assistant caused all the problems, and it has cost him dearly. It has cost UofL dearly, too. It’s a shame but the school, the program will recover and come back better than ever.”
Sutherland isn’t fond of some of the changes in basketball over the last few decades. “I have never liked the three-point shot or all the dunking in today’s game,” he said. “I especially don’t like the one-and-done stuff at UK. Fans don’t get to know the players and the players aren’t learning much about the game.”
He says there will never be another Denny Crum and the place will never be the same as when Crum was there. “Denny was a special person. I never heard Denny say a curse word in 20 years. I never saw him embarrass a player in 20 years. Denny never said a word if I was critical during a game.”
He is optimistic about the future of UofL basketball, predicting great things under Chris Mack’s leadership. “They’re coming back, they’ll definitely be back,” he said. “We’ve got a guy here now who has a good reputation and he’s a great recruiter. I guarantee you that in about three years, UofL will back to where it was, competing at the highest levels.”
Sutherland was constantly choking up during the interview, obviously still proud to have worked with the Louisville basketball program, still wondering at times how it was possible.
“I had the worst voice in the world but I did know my subject. When they bury me, I will take some wonderful memories with me.”
* * *
Jock was recently interviewed by film producers Renee Collins and Warren Cobb for Room 17 Productions as part of a documentary about one his former players, Greg Austin. A phenomenal athlete in basketball, football and track, Austin played for Jock’s 1967 team and earned fame as a country music singer. In the interview Jock also reveals how he earned the nickname.