For two decades, Clark Kellogg has been one of the most prominent faces on CBS Sports' coverage of the NCAA Basketball tournament, having served as both announcer and studio analyst over the years. Prior to that, he also enjoyed a successful college basketball career at Ohio State, followed by a brief run in the NBA with the Indiana Pacers. This morning, Kellogg was kind enough to take some time out of his schedule to discuss UConn basketball, the Final Four and a handful of other topics with us. The following is a transcript of that conversation.
The UConn Blog: Be honest, did you expect UConn to make it this far in the tournament?
Clark Kellogg: No I actually had Michigan State coming out of that region when the brackets came out on Selection Sunday. So like many I'm surprised that they're part of a Final Four here in North Texas, but if you get to this part, you've earned it. You don't stumble and bumble your way to the Final Four, you produce, you perform and you earn the right to pursue a National Championship, and they've done that in fine fashion.
TUCB: What has impressed you the most about UConn during this run?
Kellogg: It's been interesting, I thought defensively they looked the best I've seen them during that second half against Michigan State. Now I didn't get to see every single UConn game, but I saw a number of games and I'd never seen that type of defensive tenacity and effectiveness, particularly at the point of attack. You follow them a lot, how would you rate the defensive effort based on what you saw in the regular season?
TUCB: It was something else, definitely one of their best efforts.
Kellogg: That's part of what happens in the tournament, teams can rise up to the level of championship play. We've seen it with UConn, we've seen it with Kentucky, we've seen it with each of the teams that have gotten here because each step of the way, typically the opponent gets tougher and you have to perform better, and UConn has been able to do that.
TUCB: What do you think about the job Kevin Ollie has done at UConn?
Kellogg: I was so thrilled for Kevin when he got the job because he played for the Indiana Pacers briefly, and I still work for the Pacers since I was drafted in 1982. So I got to know him a little bit as a player with the Pacers, and I watched his career in the NBA and how he handled and carried himself, so I knew it was a matter of when, not if, with him being successful as a coach, and he's obviously hit the ground running. His character, his knowledge of the game, his ability to communicate, his passion, the fact that he's an alum of UConn and understands that culture and that success and has been a part of building that, all of that, to me, made him a can't miss choice. You wonder about his inexperience, but I thought all of those other things he had going for him were going to trump that. It may be a little ahead of schedule to make a Final Four as a second year head coach, but I'm not surprised at all by him doing what he's doing.
TUCB: How about Shabazz Napier, what do you think his prospects are at making it in the NBA?
Kellogg: I think he's going to be a good pro, I like a lot of what he does, he can handle the ball, he's smart, he's tough, he can make tough shots, he can get other people shots, he's grown as a leader, he's got tremendous confidence in himself. I see him having a chance to be more than serviceable in the NBA. It's interesting, when you go to each level you have to reset in terms of what your function is going to be. He may never be a star to the magnitude he's been over the years for UConn, and certainly this year, but that doesn't mean you can't be a good pro. I think he's got a chance to be a solid pro, I just think he has enough in his skillset and enough in his character as far as working and developing to be able to help a team.
TUCB: What does UConn have to do to win the National Championship?
Kellogg: I think one of the things is they've got to be able to defend at a high level and they've got to be able to rebound effectively, which they did against Michigan State, so they're clearly capable of doing that. Florida is a pretty balanced and powerful team that can get you inside a lot, especially on the glass and driving and attacking the paint with the pass and the dribble, so you've got to be able to rebound the ball, but I think the most important thing is UConn just needs to be within a possession or two late, and at that point you've got a player in Shabazz and Ryan Boatright as well that can get you to the finish line because they're so good at attacking, they're so good at drawing fouls and they're both excellent free throws.
TUCB: Lets talk about you for a second. Obviously most people know you as an announcer and analyst for CBS Sports, but you also played college ball at Ohio State and a few years in the NBA for the Indiana Pacers. What was it like to play at that level, and what can some of UConn's top players expect when they eventually go through the draft process and possibly reach the NBA?
Kellogg: It's clearly the highest level of playing in the world, and the players there are the best in the world. I think the biggest thing when you're coming into the NBA is being prepared physically and mentally, to understand that you're starting over and what you've done in the past has no bearing on what your future in the NBA is going to hold, and that you have to be committed to the process and to the work of getting to the highest level you can in terms of your conditioning and strength. I think those are the most important things to bring with you to the table when you're pursuing an NBA career, or any pro career for that matter. The mindset that what I've done in the past is not important, I'm starting over, and there are some things I need to do to be a successful pro, conditioning my mind and body and raising my level of those things to a pro level. High school is one level, college is one level and the pros is the highest level, and you've got to be ready to embrace what's required to be successful. If you have game and then you put those other things in place, you'll have success, but if you have a distorted sense of what you're getting into, and if you have any dent in your work ethic and your ability to persevere, then your stay will be short.
TUCB: You've seen a lot over the years, so tell us, what's the craziest thing you've ever seen while covering March Madness?
Kellogg: Wow, the craziest thing I've ever seen? My goodness, there's so much that runs together Mac, it's like a giant collage. It's hard for me sometimes to recall those moments at the top of my head. Man... I don't know if I can answer that. Sorry.
TUCB: Alright, well back to UConn then. As it stands right now, UConn has been left out in the cold in conference realignment. Do you think UConn will eventually get invited to the ACC or the Big Ten, and do you think this Final Four run might help speed that process along?
Kellogg: I'm not sure what this Final Four run does in terms of the perception of UConn as a potential member of another conference. I haven't dug too deep into that, it's obviously affected college basketball, and in many ways that aren't good. The conference they're in, the American Athletic Conference, I know it loses Louisville, but perhaps that league becomes better as SMU gets better and some of the other programs raise their level, and maybe UConn is the flagbearer for that conference from a basketball standpoint, so I'm not sure where UConn lands. But I do know that the important thing is to deal with the realities that are in front of you as an institution, understand who you are, what your desires are and then try to pursue excellence where you currently are, and if there's an opportunity to move on then you try to position yourself to do that.
TUCB: The Capital One Cup, I know you've been involved with that for a number of years, so can you share with us what it is and what it means to win it?
Kellogg: It's the ultimate bragging rights trophy in all of college sports at the Division I level, because athletics programs across the country at the D1 level have a chance to earn points based on top 10 finishes across multiple sports during the fall, winter and spring sports seasons, and championships garner more points. As we get ready for the Final Four taking place here in North Texas, each of these teams have an opportunity to earn points towards the Capital One Cup for their respective programs, and the National Champion not only gets the trophy, but they also get 60 points in the race for the Capital One Cup. $400,000 in combined student athlete scholarship money is available to the winning programs, men's and women's, and I've served as an advisory board member for the Capital One Cup since it's inception. This is year four, Florida has actually won two of the three Capital One Cup trophies in the last three years, and they could perhaps position themselves to win it again if they were to come out on top in the National Championship game on Monday if they get there.
TUCB: Alright, prediction time, who do you think is going to win this weekend, and then who do you think is going to win it all?
Kellogg: I'll tell you, it's hard to go against Florida. The balance that team has, the experience, they would be the slight favorite in my mind as the overall No. 1 seed in the tournament. I think Kentucky with its talent and the way that team has played over the last three weeks would probably be my second choice, and then I think it's a pick-em between Wisconsin and UConn in terms of advancing to the National Championship game. I give Florida a slight edge to prevail, I wouldn't be surprised if any of the teams won, but being forced to choose one I would pick the Florida Gators to come out on top.