If you were seeking the perfect color analyst for digital telecasts of South Carolina men’s basketball, where would you start?
You’d want someone who knows the game, preferably from playing at a high level. On-air experience, obviously, would be a leg up. Knowledge of USC basketball history – a top national program in the 1960s-1970s and briefly in the late 1990s, not so much since – would be a plus. Name recognition; icing on the cake.
And don’t forget affordability. We are talking digital here.
Sound like a tough find? It took Charles Bloom a phone call – to Alex English.
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Bloom, USC’s senior associate athletics director for external affairs and a 1985 graduate, needed someone to work three Gamecocks “non-linear” telecasts on SEC Network +. “We had a pool of play-by-play guys we use, but we were trying to come up with color guys,” he said.
Alex English? That sounded like pie-in-the-sky: USC’s No. 2 all-time scorer, a member of the NBA Hall of Fame and the league’s top scorer of the 1980s (19,682 points), doing the sports version of community-access cable.
In fact, Bloom, back in Columbia a couple of years after 17 years as an SEC assistant commissioner, wasn’t even sure where to find the famously private former star. But once he learned English lives (and has, for years) in Blythewood, and then mentioned the idea to USC coach Frank Martin, “he became the obvious choice.”
Even better, Bloom said, given that “these are campus productions, run on a small budget we were pleasantly surprised he wanted to do it.”
Wanted to? Try excited, a word English used often talking about the gig.
“It’s an opportunity to be involved with my university,” English, 60, said; his next game is USC vs. Coker on Dec. 21. It’s not coaching, his preferred future career, but “it’s a chance to use what I’ve learned as a coach.”
For now, it’s just the three games (Dec. 30 vs. North Carolina A&T is the last), on a signal that isn’t easy to find; fans can access on mobile devices via the WatchESPN app or ESPN3.com. English is enthusiastic nonetheless.
His debut, vs. North Florida on Nov. 14, with regular radio host Andy Demetra handling play-by-play, received good reviews, Bloom said. “To have a former star player who’s also been an outstanding pro and (has) the experience he’s had on media before that made our day,” he said.
It’s making English’s, too.
Since retiring after playing 15 NBA seasons, the 6-foot-8 Columbia native and Dreher High product has done TV (20 games as an analyst in Denver); coached (with the NBA Developmental League’s Charleston team, plus NBA assistant’s jobs in Atlanta, Philadelphia, Toronto and Sacramento); and, the past three years, done global outreach, traveling to Korea, Uruguay and Chile as part of a joint NBA-U.S. Envoy program, staging basketball camps for youth. “People love the game in South America,” he said.
Throughout the years, English always stayed a fan of his school and hometown. Even during his NBA days, he kept track of the Gamecocks’ up-and-mostly-down fortunes. So far, he likes what he’s seen of this team.
“I was excited about our defense (in a win at) Marshall,” he said. “And our offense is pretty good when we push the ball aggressively.” He’s especially impressed with guard Duane Notice, who averaged 23.5 points in wins against Marshall and Oklahoma State. Still needed, he said, are “another knock-down 3-point shooter” and tougher inside play. And, of course, a tall, smooth inside scoring machine (sound familiar?) wouldn’t hurt.
English chuckles softly at the notion he might be better known in South America now than with the current Gamecocks. “I mean, they can go online and see my credentials, even some of my games,” he said. “I don’t know if they’ve seen my (retired jersey) number in the rafters” at Colonial Life Arena.
As one of USC’s first home-grown African-American players, English likes that Martin is “conscious of the school’s history. He makes an effort (to know it), which I appreciate; some others did not.” Part of what he likes is Martin signing S.C. natives Sindarius Thornwell, Marcus Stroman, Justin McKie and, for next season, Spring Valley guard P.J. Dozier – like McKie, the son of a former Gamecock.
“I know when I was here, fans felt connected to me,” he said. “You’ve got to have talent, and I think we’re getting there, but (to get) South Carolina guys is so big. You saw that in football when (Jadeveon) Clowney and (Marcus) Lattimore came. People want to be a part of that.”
So does English, who back in 1972 spurned bids from out-of-state schools – and Clemson – to play at USC. He recalls Columbia’s history of high school talent (with a shout-out to local coaches George Glymph, Ben Trapp and Carl Williams) and how special it was to be part of that.
“We’ve had a (local talent) lull, but now it’s coming back,” he said. “P.J., (Hammond junior) Seventh Woods and (Xavier McDaniel’s) son has a chance to be that kind of special player, too.
“I always loved my hometown, always wanted to see it in the national spotlight. I hope these kids see that, too.”
For now, English will be around to see it as well, unless a coaching opportunity comes along. The camera and microphone get him where he wants to be: involved.