Bill Raftery is having a great year so far. At age 71, the 1963 La Salle University graduate was chosen to broadcast his first Final Four for CBS in March –a feat similar to that of legendary Phillies broadcaster, Harry Kalas, who broadcasthis first World Series at the age of 72 back in 2008.
On the sixth anniversary of Kalas’ death Monday, Raftery was enshrined into the Philadelphia Big Five Hall of Fame.
“The Big Five still has the best coaches, it still has the best players and it still has the best fan support,” Raftery said. “I think that’s a tribute to this wonderful city.”
Raftery’s broadcasting career officially began back in 1982. He said he would have spot jobs while a coach at Seton Hall before then, because ESPN trusted his track record in March. None of his teams ever reached the NCAA tournament and he reached the NIT just twice.
“[They said] we want to have a guy in our booth in March who we’re sure won’t win an NCAA tournament,” Raftery said jokingly. “That began my broadcasting career.”
Raftery coached Seton Hall for 11 seasons, compiling a 154-141 record. He lauded good friend Herb Magee, who eclipsed 1,000 wins in February in his 48th season at the helm of Philadelphia University. Magee was honored with a plaque at Monday’s ceremony.
“I love to have Herbie around because he has over 1,000 wins,” Raftery said. “I like to say that between Herbie and I we have 1,100 wins. Thank god he did so well.”
As a player at La Salle, Raftery set a then-freshman scoring record by totaling 370 points. He averaged 17.8 points per game his sophomore year and helped lead the Explorers to the NIT as a senior in 1963. He was once compared to La Salle great Tom Gola, before a back injury derailed his playing career.
He’s created a slew of memorable calls and catchphrases over the years, from “send it in, Jerome!” when Pitt senior Jerome Lane shattered the backboard on a dunk in 1988 to “onions!” whenever a shot is made in a close game. He became the 42nd La Salle inductee into the Big Five Hall of Fame.
The 2015 class also included Stan Hochman (Media), Ugonna Onyekwe (Penn), and Pepe Sanchez (Temple).
Raftery takes a shot at the NCAA:
“The NCAA and television have ruined the game in a lot of ways. One way, is if you don’t make the NCAA than you’re not a good coach and you’re really not that good of a team. If you don’t advance in the NCAA [tournament] than you’ve really let everybody down. They’ve lost focus of what it’s really about. I think maybe some people that think the game and follow the game know that you just can’t[make the tournament]every year. It’s impossible. The blue bloods can, but for other programs it’s all about working hard, getting good kids, getting degrees and putting it together for four years and hopefully walking into the tournament and makingsome noise.”