We've certainly certainly said this before, but we strongly believe that "Jasper" Joe Arnone, Voice of the Central Connecticut State Blue Devils, is the finest arena announcer in Hoops Nation. He is to college basketball what Yankee Stadium's Bob Sheppard is to baseball, but with Vin Scully's friendly delivery instead. And Arnone, 74, has had plenty of good basketball to call in recent years -- CCSU won the Northeast Conference hoops title in 2000, 2002 and 2007, and has produced a long line of league POY's and first-teamers under the direction of former Central player and UConn assistant Howie Dickenman. We were able to catch up with the legendary voice two weekends ago in New Britain, just after a game in which the young Blue Devils had overwhelmed current first place team Wagner by 26 points. We spoke about his announcing style, the many roles he's taken on at the college and in the community, the history of CCSU basketball, and the way the game as a whole has changed since he's been gently informing audiences about it over a speaker system. Take a listen to a man who came from a coal-mining town, became a war hero, and went on spend a lifetime of loyalty to a tiny Nutmeg State school, achieving legendary status as simply The Best.TMM: First of all, at the risk of sounding totally unprofessional, I've been such a fan of yours for so long. I go all around the country covering college basketball, and everywhere I go it makes me appreciate what you do more. Your preparation, the warmth of your delivery... I've been convinced for years that you're the finest public address announcer in this business. JA:
Well, thank you very much.TMM: You announce each player's name and hometown when he first checks into the game, then you repeat their name and uniform number. Not just for the starting lineups, but for everybody. I've never seen an other college basketball announcer do that, even for the visiting teams. It's just such a kind, thoughtful thing to do.JA:
I like to introduce a kid when he comes into the game, I like to give out their hometown. Maybe they have some family in the stands, or somebody may be in the stands from there, and don't even know the kid was from their hometown. I like to do that..TMM: I also love how you announce the next game for both teams, few announcers would be so considerate to visiting fans. Tell me about your history in the job, you've been doing this a long time.JA:
In the 1960's, I started filling in for the regular announcers when they couldn't make it. They do pay me for doing public address work, but all of the money I give back to the University. I don't take a penny out of here. I even give more than what they pay me.
I was the original sports information director here, from 1962 to 1964 until they hired somebody full-time. I used to write game stories on a typewriter, cut a stencil, run it up to the main office and have it run off on a machine. It was the purple text, the mimeograph. Then we'd mail everything out snail mail.
But nowadays I go online, and I look at the notes that the NEC has for the schools we're going to play. I see if there's anyone there who's being honored, if they're being honored for rookie of the week, player of the week. I always make my introductory remarks, announce players that were picked for awards. I go on the websites, and I get the rosters, download those and I make my own copies, and I have my own scoring sheets up. That's what's so nice about it, you just press a few buttons. I just fill in the names over the names that were there last week.TMM: You've given a lot of your life to this school, over 50 years' worth. What is it about Central Connecticut that inspires so much loyalty?JA:
It goes back to my background, Kyle. I grew up in a small coal mining town in western Pennsylvania near the West Virginia border, called Vestaburg
. If you were a boy growing up in that town, you were headed for the coal mines. You'd work with your dad, your older brothers and all your buddies. And that was it.
But in in 1950, Kim Il-Sung
decided to take his armies across the 38th Parallel, if you remember that name. I took that opportunity to get out of the mines. It was probably the best decision I've ever made in my life. After I came back from Korea, I finished my hitch in Philadelphia.
I met a gal there in Philadelphia, she was from New Britain. We courted, and eventually decided we were going to get married. So I came up here to Connecticut, met her folks, and I saw the university for the first time. Back then, it was called the Teachers' College of Connecticut, and I decided to see if I could get a college education. They took me in and they nurtured me and educated me, gave me the credentials to be somebody special... a teacher, instead of a damned coal miner.
That's why I love this place. I'm much in debt to Central. I've enjoyed a wonderful life mixing education and athletics. If it wasn't for this university, none of that would have happened. I've met so many wonderful people... teachers, coaches, students...
There are great people here in New Britain, the city at large. It's a great city to bring a kid up in. Great school system, great parks and recreation facilities. Great golf course, 27 holes, couple of big swimming pools scattered throughout town, just a great place to be. My kids are around the area. I have three daughters and nine grandchildren, they all live in Connecticut.TMM: You've performed in a lot of roles at this school and in this community, starting with being the school's football team captain over 50 years ago and on until today. Tell me about the hats you've worn over the last half-century. JA:
I taught school for 35 years, taught physics and AP physics. I coached football and golf here, was a head football coach at local high schools, was a baseball umpire for 25 years for college and high school games.
I was a football referee for many years too. Last game I worked was in 1994, the national championship game at the I-AA level. Youngstown beat Boise State, 28-14. The game was played at Marshall University. I walked off the field, and that was it. I'm working for the NFL now on a part-time basis, I observe officials and I grade them. Basically what I am is a scout... instead of players, I'm looking at officials. I go watch them work and send in my report.TMM: You've watched Central grow from a non-scholarship school to Division I, through the East Coast Conference to the Mid-Con to the NEC. What do you think is the correct balance of athletics and education, how do you think they fit in together?JA:
I think Central has a pretty good handle on it. We're kind of small, we're not big time, as you know. We don't get the players who get themselves in trouble. You don't see them in the headlines, getting suspended for anything, and I don't think we've ever had that problem. We have a tremendous woman here, and she takes care of their academic needs, her name is Bobbie Koplowitz. She won't let those kids get into trouble academically.
Yes, we were non-scholarship for a long time, but now that we're Division I we offer full scholarships. We're just now moving to scholarship football in a limited amount, the Northeast Conference disallowed [non-scholarship football] this last year. So we were competing at a I-AA level in football on a non-scholarship basis for a long time. It's tough to find good players when you're as small as we are. But we have so many great coaches here, our baseball coach, Charlie Hickey, has got us to the NCAA Tournament three times. Our soccer coach is from Ireland, you know how crazy they are over there about soccer.
And Howie is a magician. It is so hard to recruit at this level, as you know. Anybody's who's a great basketball player wants to play for Duke, or wants to play for UConn or North Carolina. It's very difficult to find good players, but Howie gets good players. Where he finds them, I don't know. He really is a magician. You stick with him, you learn how to play basketball. He knows the game inside and out.
I can remember when he played here, he was a tough player. He was one of the first kids to score 1,000 points at this school. Remember, those were the days when there were no 3-point baskets. He was a tough, tough player. I can remember No. 44, that's what he wore when he played here... Central guys know this place, they're devoted to this place. We try to keep those guys around.TMM: It's probably like choosing between children, but there have been so many strong Blue Devil basketball teams... NCAA qualifiers in 2000, 2002, 2007. Which one do you think was the strongest, which had the best chance of beating somebody at the Tournament?JA:
Last year's team was something special, let me tell you. We had a kid, Javier Mojica, remember that story? Saved his mother from committing suicide, came in as a walk-on and ended up as one of the best players this university ever had. Last year was something.
We went out there and played Ohio State at Rupp Arena, and they kind of surprised us in the first half. Because that kid, Jamar Butler, kept making those 3-point baskets... he couldn't hit anything for the last 10 games but he came alive against us. We played them dead even in the second half, but we were down 21 points. And that's how the game ended, 21 points. I'm very proud of that team last year, one of the best teams we've ever had.TMM: Other than Javier, who are some of the other players you've enjoyed watching and introducing?JA:
Corsley Edwards was a great player here, he was drafted by the Sacramento Kings and had a brief stint in the NBA with the New Orleans Hornets
. He's overseas now. We have a lot of our players who are overseas. Obie Nwadike, who was a great player on last year's team, he's playing overseas.Rick Mickens
, another great player who's now a fireman here in the city of New Britain, he's a local boy. It's just a matter of time before he's in our school hall of fame. There's a player from a long time ago who'd have all the records if he's played in the time of the 3-point game, his name was Steve Ayers. He played back in the 1960's, was a real shootist.
That's the thing that's interesting in the way the game's changed, the 3-point line...TMM: The game's a lot more specialized now than it was.JA:
It was just forwards and guards once. Now there are one-guards, two-guards, three-guards... same with forwards. Small forwards, power forwards. The game has changed, they didn't have some of these categories when I started. Assists weren't kept until the 1980's. Blocked shots, steals, they didn't have those when basketball was played back in the Fifties.TMM: You've retired from teaching and refereeing, do you ever see yourself stepping down from the microphone at Blue Devil games?JA:
I've been retired from teaching now for 17 years in May. I walked away from the job in 1991. It seems like I was teaching yesterday. I wake up and it's another Sunday and I say, "Where the hell did the week go?" People told me when I retired, "You're going to be so bored." Are you kidding me? I'm going to keep doing this as long as I can. I'm 74, and this keeps me young.
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