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Katz, and Journal, are still alive and covering college hoops

Former Journal staffer Andy Katz, front, takes a selfie on the set of Turner Sports’ NCAA Tournament Central coverage of the NCAA Tournament last month in Atlanta along with, from left, Ernie Johnson, Kenny Smith and Charles Barkley. (Photo via Andy Katz’ Instagram page)

There were no podcasts in 1991.

And even if there were, Andy Katz, then a rookie University of New Mexico men’s basketball beat reporter for the Albuquerque Journal, would never have made the cut to join then-NBA superstar Charles Barkley on one.

“You were a nobody then,” Barkley told Katz on March 20 during a broadcast of Turner Sports’ NCAA Tournament Central. Katz was on the broadcast with Barkley, Ernie Johnson and Kenny Smith – the Emmy Award winning trio for Turner’s NBA on TNT show – for coverage of the first four rounds of action.

During studio coverage in Atlanta that night, Katz joked that he had never been invited on “The Steam Room” – a podcast hosted by Barkley and Johnson.

Andy Katz is shown in a 1994 photo from when he worked at the Albuquerque Journal, covering University of New Mexico men’s basketball. (Journal file photo)

When Barkley noted that would change now that he met and got to work with Katz, the former Journal reporter reminded the outspoken NBA Hall of Famer that they had, in fact, met before.

He then held up a picture taken by Journal photographer Jim Thompson – still working at the Journal – of a young Katz interviewing a skinnier, gold-chain wearing Barkley on the Pit floor before the 1991 preseason game.

“Yeah, that’s when you were a nobody,” Barkley said as Katz held the photo up on air. “You’re a somebody now.”

Katz said he was working for the Albuquerque Journal when the photo was taken.

Barkley, whose subscription has apparently expired, fired back.

“The Albuquerque Journal?” Barkley asked. “I guarantee – I’m going to go out on a limb. I bet the Albuquerque Journal doesn’t exist anymore.”

The exchange, like many on the set with the NBA on TNT crew, was certainly light-hearted and, clearly, veered off course a bit from the basketball subject matter at hand.

And the TNT production crew extended the joke later in the night on air, using a photo posted by a Journal reporter on social media of a 1990 promotional advertisement that ran in the newspaper of a tuxedo and sunglasses wearing Katz that read, in part, “He’s hip. He’s hot. He’s covering the Lobos.”

While Barkley is a bit larger today than in that early 1990s photo with Katz, the Journal is a bit smaller since then. But it is very much still alive and kicking. So much so, in fact, that Katz joined the Journal for a podcast interview Saturday from Indianapolis, where he is covering the Final Four.

He talked about his 18 days in Atlanta covering the tournament, his relationship with Barkley and the NBA on TNT crew, and even his thoughts on new Lobos coach Richard Pitino, whom Katz got to know in recent years doing work with the Big Ten Network.

President Barack Obama stands with Andy Katz of ESPN before his interview at the Carrier Classic NCAA basketball game between Michigan State and North Carolina on the USS Carl Vinson, Friday, Nov. 11, 2011, in Coronado, Calif. (AP Photo/Charles Dharapak)

Katz, who spent nearly two decades working for ESPN, now works primarily with NCAA’s digital arm producing content year-round on social media, podcasts, articles and videos.

He said he was thoroughly impressed with not only the widely recognized professionalism of Johnson, but with the work and analysis Smith and Barkley brought to the coverage, even if social media has made habit each March of criticizing the usually NBA-focused broadcast team if/when they butcher a college player’s name or admit they didn’t know as much of the background on a team as some fans want.

“They don’t take themselves too seriously, but at the same time, they don’t make it a mockery,” Katz said. “… I saw (the work they put in). When they watch games, and I’ve been around a lot of analysts in my career … they pick up things immediately. I was very impressed. I shouldn’t be because they are who they are, but I was very impressed. They watched a half and they were like, ‘OK, these are the tendencies. This is what they do. This is where they should be going.'”

After Katz’s time with the team came to an end after the Elite Eight, he got his invite on “The Steam Room” podcast, where Barkley this past week offered up high praise of his own.

“I will tell you, working with Andy, and I’m not blowing smoke up his ass, not that that wouldn’t be fun, I thought it was really cool to have somebody so inside and to have access to all these coaches …” Barkley said. “I really enjoyed working with Andy because, like I say, we don’t know any of these coaches personally, but to have all these coaches on the speed dial, and have the referees on speed dial, I mean I thought he brought a lot to table.”

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