He felt at home.
Sure, Saturday night was the first college basketball game former Lobo and former NBA All-Star Danny Granger had called as part of a courtside broadcast team. But he said something just felt familiar about it all because it was in the Pit.
“This is like home for me,” said Granger, the 33-year-old who works as a studio analyst for CBS Sports Network. “I’m glad when we discussed it with CBS (for him to be a game analyst) that when we chose to do this they chose this game for me to be the first. That was purposely done.”
Granger, who starred for the Lobos for two seasons in 2004 and 2005 and retired from a 10-season NBA career in 2015, teamed with play-by-play veteran Rich Waltz to call Saturday’s Lobos 78-71 win over the visiting Wyoming Cowboys.
Granger said he did in-game analysis work “two or three times” in NBA games when injured but still working for the Indiana Pacers. But Saturday was his first full game as an analyst and first in the college realm.
While Saturday wasn’t necessarily a sign of things to come on a regular basis — he’ll still be a mainstay in the studio for CBS college basketball coverage — he acknowledged there is a special feeling about being in an arena calling a game.
“I love the studio, but the courtside, when I have done it and when I’ve talked to others who have done it, it feels like you’re in the game a little bit,” said Granger. “Even though you’re not in the game, I really like the atmosphere of still being here. You don’t get that in the studio. They just come to us to talk in the studio. Here, I feel like I’m ready to go suit up, if I could hold off the pain in my knees.”
He lives in Scottsdale, Ariz., with his wife and three children, all of whom attended Saturday’s game.
Granger, who in 2008 donated $500,000 to the university to remodel the team’s locker room facilities, said he still follows the team passionately.
“I can’t tell you how many texts I was getting the night of that Nevada game (on Jan. 7),” he said.
He has remained a visible part of the program since playing his final game in the Pit in 2005. He has returned to take part in the past two Lobo alumni all-star events put on the past two summers by former Lobo Cameron Bairstow.
At halftime of Saturday’s game, UNM asked Granger out to the center of Bob King Court, where he received a standing ovation. Several fans also made their way courtside before and after the game to shake his hand and take pictures with him.
And, now that the Lobos are 1-0 with games he’s worked, UNM coach Craig Neal plans to make a few calls to CBS Sports.
“I’d love for Danny to do tons of games,” Neal said. “What he did for our locker room, what he did for our program, what he is as an ambassador for our program is second to none. He does a great job on TV. He’s great with our players. I’m looking forward to the offseason so I can play some golf with him.”
Golf may be more Granger’s speed these days, but that doesn’t mean he couldn’t still be playing in the NBA, he insists.
“I probably retired three or four years too soon,” Granger said. “I could still play if I wanted to, but I wanted to go a different direction and I didn’t want to beat my body up to the point where when I’m 50 I need two new knees.”
Playing is one thing. But does he think he could actually return to that form of the 2008-09 season with the Pacers in which the 6-foot-9 small forward averaged 26 points a game and represented the Eastern Conference All Star team?
“No, no, no,” Granger said. “I’m past that. But I could still be 9- to 10-points a game off the bench. 100 percent. I could go do a windmill (dunk) right now if I warmed up. But the pain and the process of getting to that point doing it and the stress it put on my knees and my back, I didn’t want it to catch up with me later on.”
EIGHT IS GREAT: In 18 seasons since the start of the Mountain West Conference, Neal’s Lobos have the best average eight game start in conference games.
The league has gone through several changes since its 1999-2000 debut season, including membership changes and the length of the conference season, which now has an 18-game schedule.
This season’s Lobos are 12-8 overall and 5-3 in league play.
Here are the average 8-game MWC starts for the four UNM coaches since the league began:
• Neal (2013-present/four seasons): 5.75-2.25
• Steve Alford (2007-13/six seasons): 5.33-2.67
• Fran Fraschilla (1999-2002/three seasons): 4-4
• Ritchie McKay (2002-07/five seasons): 3-5
FREE THROW STAT: UNM still wants to get to the free throw line, but hasn’t needed it as much in the past two wins.
The Lobos are 10-1 when attempting more than 23 free throws and 2-7 when shooting 23 or fewer free throws.
The two wins with 23 or fewer free throw attempts were Tuesday at Boise State (21-of-22) and Saturday vs. Wyoming (12-of-20).