With Loyola set to face the Miami Hurricanes in the first round of the NCAA tournament on Thursday, Brian Wheeler — the then-radio voice of Ramblers’ games beginning in 1980 — shared his perspective on the program. He now does the same for the Portland Trailblazers, holding the position since 1998.
Q: How did you first start doing play-by-play for Loyola men’s basketball games?
Brian Wheeler (BW): When I got there (as a student at Loyola), the station (WLUW) was about a year or two old. I got to call the play-by-play at the start of my sophomore year. At that point, they had only done home games, so I said, “Could we maybe find a way to do all of the games?” We actually raised the funds, and it was kind of a public broadcasting station, so you couldn’t use bonafide commercials, but you could mention sponsors that would provide a grant to allow us to have the budget to travel.
We did all the games all the years that I was there. Once I got out of school (1983), they had left WGN, so they didn’t have an outlet. So I said, “If I can find one, can I do the games?” They said yeah. I did the games one more season one WLUW after I graduated, and then the first year I did it on commercial radio was the ’84-85 season when they won the 27 games (and went to the NCAA tournament).
Q: Were there any special moments for you during the 1984-85 season, off the court?
BW: We had been on a suburban station that wasn’t very powerful (signal wise), and late in that season, the athletic director at the time, he arranged a deal with WBBM, who I don’t think had any sports at the time. They would pick up the conference tournament games and any NCAA tournament games. It ended up being six total (games) cause they got to the Sweet 16 of the NCAA tournament. I did color for those six games, and Rich King actually did play-by-play for those. Unfortunately, it was only a two-month relationship, so it didn’t lead to anything long-term. I kept doing their games on commercial radio until I left town (1993).
Q: What was so enjoyable about watching those Ramblers?
BW: You saw his (Alfredrick Hughes’) evolution. From his freshman year, where things were so bad, since it looked like he was going to be a flop in many respects because he didn’t have a conscious when it came to shooting. But that was because (then-coach) Gene Sullivan encouraged all of his players to shoot the first good shot they had. He was probably ahead of his time (with that strategy).
It wasn’t like watching “Hoosiers,” where you have to pass the ball four times before you shoot it. Guys liked playing for him because it was a fun offense to be a part of because everyone got a chance to score. If the three-point shot had been part of things, they probably would’ve been Loyola Marymount before Loyola Marymount. The fact that he (Hughes) continued to get better as time went on.
Q: Why can this Loyola team make a run in the NCAA tournament?
BW: They have a lot of different players that contribute. It’s similar to the ’85 team because they’ve been building to what’s finally come together. I wish the ’84-85 team would have had the benefit of an on-campus arena, like this team does. Gentile Arena is perfect for what the program is now. I like (coach) Porter Moser; I like his values. It’s a team that’s gotten better as the season has gone on, too. I sent a voicemail to Porter after the Illinois State game (in the Missouri Valley Conference championship) just to tell him how proud I was about what he was doing to restore relevancy in the program. I’m hoping this season, it’ll lead to some good things where it isn’t just a one-time situation, that they can hopefully parlay it into a really good tradition of very successful basketball. Hopefully for a lot of years to come.
Q: What’s your go-to phrase while calling Trailblazers’ games?
BW: In the original NBA Jam, the announcer on that game had a dunk called “Boomshakalaka!” I use that (now). I was never really a big video game player besides playing Pac-Man, so I never realized my call came from that. I got it from the movie “Stripes.” Towards the end of the movie, Bill Murray started saying, “Boomshakalaka! Boomshakalaka!” I always thought it was a funny phrase, and I thought it would work in the case of dunking the ball.
Q: What would’ve been your final line if you were broadcasting the Ramblers’ last win in Arch Madness?
BW: Recalling great memories from the last time they were there in 1985, Loyola is going back to the NCAA tournament. Rambler basketball is back!