UK basketball analyst Jack Givens. Screengrab via YouTube.

Jack ‘Goose’ Givens had big shoes to fill when he was named the radio color analyst for the University of Kentucky basketball team in 2022. The former Wildcats basketball star previously had been cohost for the pregame show UK Sports Network. Now, he was stepping in for Mike Pratt, who passed away earlier that summer due to cancer.

Givens was the Most Outstanding Player for Kentucky’s 1978 national championship team and was a first-round pick of the Atlanta Hawks. After retiring, he went into broadcasting where he has enjoyed a lengthy career. We caught up with Givens to discuss this Kentucky squad and his late friend.

No.6 Kentucky (10-2) opens Southeastern Conference play at Florida (10-3) on Saturday.

Note: This interview has been edited and condensed for length and clarity.

Awful Announcing: Is this Kentucky team closer to the one that beat North Carolina or the one that lost at home to UNC Wilmington?

Jack Givens: “I don’t think there’s any question they’re a lot closer to the team that beat North Carolina. It’s a very good collection of players, good talent, skilled players. They are high basketball IQ players. That means they’re a very good team. They’re a lot closer to the team we saw against North Carolina, the team we saw against Kansas, even though they lost that game. I think that’s the kind of team this team could be.”

Which player has surprised you the most?

“I’ve been pleasantly surprised with Reed Sheppard. I saw him play a bunch of games in high school. He was good but he was never the quickest player on the floor. He was never the best athlete. He never jumped the highest. But he always seemed to get the most out of his skills. I think now we’re seeing what we saw in high school. He was more impressive in the games against better competition. I think that’s the same way he has been on this level. He fits in with guys who are really good players. And I think he’s been able to perform at a level that exceeds some of the guys who came in with a higher ranking. Rob Dillingham is right behind him and the things he can do, particularly shooting, and getting downhill to the basket. Those two guys have been the most surprising to me.”

Kentucky ranks third-best in the nation in 3-point accuracy (41.6%). Could this be the best shooting team John Calipari has had?

“They have a lot of guys who can shoot. Last year, there were a couple of weaknesses on the floor as far as shooting. So, (defenses) could double up and take away good shots from some of the perimeter people. Now, because there are so many guys who can shoot it, you don’t want to leave them open. It helps the whole team because they pass the ball so well and they do such a good job of getting the ball to the open player that it’s forced defenses to not double team. So yeah, I think this is probably the best shooting team that he’s had certainly in a while.”

Where do you see Kentucky in the SEC race?

“It’s going to take a little time because you have to see how these young players react to these SEC crowds. It has never been easy on the road, playing in the SEC. It seems the higher the Kentucky team is ranked, the more fired up teams get when Kentucky comes into their building. It’s gonna take some time for them to kind of figure things out. But I do think they’re gonna be very, very good. I think they’re gonna win a lot of games because of the way they play and because of the mix of talent.

“Kentucky can score even if one of their guys, say, Antonio Reeves, Sheppard, Dillingham, or D.J. Wagner, is having a bad game. Other guys have stepped up. I think that helps a lot. They’re going to have to get better defensively and a big part of defense is rebounding. There are areas to improve. This team has been really good but they’re nowhere close to maxing out on how good they can be.”

How did you get into broadcasting?

“When I first started, I didn’t want to get into it. I was asked to get into it by Ralph Hacker at WVLK radio in Lexington, I was asked by Ralph to do some high school games. I’d never really thought about it. But I enjoyed doing them. Once I got into it, more and more opportunities started to present themselves. It was just a matter of taking advantage of opportunities and working on my skills. It’s not easy being a broadcaster, certainly not as easy as a lot of people think. I’ve been blessed to be able to make a career out of it.”

How difficult was it taking over for Mike Pratt?

“It was tough because Mike was really good at what he did. Mike and I were buddies long before this opportunity came. He was broadcasting games for the Charlotte Hornets. At the same time, I was broadcasting games for the Orlando Magic. We would run into each other five, or six times a year. We would always talk basketball. We both played for Kentucky. We talked about Kentucky basketball. Then we would talk NBA basketball just because we were both working in the NBA. He had been a coach as well. So, I’d like to get his perspective on things from a coaching point of view. We go way back.

“When I moved back to Kentucky and got the opportunity to be on the pregame show, Mike and I would talk about Kentucky basketball. We would kind of learn and play off of each other in that respect. After he got sick, we talked a little bit about what the future might be. I always thought he was going to beat cancer and be broadcasting for 20 more years. I’d be doing the pregame show for 20 more years. But we did talk about it, and he said he would recommend me to replace him if something did happen.”

What do you miss most about Mike?

“He was just a great guy. He always had a minute for people who wanted to meet him and talk basketball. The same way I try to be. He was always willing to give me information that would help me with my career. I miss his smile. I miss his welcoming personality. I miss all of those great things about Mike.”

Being a former Kentucky player, how do fans treat you when the team is on the road?

“It depends. A bunch of fans in other buildings probably don’t remember when I played at Kentucky. But I’ve often been told by fans, ‘ We hate Kentucky, but we appreciated you and the way you played.’ That’s probably the first thing that they say. A lot of them want to talk about the championship run we made in ’78. Me being on the Sports Illustrated cover, that gets talked about a lot. But, primarily, they appreciated the way I played basketball. That’s probably the most important thing to me.”

About Michael Grant

Born in Jamaica. Grew up in New York City. Lives in Louisville, Ky. Sports writer. Not related to Ulysses S. Grant.