Just a bit over a month ago, Princeton University’s men’s basketball team went on a cinderella run in the 2023 NCAA Division I Men’s Basketball Championship tournament, also known as March Madness.
Getting in on the madness was Rowan University’s very own Derek Jones, who has been working as the radio play-by-play broadcaster for Princeton men’s basketball since 2012. Jones also received his bachelor’s and master’s degree from Rowan, and is the general station manager for Rowan Radio 89.7 WGLS-FM.
Jones does radio broadcasts with former Princeton player Noah Savage, and was broadcasting the NIT Tournament during the same weeks of March Madness.
During the NCAA Tournament, there are always teams that have a cinderella-like run and exceed expectations. This past March, the Princeton Tigers were one of those teams.
The Tigers came into the tournament as a No. 15 seed, and went on to make it all the way to the Sweet 16 before losing to the Creighton BlueJays.
For Jones, the thrill of calling NCAA Tournament games was second to none. Jones talked about what the experience was like doing play-by-play for a team in the NCAA Tournament.
“You’re just hoping that you call a good game, because from the time that you’re in there to the time your team steps foot on the court, it’s a whirlwind,” Jones said. “I think sometimes when you’re a broadcaster the best stuff is not the stuff you know is coming, it’s the stuff that’s kinda unexpected.”
The first major upset that the Tigers completed came in their round one victory over the No. 2 seeded Arizona University Wildcats, defeating them by a final score of 59-55 to catapult the Central Jersey school into the national limelight.
Princeton trailed for most of the game, but they held the Wildcats scoreless in the final 4:33 of the second half, going on a 7-0 run to upset the No. 2 seed in the south side of the bracket.
Only 4.13% of people who filled out a bracket picked Princeton to win, and the possibility of winning the game did not sink in for Jones until there were about seven minutes left in the game.
“Defensively they’re fine, but offensively, it was just a dog fight at various times in the game,” Jones said. “So I think once they finally got the lead, I said ‘Oh, I think they might have a chance here to win this.'”
2022 Rowan graduate Lloyd Wilson worked as a producer during Princeton’s run to the Sweet 16, talking to Jones and Savage during commercial breaks, as well as cutting highlights to distribute to networks that recap the games.
During his time at Rowan, Wilson was a part of Rowan Radio, learning under the tutelage of Jones as not only a sports broadcaster, but also how to navigate a career as a professional.
“While I’m watching how he does it, it’s almost like him setting an example of how things are supposed to be done,” Wilson said. “So I thought it was pretty cool to see him go on a real run… While also making sure that his final call was clipped and sent out to CBS Sports, so I thought that was pretty cool.”
Everyone knows what these types of tournament runs can do for the players and coaches, but what is often overlooked is what these runs can do for the broadcasters that are calling the game for the team.
“There’s opportunity for networking; I got more traction and visibility out of doing this than some of the other stuff I’ve done,” Jones said. “It’s been pretty rewarding. Someone sent me a video of a recap that CBS did for Princeton winning, and it’s my voice on it, and that just blew my mind.”
While the Tigers’ run ended in the Sweet 16, underdog stories in March Madness live on throughout history, and Jones is grateful to be apart of it.
“There’s just so much stuff. I like to keep journals and stuff, so I haven’t written down all my thoughts yet, but I have a lot of mementos and stuff from those two weekends,” Jones said. “So yeah, it’s going to stick with me for a long time.”
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