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March 20, 2014 | 12:00 a.m. CST
Gary Link's game day routine hasn’t changed much since his days as an MU basketball player in the early ’70s. He still arrives at the arena two hours early to warm up. He still sizes up the competition. He still feels anxious as he prepares to perform before a huge audience. But four decades after shooting baskets in Brewer Fieldhouse, he’s broadcasting color commentary from the Mizzou Arena press box to radio stations across Missouri and beyond.
“We’ve been very fortunate to work together for so long and develop a mutual respect,” says Mike Kelly, the play-by-play broadcaster who’s worked right next to Link for 18 seasons. “I take care of the who, what, when and where. Gary tells you the why. Gary is as good as anyone.We have a blast on the air.”
Link’s voice and demeanor have become an institution in the Athletic Department while he juggles a number of roles, including emcee at MU community events and coach to children at Mizzou Basketball Camp in the summers. Former teammate Jim Kennedy says that Link is known for being prepared and positive.
What’s different about basketball now vs. in the ’70s?
Basketball players now are bigger; they’re stronger; they’re more athletic. But the irony of it is that in the ’70s, when we played at Missouri, we didn’t have a shot clock. We didn’t have a three-point line, but we still scored between 70 and 80 points. And now, flash forward to 2014, players are bigger, stronger, better. They have a shot clock. They have a three-point line, and they still average between 70 and 80 points. I think fundamentally, back in the ’70s, we were better. We weren’t as athletic, so we had to rely on fundamentals. We really listened to our coach, and we really played five as one.
What was it like to be a part of three different arenas?
Playing in Brewer Fieldhouse was an unbelievable home-field advantage. It just had such an ambiance, such a Missouri feel to it. My junior year we moved into Hearnes, and it was like playing in the Grand Canyon. Brewer was such an intimate little gathering, and the people just rocked the place. We moved to Hearnes, and I got a chance to broadcast the last game that was ever played there. Then we moved over to the Mizzou Arena where I broadcasted the very first game. Three arenas, no one should be that old.
How does basketball broadcasting stay interesting after 18 years?
Being around young athletic, strong men and women that just have the same passion for the game that I do. They are terrific players, and it’s more than just playing the game; it’s being a part of a team. Your games, your experience at Missouri goes fast. Four years will go in a hurry. What makes this place so special is the students. It’s not the bricks and mortar. It’s not Jesse Hall. It’s not the columns. You know, it’s the wonderful students. The friendships that I made while playing basketball at MU are lifetime friendships. They’re my closest friends, without a doubt, and that’s what makes it special. It keeps me young.
What makes this job difficult?
When we lose, flying back on an airplane when everyone gave everything they had and we came up a little bit short.You don’t have time to feel sorry for yourself. I mean, I know what they’re going through. I also know the other team’s working just as hard to win. That’s what makes it so much fun. Every game starts at 0-0.
What qualities are necessary to be a good sports broadcaster?
Number one is preparation. Number two, you must be comfortable with how you do it. I promise there are many, many people who don’t like Gary Link’s style, but I’m Gary Link, and it’s gotta be my style. It’s easier for me, I think, because I love Missouri. You know, I’m a Missouri guy. I don’t want to work for ESPN or anybody else. I want to cover the Tigers.
What was your favorite year to broadcast and why?
My next game because it hasn’t been played yet. I don’t have a favorite year. I mean, every year that I’ve broadcast, I’ve looked forward to. And quite honestly, when the season gets ready to start, I am very, very excited, and when the season ultimately ends in March or, hopefully, in April, I’m ready for the season to end. So I’ve got a great job. Every year, I look forward to broadcasting and I know when I don’t have that fire, it’ll be time to stop. But I don’t see that anywhere in the near future at all.