You know how it goes.
69 NBA draft picks
32 conference championships
17 Sweet Sixteens
11 Elite Eights
4 Final Fours
1 National championship
This is … Arizona.
The Arizona Wildcats basketball pregame intro video at McKale Center has, in the words of the man responsible for its production values, “taken on a life of its own,” one of the new traditions around the program.
It all started when Sean Miller arrived in the spring of 2009.
He wanted a video that would show off the program’s history. He wanted some flash. He wanted something that just might impress recruits as part of a bigger NBA-style pregame show.
This is the first thing the Arizona video staff — now known affectionately as the #DigitalGurus — came up with for the 2009-10 season.
The now-familiar voiceovers — by a host of Wildcat stars like Steve Kerr, Sean Elliott, Jason Terry, Richard Jefferson, Luke Walton and about 50 more — came a year later, with a huge assist coming from a UA basketball reunion. The video staff sat the ex-Wildcats in front of a green screen and recorded them reciting all the program’s accolades.
“We were able to get everybody, like Pete Williams and Jud Buechler, guys who normally aren’t here a ton,” said John Daley II, Arizona’s director of creative services. “But we didn’t have the foresight of thinking that the numbers, the accolades, changing all the time.”
Back in 2010, Arizona had 62 draft picks, 24 All-Americans, 13 Sweet Sixteens and 8 Elite Eights.
Having Walton, in his baritone, articulating the Elite Eight line was a staple of the early intro videos, but that clip became extinct after the 2011 season. Then, the star of that team, Derrick Williams, had the honored spot of declaring “nine Eight Eights” … and then that changed, too, after the 2014 season.
Arizona had to get with Williams to re-record his lines.
A few years ago, Arizona got smarter.
Now when players leave the program, Daley sits them down and puts them through their video paces.
Player: “Thirty-two conference championships.”
Daley: “OK, that’s good. Now, let’s do it again.”
“Thirty-three conference championships.”
“Thirty-four conference championships.”
Said Daley: “Like all the way up to 42 conference championships, just so we had a library of that.”
Planning ahead. Think about that. Yes, somewhere in Daley’s treasure trove of digital goodies, there are Wildcats uttering the magical words, “Four national championships.”
Here is a look at an intro video from the 2010 season, the first year of the “talkie” version:
The recent player most pumped to sit down and record his lines? You won’t be surprised. T.J. McConnell.
“He was by far the most fired up,” Daley said.
When the video with McConnell first played at McKale last season, an Arizona staffer recorded it on his phone and shot it off to the then-Philadelphia 76ers rookie, who just couldn’t wait to see it.
“Once he made the intro video, he thought that was the coolest thing, because when he came on his recruiting trip from Duquesne, he was blown away by it,” Daley said. “Obviously, he is a mainstay on all the videos now.”
Still, the intros change all the time. The highlights are updated for every game, of course, and Daley can nearly endlessly mix-and-match the spoken parts.
Some games require a personal touch.
For the Red-Blue Game, with several big-time recruits in attendance, Arizona adds its number of McDonald’s All-Americans. (Now, up to 23.) A couple of weeks ago, Arizona gave the “This is Arizona” line to the late Sean Rooks, as his son, Cal center Kameron Rooks, played at McKale. The athletic department cleared it with Cal and the family to make sure the tribute would be well-received.
And, while that closing line usually goes to Miller, he has deferred this season to redshirt freshman forward Ray Smith, who suffered his third ACL tear in the Red-Blue game and decided to call it a career.
“That was 100 percent Sean’s idea,” Daley said. “After he came up with that, I was like, ‘I wish I had come up with that.'”
Said Miller: “We wanted to do it, because I think it is a reminder to our team, a reminder to our fans, to everybody, that Ray is a really big part of our program, still. … For him to have that, it’s one of the ways we’re able to keep him engaged with what we do — not for his benefit, but engaged meaning that everyone continues to have awareness of him and what he went through and that’s he’s a part of our basketball program. It’s the right thing on every level.”
Here is the intro video from Thursday night’s game against USC, featuring Smith at the end.
Daley has a growing database of Wildcats, but would love to get updates from some guys with help from NBA video staffs — hey, are Kerr and Walton busy? — and to reshoot various lines from Elliott. There’s another purpose, too. In a production the public doesn’t see, the Digital Gurus produce an annual recruiting video that features an all-star cast of ex-Cats extolling the program’s virtues.
There are some intro-video rules that are rarely broken.
You’ve probably noticed that the accolade matches up with the person who accomplished it. An All-American gives the All-American line. The “national championship” line largely has been reserved for Terry, Miles Simon, Mike Bibby and Lute Olson.
Olson’s most-used line is definitely “one national championship” with a sound-effect “bing!” as he flashes his ring. He has recorded lines for Daley at least a couple of times — including once in a blue Hawaiian shirt that doesn’t get much air time — and Daley wouldn’t, you know, mind if, maybe, perhaps, the Hall of Fame coach could spare a few minutes to, wouldn’t it be swell, do some fresh takes.
“The idea of telling Lute Olson to do something a different way multiple times kind of scares me,” he said.
So, who is on Daley’s wish list?
“Khalid Reeves has always been kind of like a unicorn,” Daley said. “He has never been around. And he was such a big deal.”
The early intro videos for the Arizona State matchup had a totally different feel. Check them out from 2010 and 2011 (in the latter one, Simon gives an emphatic take on “This IS Arizona” at the 1:33 mark.)
But the Cats lost the 2010 home game to Arizona State, and apparently Miller wasn’t over the moon about a 2011 victory over the Sun Devils.
“So, we kind of scrapped that concept,” Daley said. “The staff is as superstitious as anybody. If it looks like it’s going south, we’ll get away from it really quick.”
Speaking of superstitious, Arizona has won 70 of its past 71 home games, so there is no danger of the intro video going away any time soon. Daley and the Arizona staff — including director of basketball operations Ryan Reynolds, who is very involved in the design of the videos — are always scouring the country, looking to “steal” ideas from other programs.
Daley found no such help earlier this season from UCLA, which is Arizona’s opponent for Saturday’s huge home finale.
“When I was at UCLA this year, I was blown away that they just don’t hammer us with something similar,” Daley said.
“They have 11 national championships and every pro in the world, and they just had a canned, kind of boring, intro video. I thought, man, you’re right here in Hollywood, you have Kareem Abdul-Jabbar sitting right there, John Wooden, and you’re not even using it.”
The “accolades” concept has been used for other Arizona sports, at times — softball, baseball, football — but its home is Arizona basketball. The UA creative services department receives attention for its various movie spoofs in recent years, but the intro video remains an original cornerstone.
“Until we started doing the movies, that would be the No. 1 thing people would talk to me about,” Daley said. “There would be long-time season-ticket holders who would always come up and say they got chills during the intro video.”
The only numbers in the video that haven’t changed are “four Final Fours” and “one national championship.”
But Daley is ready for when they do.
Further chills await.