Mike Kennedy isn’t quite ready to change his mind, but ask him again on Monday.
Kennedy, the play-by-play broadcaster for nearly every Wichita State sport aired on the radio — most recently on KNSS, 1330-AM — hasn’t wavered in nearly 24 years. He ranks the Shockers’ 1989 College World Series championship as his favorite moment in the booth, and it’s difficult to argue with someone who has seen nearly everything in 33 years on the job.
The baseball team gave WSU its only NCAA championship. If the Shockers’ basketball team completes its improbable NCAA Tournament run to win it all on Monday, Kennedy may have a new favorite and a new very-close second.
"If this is where it ends, if they don’t advance beyond Louisville, I would still have to rate the College World (Series) championship No. 1," Kennedy said. "... It’s been so long people tend to forget, but that was a pretty special run, too. There was a lot of improbability in the way that all unfolded and in some ways this reminds me of that.
"That will always be very, very special, but this one has the chance to tie it or move slightly past it depending on what happens in the next few days."
When Kennedy took over lead broadcasting duties for WSU basketball for the 1980-81 season, this level of success didn’t seem far-fetched. The Shockers had been to a Final Four 15 years earlier, and when they reached the Elite Eight in Kennedy’s first year it seemed another run to the national semifinals wasn’t too far away.
It was much farther away than expected. WSU stayed successful during most of the 1980s before suffering through its leanest years under Mike Cohen and Scott Thompson in the ’90s, sometimes failing to reach even the Missouri Valley Conference Tournament.
The program was re-established under Mark Turgeon and current coach Gregg Marshall, but Kennedy hasn’t exactly been planning a Final Four trip during the last decade.
"I’ve kind of kept the feeling that it was still possible and it might happen someday," said Kennedy, who has called more than 1,000 WSU basketball games in addition to his duties as baseball and volleyball announcer. But when you go 32 years and don’t even get very close more than one time, you don’t exactly plan on it or expect it. Certainly it’s been a bit of a thrill ride to have it actually fall into place."
Kennedy has long been called the voice of the Shockers, but he used to be the only voice. Few games were aired on television and fans who didn’t attend games had to rely on Kennedy’s calls with Dave Dahl to keep up with the Shockers.
Now nearly every game is on television — most locally but some nationally — giving fans other means to take in games. That doesn’t mean fans always use them, though, and competition hasn’t altered Kennedy’s approach.
"From the way that I go about my job, not at all," Kennedy said. "Obviously there’s more media out there. One thing that has been a plus is, with the advent of the Internet and the games being available on the Internet, rather than reaching an audience of a 60-square-mile radius around Wichita, people across the country and around the world can get it.
"I hear from people overseas that are listening, so that is different in a positive way. As far as preparation — it’s still radio, it’s still describing everything that happens. People still tell me they turn down the sound on the TV and listen, and that’s always gratifying."
Even as games in the NCAA Tournament and especially in the Final Four receive more national attention, Kennedy’s job becomes even more important. Calling moments that will live in WSU lore for decades offers a certain amount of pressure, since the broadcasts of those moments will live just as long.
Kennedy recognizes that future highlight packages featuring WSU’s tournament victories will include the voice of the Shocker hall of famer. Capturing the moment perfectly is his job, which is why he’ll speak spontaneously if the Shockers happen to win the national championship. It’s a moment he’d share with color commentators Dahl and Bob Hull.
"The only one I really had anything in mind was if they did beat Ohio State and get to the Final Four," Kennedy said. "I just thought about ‘How will I feel about that’ and that kind of phrased what I was going to say.
"I have no idea. If they were to win it all on Monday night, it’s just going to be whatever comes out at the time. I don’t even know what to plan or what I would think about saying. It’s going to be totally a reaction to however it ends."