Before he was a standout receiver for Northern Illinois, an NFL bit player, an Ohio State GA, a Greg Schiano assistant, the youngest FBS head coach and, now, a Big Ten coaching veteran, PJ Fleck was a girls basketball color commentator. Well, for one day he was.
The youth basketball organization in Elburn, Ill., held a March Madness tournament in the spring of 1999. A local TV station aired the games, and for some miraculous reason, someone put this one on YouTube and the Minnesota subreddit discovered it.
Dressed in his Kaneland High School sweater, where he was an All-State performer in basketball and track as well as football, Fleck called the 5th-6th grade girls championship game alongside Marty Munz*, dressed spectacularly in a denim jacket and a trucker hat.
* I have no idea if I'm spelling anyone's name right, other than Fleck's.
And from the outset, it's clear Fleck's future was on the sideline, not the press box. Asked to give a pregame prediction, Fleck said, "I don't know. I'm not going to make any predictions. I'm just gonna... watch 'em and see how they do."
When the lights are shut off before the game, Fleck compares the atmosphere to a Chicago Bulls game. When they come back on, it's clear the atmosphere is... not akin to a Bulls game. The backboards are the kind you'd expect to find on an elementary school playground, and approximately 12 inches of space separate the out-of-bounds lines from a brick wall.
To be fair, preparation is the lifeblood of any broadcaster, and the team of Munz and Fleck clearly did not have the opportunity to familiarize themselves with combatants or the rule book.
Munz: "What do they play, two 10-minute halves?"
Fleck: "I think so, yeah."
It was later discovered the game was to be four 10-minute quarters, running clock.
The teams did not have names, they were simply identified as Team 54 and Team 52. One team wore white jerseys, and one wore black, so Munz referred to them simply as "the Whites" and "the Blacks." Munz and Fleck were provided a roster, but that was also a source of confusion. Munz: "The Whites have two No. 5s. That's what was goofing me up."
Rather than stop the game down to shoot free throws, all shooting fouls were awarded one point plus possession. But there was at times miscommunication between the officials and the broadcast crew as to what constituted a shooting foul and how much shooting fouls were worth. At one point the graphic showed a score of 21-14; the next time we saw the score, it was 23-13.
Munz: "I guess sooner or later they might get extra points if there are more fouls."
Fleck: "I'm not sure."
Here's one more exchange:
Munz: "Oh, they shoot free throws in the last minute?"
Fleck: "I guess so."
Munz: "All right."
Munz: "How many teams in each bracket? Do you know?"
Fleck: "Oh, I couldn't tell you."
(Beyond his choice of outfit, Munz was a constant source of unintentional comedy. Here's him on one foul call: "Hmm. I didn't see that one, but I wasn't really looking, so.")
As the game progressed, the two-man duo of point guard Jessica Lund and shooting guard London Flanagan was simply too much for White. The pair had 10 apiece for Black in the first half, staking them to a 21-13 lead. Coming out of the break, Munz asked Fleck for his insight as to how White would stop them in the second half.
Fleck: "You play good defense, you're going to get some open shots, open layups, down at the other end. So, you know, White's just gotta put better defense on those two that are hurting them. So, if they do that they'll be all right."
Munz: "And that's a true basketball player. You've got to play defense to score points. Good point."
It was revealed during the broadcast that Fleck and one of his Kaneland buddies, who was reffing the girls game, also coached an Elburn boys youth team. And as White attempted to mount a third quarter rally, Munz again put Fleck on the spot.
Munz: "What do you run here, PJ? You're a coach, come on."
Fleck: "I don't know. I just... I don't know. Put four guys on the bottom, your point guard up top, dribble, penetrate, put the ball in the hole."
Fleck, on the next possession: "They've got to try what they did last time: put the ball in the hole."
Munz: "White gets the ball trailing by eight, and they've got to get some offense."
Fleck: "They sure do."
And one more:
Munz: "It's getting away from White. They've got to do something here or this one's going to be over."
Though it was clear Fleck's athletic future was in playing and coaching and not media, he still displayed the soft touch required when calling a game involving adolescents. Here's how he described one put-back attempt that sailed over the entire backboard: "A little too strong."
Black opened its lead to 20 before settling in for a 48-34 victory behind the unstoppable Flanagan-Lund duo. Flanagan (Fleck's MVP) scored 28, and Lund followed with 16, scoring every basket for the Elburn 1999 5th-6th grade girls champions.
As Rob Wentz ("Mr. Elburn Basketball," as described by Munz) joined the broadcast crew for an interview before the 7th-8th grade girls title game, the conversation turns from the upcoming game to the TV 17 color man and future Big Ten football coach. "I told him all you gotta do is know how to talk, and he was doing pretty good up here."
Added Wentz: "He knows how to talk."