When it opened for the 1969-70 season, it was known as the Sports and Special Events Center. This year, the Jon M. Huntsman Center is celebrating its 40th anniversary. It has played host to more than 630 Utah men's games and numerous Ute women's games and high school state tournaments. It also hosted the Final Four in 1979 and has played host to more NCAA Tournament games than any arena in the country except Kansas City's Municipal Auditorium. Who better to talk about the venerable arena than Bill Marcroft, the longtime radio voice of the Utes, who has undoubtedly seen more games at the Huntsman Center than anyone alive. Deseret News sportswriter Mike Sorensen talked to Marcroft about some of his best memories of the Utes' arena.
Question: How many games did you call during your time as the Utes' play-by-play announcer?
Answer: "I don't know, but I never missed a home game. No, I take that back. I missed a game when I was flying back from a Utah Stars game in New York around 1973. We got held up in Denver, and I called and had Reece Stein do the game for me. I listened to the end of the game on the radio in a taxi cab and got there in time to do the postgame show. (We figured Marcroft called 543 games between 1969 and 2004 when he retired).
Question: What do you remember about the first game?
Answer: It was a great game, Dec. 1, 1969, against Stanford. Mike Newlin made 23 of 25 free throws and made 23 in a row after missing his first two. The team shot 54 free throws and made 42. Besides Newlin, the starters were Ken Gardner, John Hunter, Walt Hawkins and Jim Mahler. Kenny (Gardner) made two foul shots to seal the victory and Utah won 96-94.
Question: What were the best games you ever saw there?
Answer: One in 1978 when New Mexico was nationally ranked and going through the league undefeated with Michael Cooper, and we had Jeff Judkins and Buster Matheney (Utah won 95-92). The Manny shot against Wyoming in the WAC Tournament (in 1985) when Manny Hendrix scored when we were down by one with one second to go and didn't have the ball. They threw it out of bounds and Manny made a shot at the buzzer (Utah won 61-60). The Louisville game (1979), the year they won the national championship with Darrell Griffith. Karl Bankowski hit shot from the right corner at the buzzer and Utah won by two (71-69). I also remember the all-star game with Utah college players against the Russian national team in 1971. Bill Sharman (Utah Stars) was the coach, and players from Utah, BYU, Utah State and Weber State played on the same team. We had guys like Nate Williams and Willie Sojourner and Mike Newlin. The Russians only played a few games and had already beaten teams from Indiana and Kentucky and New York. Utah beat them, I think, by one point. They set a double pick for Newlin and he shot over the pick and scored. It was a fantastic game.
Question: Who are your favorite players you saw play at the Huntsman Center?
Answer: Mike Newlin has always been a favorite. The J.J.s, — Jeff Jonas and Jeff Judkins. (Danny) Vranes and (Tom) Chambers, Jimmy Soto, Andre Miller and Walter Watts. These are some of the players that stand out.
Question: Do you still go to the games at the Huntsman Center?
Answer: Yes, I've only missed a couple of games since I retired. I sit in Section Z, Row 16. I still think it's the perfect basketball facility.