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'Voice of the Bucs' Sandos misses out on March Madness for a second time

Joe Avento • Jun 2, 2020 at 1:00 PM

JOHNSON CITY — When the NCAA canceled its men’s college basketball tournament in March because of the coronavirus pandemic, it wasn’t the first time Jay Sandos missed out on the sport’s biggest event.

In 2004, East Tennessee State’s “Voice of the Bucs” spent the better part of a year in Iraq while the Bucs were putting together a championship season.

About to travel with the team to Clemson for a nonconference game, Sandos got a call. His Army Reserve unit had been activated and his services would be needed.

Somehow, Sandos made it through the Clemson game — he says he remembers very few details — got home in the middle of the night and packed. He reported to Birmingham, Alabama, the next day before eventually being shipped to Iraq, where he spent the rest of the basketball season.

It was quite a season, too. The Bucs, led by Tim Smith, Zakee Wadood and Jerald Fields, won 16 games in a row, won the Southern Conference tournament and came within a possession of upsetting Cincinnati in the NCAA Tournament.

“I got to watch it, the NCAA game, but not live,” Sandos said. “People recorded it on the network and sent it to me. I was able to at least watch it and enjoy it and somewhat soak it in.”

Missing this year’s tournament was different, leaving more of an empty feeling, he said.

ETSU was 30-4 after winning the SoCon tournament and many people expected the team to make the kind of run that captures fans’ hearts during March Madness.

“Knowing I was going to be on the call, knowing we had a special team and knowing we had a chance to make some noise ... that was tough,” Sandos said. “Everything was sort of special the way it built up.”

Sandos got to call an NCAA game — ETSU’s 2003 loss to Wake Forest — during his first year with the team. He’s called four NCAA Tournaments in all.

“I think this year was disappointing for the kids,” Sandos said. “I have been able to experience that. The coaching staff has experienced that. Most of our support staff has. Those guys didn’t. I was really disappointed for the players.”

When Sandos is on the radio or streaming on the internet, that’s the most visible part of his job. His actual position is director of media relations and broadcast operations, a role that keeps him busy dealing with advertisers and radio affiliates even when he’s not doing basketball and football games. Sandos also does coaches shows and interviews current and former players and coaches on a podcast and for the department’s YouTube channel.

“It’s been a different kind of year, that’s for sure,” Sandos says. “Hopefully we can get things back to normal soon.”

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