When Dick Groat got the news not long ago that this will be his last season offering analysis of Pitt basketball games on the radio, he didn’t immediately think about what he was losing.
His thoughts first turned to his broadcast partner of 40 years, Bill Hillgrove. The two comprise the longest-tenured broadcast team in college basketball.
He will miss Hillgrove as much as he’ll miss the games.
“He was the first one who got me into broadcasting,” Groat said Wednesday afternoon by phone from Charlotte, N.C., where he called Pitt’s second-round ACC Tournament game Wednesday night against Syracuse. “He gave me 40 years of great fun.
“I didn’t know that much about broadcasting. He hand-walked me through everything. Working with Bill Hillgrove has been an absolute joy. I can never thank anyone for anything as much as I can thank Bill Hillgrove.”
Groat, 88, is not leaving the courtside broadcast table by his choice. He was recently informed this will be his last season.
“It hurts,” he said. “It’s a tremendous disappointment. Basketball has always been my first love.”
But he handled the news with dignity and respect.
“That’s life. You have to live with what goes on,” he said. “The University of Pittsburgh has been good to me.”
Younger Pitt basketball fans might only know Groat as a basketball analyst. But, in reality, he is one of the greatest multisport athletes in Western Pennsylvania history.
Born in Wilkinsburg in 1930, Groat was a three-sport athlete at Swissvale High School (basketball, baseball and volleyball) and went to Duke on a basketball scholarship.
Before Groat’s senior season of 1951-52, a Pittsburgh Pirates scout worked him out and invited him to meet with general manager Branch Rickey at a game at Forbes Field.
In 1952 and ’53, Groat split time between the Pirates and the Fort Wayne (Ind.) Pistons of the NBA. He was the Piston’s first-round draft choice in ’52 and averaged 11.9 points that season.
Splitting up the broadcast team is difficult for Hillgrove, too.
“I grew up idolizing Dick Groat and that ’60 Pirates team,” Hillgrove said before Wednesday’s broadcast.
Hillgrove said he approached Groat with the idea of being his broadcast partner after consulting with former Pitt coach Tim Grgurich.
“I was either doing it by myself or with Dean Billlick (Pitt sports information director at the time),” he said. “I told Grgurich, ‘Dick Groat loves basketball. I play at his golf course (in Ligonier). I’ll ask him.’
“Well, it was a cathartic moment. He thanks me to this day for putting him in this position.”
Groat said he has received many messages in recent days from friends and fans, including former Pitt basketball coach Jamie Dixon and his father. Dixon, the coach at TCU, called from Kansas City, where his team is competing in the Big 12 Tournament.
Groat said he believes current Pitt coach Jeff Capel has the program pointed upward.
“They are so much fun to watch,” he said. “They’re young. This guy (Capel) will turn this program around. It’s only a matter of time. He’s a very solid basketball coach and a great recruiter.”
Pitt athletic director Heather Lyke said in a statement Wednesday the university hopes to honor Groat’s years of service at a game next season.
“True to form,” she said, “Dick wanted the attention on our seniors and team at the last home game and did not want recognition for himself. We hope he will allow us to honor him at a game next season.
“Dick has been a legendary voice and asset to Pitt. As he steps away from the microphone at the end of the year, we are grateful for his passion and commitment to Pitt and creating so many memorable moments for our fans.”