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G-Man moves from floor to press row

The Chronicle

After a successful 14-year NBA career that concluded in 1994, former Duke center Mike Gminski was left pondering what to do next.

“When I was planning retirement, there were a few different things I was thinking about—law school, going into politics and broadcasting,” Gminski said.

Having ended his career with the Charlotte Hornets, Gminski was informed of an opening on their broadcasting team and decided to give it a try.

“It was right here in my backyard. It was an option I could not pass up,” Gminski said. “Of the three, it would have been the hardest to get into but with that opening, it made all the sense in the world.”

Gminski, who dominated the ACC in the late 70s as a player, returned to his roots two years ago as an ACC basketball commentator for Fox Sports Net and various other outlets.

When he graduated from Duke in 1980 he was the school’s all-time leading scorer, having amassed 2,323 points at a clip of 19 per game. To this day, he still holds his position as Duke’s all-time leader in rebounds and blocked shots, and he was probably Duke’s best player before the Krzyzewski era.

With limited avenues available to pursue in order to stay involved with basketball after retiring, the seventh overall pick in the 1980 NBA draft readily admits he had no inclination to coach, but that broadcasting had always intrigued him.

“[Broadcasting] was one of those things during my playing career that, because of my involvement with the media, I had it suggested that I’d be a natural for that,” Gminski said.

Ten years after calling his first game, Gminski, who averaged better than 11 points and nearly seven rebounds per contest in his NBA career, is thrilled with his position behind the microphone.

“I found I had a talent for it, and it has been a great way to stay around,” he said.

Not wanting to leave North Carolina, Gminski turned down the opportunity to move with the Hornets to New Orleans two years ago. Instead, he sought opportunities at the collegiate level, which has changed substantially since Gminski reigned in Cameron.

“The talent pool has diminished, but the passion for the game is still there, as is the passion from the fans,” Gminski said. “The ACC tournaments and NCAA tournaments have been just as compelling.”

In the late 1970s, players were expected to graduate and Gminski certainly valued this high standard of education, earning Academic All-American honors three of his four years in Durham.

Last month he was also named as one of 25 finalists for the College Sports Information Directors of America Academic All-America Hall of Fame, a recognition based on academic and athletic accomplishments in school as well as achievements in a post-collegiate career.

“That may be something that I’m most proud of,” Gminski said, “the fact that I was honored not only as an athlete but also as a student.”

His hard work in the classroom has paid dividends in his professional career, especially because of the rising academic reputation of Duke.

“I tease people that I’m a beneficiary of diploma inflation,” Gminski said. “I think the reputation of the school has grown in the last 25 years. You kind of get the raised eyebrow. I don’t think there is any question that having graduated from Duke has been a huge benefit to me in whatever phase of my life.”

As an ACC commentator, he has been forced to put his Blue Devil allegiances aside. For the two time All-American remaining neutral has come relatively easily.

“I’ve been able to compartmentalize that devotion during the broadcast because I understand that Duke isn’t paying me to do the broadcast,” Gminski said. “I have to be impartial.”

Off the air, Gminski’s loyalty to Duke has been quite evident, as he has stayed close to the school for which he starred both on and off the court.

In 1997, Mike Krzyzewski asked him to sit on the Board of Advisors for the Duke Children’s Hospital and “The G-Man” served as the Board’s chair from 2001 to 2003. He was also recently asked to join the Board of Visitors for the Duke Medical Center.

His involvement with the medical center and children’s center stems back to his playing days, when he often would visit child cancer patients with teammate Jim Spanarkel. He also has been a participant in the Duke Children’s Classic charity golf tournament.

“[The Medical Center] has always been a very special place for me,” Gminski said. “The child’s hospital was just a theory and fragmented structure up until [the mid 90s], so its gratifying to have that building built and see how its been used.”

Besides his charitable acts and broadcasting career, Gminski’s time has been primarily occupied as a father to his six-year-old son Noah at their home in Charlotte.

“One of the nice things about my broadcasting career has been that I’ve been able to spend time with him, be a father and watch him grow up,” he said.

Wine collecting and cooking are also hobbies that have piqued his interest and kept him busy as he awaits the start of what he believes will be an incredibly competitive and intriguing ACC season.

“I’m buying my time. It’s such a long off-season, I’m just itching to get back,” he said.

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