MHERST - When they passed one another in the Mullins Center hallway at halftime Saturday, Dave Strader joked with Jack Leaman.
"Hey Coach, Jim Town and Mark Donoghue looked pretty good out there," Strader said, drawing a laugh from Leaman.
Twenty-three years ago, Leaman was the coach of the University of Massachusetts men's basketball team and Town and Donoghue were the star players on that squad. Strader, a senior at UMass, was the voice of the Minutemen for student station WMUA.
Jay Bilas (left) worked alongside UMass alum Dave Strader.
After getting his diploma, Strader had one career goal.
"All I ever wanted to do was play-by-play. I never wanted to be a sportscaster, write stories, sit at a desk and read a teleprompter," Strader said. "I wanted to do play-by-play. I was very fortunate to get into that specific field."
He broke into the business in his hometown of Glen Falls, N.Y., as the voice of the Adirondack Red Wings.
After six years in the minors, Strader got called up to the NHL, tabbed as the TV play-by-play voice of the Detroit Red Wings in one of the most hockey-crazed cities in America.
His prowess calling a game got the attention of ESPN, which hired him full time in 1996 and made him their No. 1 NHL hockey announcer on the sister station ESPN2. Now 45 years old, Strader does about 70 games a year for the network, of which about 55 are hockey.
"When I first went to ESPN, one of the first things I asked them was if I would be able to do some college basketball," Strader said. "They said there were no guarantees because I was coming in to do hockey. But they said if there was a chance, they'd fit me in."
They've fit him in several times. He did his first UMass game in more two decades last year, when the Minutemen played at La Salle, but Saturday was his first game on campus.
|Audio clip: Strader reflects on his days at UMass.|
"I wanted to be able to see them practice Friday at the Cage, because that's where all the games were played when I was here," he added. "But I wasn't able to make it over."
The timing of Saturday's game was both coincidental and convenient because it allowed Strader to help his oldest son Chris, a freshman at UMass, move back into his dorm.
"Chris is a chemical engineering major," Strader said proudly. "A friend of mine said UMass has a very good chemical engineering program, which I wasn't really aware of. So we came to see the campus and Chris loved it right away and got offered to become part of the Commonwealth College. He ended up choosing here and it's been great."
Chris' presence at UMass has given Dad plenty of opportunities to reminisce.
"I lived in Southwest, which blew Chris' mind right away," said Strader, who was in Amherst during the campus' rowdier days. "I lived on the sixth floor of Kennedy the entire four years. He visited all the different areas and said, 'How'd you get any work done?' and I said, "It wasn't always about work when we were here."
"I'm amazed how much the campus looks the same except for the Mullins Center," Strader continued. "Amherst has grown up a little bit. There's more down there then when I was there. It's changed, but there are still a lot of the same things."
Twenty-three years later, Strader credits his time at WMUA for launching a successful career.
"WMUA was the best thing about my entire experience here," he said. "I took some great courses. Public speaking was a great help. But it's like anything else: The theory is all fine ... I did a regular sports report all four years. The station gave me the opportunity to cover the team."
Strader will get to pass Leaman in the hallway one more time this year. He'll catch up with the Minutemen in Cincinnati to call the Xavier game on Feb. 12.
Strader's bio on ESPN.com