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All business in the Bahamas, Connors preps to call Kentucky hoops for ESPN telecasts

Sometimes it is good to draw the short straw.

“Bronzing my chiseled frame is the number one thing to do on this trip. Calling Kentucky basketball is gravy,” jokes Kevin Connors, who calls the first half of the “Big Blue Bahamas” tour beginning Sunday at 1 p.m. ET on ESPNU.

The perennial national championship contenders will face off against three international opponents (Puerto Rico, Champagne Chalons-Reims Basket, and Dominican Republic) in a challenging six-game summer trip (Aug. 10-17) in Nassau, Bahamas.

ESPN's Kevin Connors
ESPN’s Kevin Connors

“Most teams do these foreign trips for the benefit of 10 extra practices, but I don’t know of a team that has ever played against the level of competition we are playing at this time of the year. We may not win a game,” states Kentucky head coach John Calipari.

For Connors, it is an opportunity to get back to calling play-by-play, a passion of his.

“There is nothing like calling live games,” explains the regular studio host. “Play-by-play is almost entirely different from anchoring SportsCenter. That said, I’ve found hosting shows like NBA Coast to Coast and NFL Live to be similar to play-by-play, in that my goal in both settings is to put my analysts in the best possible position. Being inquisitive, steering the conversation to points they’d like to make and, obviously, serving the game are my goals in every telecast.”

UK’s Big Blue Bahamas
Summer Schedule

All Games at 1 p.m. ET

Sunday, Aug. 10 vs. Puerto Rico on ESPNU
Commentators: Kevin Connors, Jay Bilas

Monday, Aug. 11 vs. Champagne Chalons-Reims Basket on ESPNU
Commentators: Connors, Bilas

Tuesday, Aug. 12 vs. Puerto Rico on ESPNU
Commentators: Connors, Bilas

Friday, Aug. 15 vs. Dominican Republic on SEC Network
Commentators: Dave Neal, Bilas

Saturday, Aug. 16 vs. Champagne Chalons-Reims Basket on SEC Network
Commentators: Neal, Bilas

Sunday, Aug. 17 vs. Dominican Republic on SEC Network
Commentators: Neal, Bilas

Connors will be the voice introducing the nation to Kentucky’s newest roster, one that surely will have high expectations in the 2014-2015 season.

“We will be charting the development of the returning players who led the Wildcats on a wild ride back in March and also introducing Big Blue Nation, and the rest of the country, to the star freshmen. It will be my first look at the newcomers (Tyler Ulis, Trey Lyles, Devin Booker and Karl Towns Jr.) so I have relied upon ESPN’s Recruiting Nation and other ESPN high school telecasts to gather information.”

College basketball analyst Jay Bilas will also be jet-setting over to the Bahamas, working all six games (Bilas will team with play-by-play commentator Dave Neal for the final three contests). It will be the second time Connors and Bilas have been on the same telecast, but first time calling a game together.

“Jay is among the best analysts of any sport on any network,” Connors said, “so to say I’m excited to work this closely with him would be an understatement.”

In between telecasts, Connors surely will find time to enjoy the island, noting his free time is coming to an end.

“My wife Emilie is with me and she is due with our first child – a baby girl! – in late December,” he said. “So we are really looking forward to a few relaxing days and will savor some of our last days of ‘freedom.’”

But for Connors and Bilas, it is first and foremost a business trip. For Kentucky and Coach Calipari, it is a trip that will set the foundation for their season.

“Six nationally televised games three months before we play a game that counts,” Calipari said. “What we’re doing with our team and ESPN is unprecedented and we’re glad we make this another Kentucky first.”

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