Assignment Is New, but Her Enthusiasm for the Game Isn't

Mimi Griffin, the first woman to work as a commentator on the NCAA men's basketball tournament, is well aware that she is a pioneer.

Last season, Griffin worked a first-round game, Notre Dame-Virginia, for NCAA Productions. The telecast was carried by ESPN.

This week, CBS, which has the rights to the entire tournament, named eight broadcast teams for early-round games, and Griffin is in the lineup.

Griffin, paired with play-by-play announcer Brad Nessler, will work four games in one day from one of the regional sites during the first round on March 14 or 15, and then two more during the second round on March 16 or 17.

The other seven broadcast teams will carry similar loads. Three of the teams will be selected to join the No. 1 team of Jim Nantz and Billy Packer at the regional semifinals and finals the next week.

"I do feel like a pioneer," Griffin said from her home in Allentown, Pa. "And I'm happy for the opportunity. I look at this as a barometer on how well I'm doing.

"But I don't see this as my big break. To be honest about it, I'd be just as happy doing women's games. I think the women's game is every bit as exciting as the men's."

It's understandable that Griffin is a supporter of the women's game. She was a star guard at Pittsburgh in the mid-1970s and has become identified with the women's game as its best-known commentator.

Griffin does 15 to 18 women's telecasts a year for CBS, ESPN and independent producers. She and Nessler will work Saturday's Tennessee-Texas women's game for CBS, and those two are also scheduled to work the women's Final Four.

Griffin has been announcing the NCAA women's championship game for CBS since 1986, when she was chosen over Ann Meyers and Faye Miller, a former North Carolina State player, for the assignment.

Griffin, 34, grew up in Lancaster, Pa., about 60 miles southwest of her current residence in the eastern part of the state.

She was Mimi Senkowski before she married former Lehigh basketball player Bill Griffin eight years ago, after the two met at a basketball camp in the Pocono Mountains.

Mimi Senkowski and her older sister, Barbara, played at Lancaster Catholic High School. Although the school had only about 700 students, it won the Pennsylvania state championship when Mimi was a senior.

During one four-year span, which included Mimi's sophomore season, the school won 64 games in a row. During Mimi's three seasons on the varsity, the team lost only three games.

"If there is one person who is responsible for my success (as a commentator), it is my high school coach, Pat Wallace," Griffin said. "She is the reason I know basketball so well. She was a real student of the game, and way ahead of her time."

Griffin also has two younger sisters and two brothers.

"Barbara and I were the tomboys," Griffin said. "I read Forbes and SI (Sports Illustrated) because business and sports were all that interested me.

"My younger sisters read Glamour and Cosmopolitan. When it came time to shop for clothes, I'd need their help because I knew nothing about fashion.

"The first time I ever put on makeup was for my first telecast. I had to ask someone to help me apply it."

Now, Griffin, besides her TV work, is a successful businesswoman and the mother of a 3-year-old son. She has a master's degree in business administration from Lehigh, where she also coached, and for the past seven years has run her own sports event management company, MSG, short for Mimi Senkowski Griffin.

Other significant CBS newcomers selected to work the tournament include Bill Walton, who will be teamed with Sean McDonough, a Boston Red Sox announcer who is the son of NBC's Will McDonough; former Kentucky All-American Jack Givens, and former Virginia player Dan Bonner, an ESPN announcer.

Also, CBS is bringing back former NBA commentator Billy Cunningham to work with Dick Stockton.

Nantz and Packer will start as in-studio hosts for the early-round nighttime coverage before moving to game sites to announce the regional semifinals and finals. Andrea Joyce and Mike Francesca will handle the daytime studio shows, with Francesca also working the later shows.

With ESPN out of the picture, CBS' first-round coverage March 14 and 15 will begin at 9 a.m. PST, with a doubleheader that is scheduled to end about 2 p.m. A second doubleheader will begin at 5 p.m.

Different games will be sent to different regions, depending on interest, but starting times will be staggered about every 10 minutes so that CBS can cover several finishes.

"During the early rounds, the story is the entire tournament, not any one single game," said Ted Shaker, CBS Sports' executive producer. "We're going to try to pick up the flavor of that story.

"ESPN did a tremendous job in the past, but what we can offer is coverage to 100% of the country," said Shaker, who noted that during last year's tournament ESPN went into only 58% of the nation's TV households.

TV-Radio Notes

Al Michaels is back on ABC Monday night but in a different role. He is the host of a Don Ohlmeyer production called, "America's Best-Kept Secrets," which will be shown at 8. The show deals with such subjects as UFO sightings, a curse on the car in which James Dean died, an airline that transports only convicts, security at the Las Vegas Hilton casino and video games. It might sound like something Geraldo Rivera might host, but an advance tape of the show indicates that it is well done and quite believable. "This is something that gives me a chance to branch out, a one-time thing," Michaels said. Besides his smooth style, Michaels also lends credibility. "You know how important it is to me that everything I say on the air is 1,000% accurate," Michaels said. "When my credibility is at stake, I put a premium on accuracy. I made sure that in no way do we exaggerate or embellish the facts."

With the Lakers' game Sunday against the Detroit Pistons at Auburn Hills, Mich., on NBC as the second part of a doubleheader, the network will use Pat Riley as the game commentator. He and Bob Costas will do the pregame show from the Palace, then take over game-announcing duties. Marv Albert and Mike Fratello will work the first game, Boston Celtics at Indiana Pacers. Dick Enberg has a gymnastics assignment in Orlando, Fla., this weekend. His NBA partner Steve Jones, will be in Auburn Hills as a courtside reporter. . . . The CBS team covering the L.A. Open golf tournament this weekend includes Pat Summerall, Ken Venturi, Ben Wright and Gary McCord. . . . KMPC made it official this week, announcing that Bob Jamison, who did play-by-play for triple-A Nashville last season, will be Al Conin's new partner on Angel broadcasts. Ken Brett has moved to TV.

Recommended viewing: "Welcome Home, Darryl," a one-hour show that will be televised Tuesday at 8 p.m on Channel 11, is a profile of Darryl Strawberry. Part of the show was taped at a pep rally held in his honor at his alma mater, Crenshaw High. . . . Last Sunday, Channel 7's Jim Hill had an interesting feature on Strawberry, focusing on his new-found commitment to religion. Hill raised the question of Strawberry's sincerity, but the new Dodger insisted that he is a changed person. . . . Bill Walton was a recent guest on Prime Ticket's "It's Your Call," and host Bill Macdonald asked him about Benoit Benjamin, whom the Clippers traded Wednesday. "He's gotten some bad press," Macdonald said. "Deservedly," interjected Walton, who added: "Nothing hurts a team more than lack of effort 100% of the time. He's great one night, then plays like he's asleep the next."

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