PEORIA — Lee Hall has taken his broadcasting career international over the last three months without even leaving his living room.
The former WEEK-TV sportscaster picked up a temporary gig doing virtual play-by-play broadcasts for professional basketball leagues in Italy and Puerto Rico.
He worked one for the Lega Basket Serie A, Italy’s highest-level league. And he worked four games as the voice of Grises De Humacao in Puerto Rico’s top pro circuit, Baloncesto Superior Nacional — scattered over April, May and early June.
“They were virtual broadcasts, I did them from my living room,” said Hall, 59. “There were former NBA first-round picks and ex-NBA players all over those Puerto Rico rosters. A lot of talent in both leagues, and a lot of fun to do it.”
Hall was filling in for Craig Fata, a broadcaster he met when Fata was the voice of Bloomington’s minor-league basketball team, the Central Illinois Drive (coached by AJ Guyton and later re-named Bloomington Flex) a decade ago.
‘More than sharks and dinosaurs’:Peoria TV anchor and husband launch family clothing line
Fata went on to a deal with FIBA Americas, doing international league games. “I saw him doing a game in Italy, and I reached out on Facebook and we made contact,” Hall said.
When Fata had to step away from the microphone temporarily he arranged for Hall to fill in.
“Victor Mansure was my color commentator,” Hall said. “He was on the broadcast, virtual mode, from Miami. He played and coached in the Puerto Rican League.”
A Globetrotter, and a power outage
Mansure was unable to do one of the Puerto Rico games, and it was left to Hall to find a replacement. He reached out to someone with Peoria ties and a great basketball background.
“I got Curly Boo Johnson to fill in,” said Hall, of the former Harlem Globetrotters star. “It was so much fun, me doing play-by-play from Peoria, Curly doing commentary from Arizona.
“The lights went out in the arena during the game five times. The fifth time they were in overtime. They never came back on.”
How does the broadcast team for an international basketball league end up in the center of the universe — Peoria?
“For some reason, this Grises De Humacao team wanted English-speaking game broadcasts,” Hall said. “I don’t know why. But I’m sure glad I connected with Craig and got the chance to do it.”
More:Eminian: Ex-Manual, Illini star excels on world basketball stage, a coin flip for a name, Cubs-Cards, Rivermen
Calling games with NBA ties
The Italy game included Matteo Spagnolo, a 19-year-old combo guard projected to go 52nd in the upcoming NBA Draft.
He made his pro debut in Italy’s system when he was only 14 years old.
The Puerto Rico league teams had a lot of players with NBA ties.
Power forward Terrence Jones (Kentucky NCAA champs in 2012) was Houston’s No. 1 pick in 2012 and is playing for Indios de Mayagüez in the Baloncesto Superior Nacional.
Earl Clark, a first-round pick by the Phoenix Suns in 2009 who went on to play with Kobe Bryant on the Lakers, was in the BSN.
So was Malcolm Miller, Reggie Miller’s cousin and a member of the Raptors NBA title team in 2019. He played for Humacao in one of the games Hall broadcast.
More:Manual’s sectional OT loss ended a season. It can’t break this basketball bond
“The challenge with something like virtual broadcasts with a partner is you tend to step on each other,” Hall said. “I went out and bought a laptop and a headset like the gamer kids wear and that worked awesome. That’s all I had. The production crew was awesome.”
How ‘sideways rain’ helped him
And Hall was ready. The veteran broadcaster has long done IHSA TV productions of state football and basketball finals, and called Joliet Catholic state baseball semi and final games.
The 2019 IHSA football title game turned out to be perfect preparation for virtual FIBA work.
“The rain was so hard it was coming in sideways that day,” Hall said, laughing. “The press box didn’t have windows, it had garage doors. We had to pull them shut to keep from getting all the equipment soaked.
“So we couldn’t see the field anymore, we sat there watching the broadcast on the TV up in the box, doing play-by-play and color. That was pre-COVID, so I guess we were pioneers in virtual broadcasts in a way.”
His partner that day was veteran IHSA commentator Jack McInerney.
“Now Jack is an old Marine,” Hall said. “I remember what he said that day.” ‘We’re flying on instruments.’
“Turned out to be a practice run for me.”
Dave Eminian is the Journal Star sports columnist, and covers Bradley men’s basketball, the Rivermen and Chiefs. He writes the Cleve In The Eve sports column for pjstar.com. Reach him at 686-3206 or email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @icetimecleve.