Man versus Ball: Q & A with Catamounts broadcaster, former player, Bernie Cieplicki

Bernie Cieplicki. Courtesy Photo / St. Michael's College
Bernie Cieplicki. Courtesy Photo / St. Michael's College
Bernie Cieplicki. Courtesy Photo / St. Michael’s College

Bernie Cieplicki currently does color commentary for the Vermont men’s basketball radio broadcasts. His commentary is so adept that some might not be aware that Bernie was a tremendous player. A 1996 team captain for the Cats, Bernie is one of the best shooters in Catamount history. He ranks fifth all-time in three pointers made (228), fifth all-time in three point field goal percentage (.385) and third in threes made in a season (91). Bernie took a time out to discuss his playing career, his broadcasting and that glorious game in Worcester.

Where were you for the Syracuse game? Who were you with? Who do you call? Who calls you? Describe your emotions.

I was home hosting a family and friends party, and my house was packed. I was calling my brothers non-stop, and it was one of the proudest moments I can ever remember to be a Catamount.

The Duke game, how was it to call that game? Also, discuss your relationship with Duke.

The Duke game was so much fun to call and to be in Cameron Indoor Stadium. I started
following Duke in the early 80’s when I saw them play against my brother Keith at the College of William and Mary. Just watching them in pre-game warm-ups to how they played, I was just mesmerized by them and have never stopped following them.

As a kid, do you growing up going to Catamount games? Which players do you recall?

I did grow up a Catamount fan. I was a ball boy for many years and remember a lot of players like Mike Evelti, Jeff Brown, the head coach at Middlebury College now, Kevin Roberson, Howard Hudson, Raheem Huland-El, to name a few of the many that I have great memories of.

You chose [to attend] Fairfield [out of high school]. How do you break the news to TB (then Vermont head coach Tom Brennan)?

I broke the news to TB on the phone, and it was one of the hardest things I have ever had to do.

Transferring to Vermont, how does that come about and how is it to be back home?

We had a family illness during my first year at Fairfield, and I ended up coming back home. It was great to be back home as TB was welcoming, and the community was just awesome. As Dorothy from the Wizard of Oz says, “there is no place like home.”

So what’s it like to play for TB? How is he different from other coaches?

TB was great to play for as you always had the green light to let the three fly, and he believed in you as a player, which made you more confident. He is different from other coaches because he never broke you down to build you up. He would help pick you up and teach you what to do.

Best TB story?

There are so many it’s amazing to reflect on it. It has to be the first time I met him when I was in second grade. He was recruiting my brother Keith to go to the College of William and Mary, and TB was up doing a home visit. I think he spent more time with me than my parents and brother. The attention he gave me on that fall Saturday in the 1980s left a memory I could not forget. One more thing on TB is all the small things he does for people that go unnoticed: talking at high school graduations, visiting people in hospitals and always making himself available to everyone and anyone is something that is a special quality.

Who are your teammates at the time? What was the team like then?

My team mates were Eddie Benton, Erik Nelson and Dave Conlon, to name a few. We were playing with only ten scholarships and our conference was extremely talented from top to bottom so you had to bring your A plus game every night. Some might say we were competing at a disadvantage, I would say you learned to bring it as a player every night because your opponent was very talented.

Do you play overseas after UVM is done?

I did go to the Netherlands for a brief time after graduation.

How do you get into commentating? Who or what do you attribute your fun sense of humor to?

The radio station that was covering UVM needed someone to fill in part-time to do color, and they asked me because I was still in the area, and it has worked well, and I enjoy it and appreciate the opportunity to continue to do it. As for the sense of humor, that I
can thank my family for. Being the youngest of five, you have to learn to joke around because laughter is the best medicine one can have.

Which mid-majors make the Sweet 16 this year?

The mid-majors that could make the Sweet 16 other than Gonzaga and Wichita State if they are considered mid majors are Portland Pilots and the Akron Zips.

Jon Hart is the author of Man versus Ball: One Ordinary Guy and His Extraordinary Sports Adventures,