Ajami in Transition

Former Milwaukee Panthers guard Jerard Ajami is in his first year after college. Graduating with a degree in Communication, Ajami has moved into the color commentator role on home broadcasts of Panther games opposite Bill Johnson.

PantherU sat down with Jerry recently to talk Panther basketball, his transition to radio and his future with the Black and Gold.

Jimmy Lemke: Finishing up your playing career with a regular season championship, you immediately took over duties as color commentator at home games along with Bill Johnson on 1130 WISN. What’s the biggest difference between seeing games as a player and seeing them as a commentator?

Jerard Ajami: After our great season and me grabbing my degree in communications I still wanted to be a part of UWM and the basketball program. The closest thing I could see myself doing right away was color commentary, because I feel like I know the game, I know the X’s and O’s and I think it helps that I like to goof around a lot. You put all that together and you get color commentary. The biggest difference though is you see everything way more clearly, you see a pass that’s open, you see a dumb mistake and also you see A LOT of tendencies that you may not notice while you’re running up and down the court.

JL: It’s pretty cool that you got to step into that role right after your eligibility finished. Is this something you want to make your career?

JA: Down the road, I think I really got a good chance at making it a career with either radio or television (because my looks are off the charts). But seeing basketball from the sideline instead of in-game makes me kind of want to get into the coaching side of things so I can actually tell the players what’s up and what they’re doing wrong so they don’t make the same mistake twice. But knowing the game and being confident in what you know is really what color commentary comes down too.

JL: What has been the most challenging part of being a color commentator?

JA: The most challenging part of being a color commentator would have to be keeping it PG and also not short-arming your explanations. It’s always better to explain in details so the listeners know what you’re talking about, because they can’t see the game.

JL: Has Bill been helpful for you as you get your feet wet?

JA: Absolutely, First day bill told me to be confident on what I say and from day one, I feel more comfortable. So definitely he has.

JL: How much homework would you say you do on opposing teams before each game?

JA: I was never a homework kind of guy [laughs], but before every game I look over the stats and make sure I get the main guys and then I look over the guys who possibly could be the main guy that game. Maybe because of their past games they have had really good games. But really to me it’s just how the flow of the games goes.

JL: The Panthers have had some difficult times and are on the outside looking in heading into the conference tournament. Apart from the obvious two games as top seed to four games as #3 or lower seed, how is this going to be different for them compared to the team that you played on as a senior?

JA: It’s definitely different for this team because they show flashes of being a #1 Seed and they show flashes of being a #7 Seed. But the good thing about this team and this league is that they can beat everyone in this league top to bottom. They don’t have to worry about NBA type caliber players like Shelvin Mack, Norris Cole, Matt Howard, Brandon Wood. Going into the tournament it’s about which team has the most momentum. I think them beating Fairfield was HUGE for the team because their momentum carries over to the Chicago trip and if they can get those 2 it’s that much better. Right now this league is up for grabs to get to the championship game, and I like Milwaukee getting another shot in the championship game.

JL: Ten years from now, if you are still involved with the program, what would you want to be doing?

JA: That’s a hard question. Whatever it is, I’d want to be a part of athletics department. The athletics department staff are passionate people that at the end of the day want to see Milwaukee athletics win, So yeah somewhere in there.

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Black and Gold Bracketology

The Milwaukee Panthers are 9-7 in the Horizon League headed into the final two games of the regular season. They play at UIC on Thursday and Loyola on Saturday. Through my calculations, the Panthers could finish as high as the three seed and as low as the seven seed, based on how they perform as well as the teams around them. A quick look at the standings:

Team W-L
*Valparaiso 13-4
Butler 11-6
Cleveland State 10-6
Detroit 10-6
Youngstown State 9-7
Milwaukee 9-7
Green Bay 8-8
Wright State 7-9
Illinois-Chicago 3-13
Loyola (IL) 1-15
* Clinched Regular Season Championship

Games Thursday: Milwaukee at UIC, Green Bay at Loyola, Detroit at CSU, WSU at YSU. Friday: Butler at Valpo. Saturday: Milwaukee at Loyola, Green Bay at UIC, Detroit at YSU, WSU at CSU.

Of the ten teams, everyone has two games to play except Valpo and Butler, who play each other on ESPNU Friday night.

Butler: vs. Valpo
CSU: vs. Detroit, vs. WSU
Detroit: at CSU, at YSU
Milwaukee: at UIC, at Loyola
YSU: vs. WSU, vs. Detroit
Green Bay: at Loyola, at UIC

Just a heads up on the tiebreaker rule – the first tiebreaker is head-to-head, meaning if Green Bay and Milwaukee end up tied, Milwaukee wins due to its sweep of the Phoenix. If the teams are tied head-to-head, it then goes to the record against the highest team. So, if Butler and Milwaukee tie alone at 11-7 (meaning Butler would lose at Valpo), their 1-1 record against each other causes the tiebreaker to go to the top seed and down until you can find a differing record. In this scenario, the Panthers win due to a 1-1 record against Valpo (the Bulldogs would be 0-2 against the champs).

Now, on to the seeds.

Wright State and Milwaukee can finish tied at 9-9, but the Panthers would win the tiebreaker due to their 1-1 record against Detroit and Butler, two teams that swept the Raiders.

The only way the Panthers can play on the road is if they lose both games in Chicago and Green Bay sweeps Chicago. This isn’t out of the realm of possibility; Loyola has been playing stronger and UIC has a major bomber in Gary Talton. That said, it is highly unlikely that Milwaukee would be on the road on February 28th.

The Panthers are currently sitting in the six seed due to their tie with Youngstown State, a team that swept them during the season. It’s funny what one three-pointer can do – if Kaylon Williams had hit the trey at YSU, Milwaukee would be sitting in the two-seed, swept by no one.

As it stands, the Panthers cannot finish the sixth seed at 11-7, because that would mean YSU also finished at 11-7 and Detroit would at least have seven losses due to a loss on Saturday to Youngstown. The three-way tie would go first to YSU for a 4-0 record vs. MKE and UDM (ugh), then Milwaukee due to their identical 1-3 record with Detroit forcing the Panthers to use their 1-1 record with Valpo to trump the Titans 0-2 sweep by VU.

Milwaukee can finish with the six seed at 10-8, provided that the Titans lose one or no games this weekend on the road in Ohio. Youngstown State would also have to finish with the same or better record than Milwaukee. Cleveland State could break into the tie with home losses to Detroit and Wright State, but the Panthers would win a tiebreaker due to CSU’s sweeping at the hands of Valpo.

At 9-9, Milwaukee is almost guaranteed to finish with the sixth seed, and could not finish higher.

Milwaukee could finish in a tie with Butler, Cleveland State, and Youngstown State or Detroit at 11-7. That would involve Butler losing to Valpo, Cleveland State beating Detroit and losing to WSU, Detroit losing to CSU and beating YSU or losing to YSU and having the Penguins also beat WSU.

This would bring Milwaukee to a 3-3 record if Detroit is 11-7 or a 2-4 record if YSU is the fourth team.

Basically, any tie with Youngstown State brings bad news for Milwaukee – the Panthers were swept by YSU, and any tiebreaker involving the Penguins spells bad news in Brew City.

There is one last glimmer of hope. One scenario that brings the two seed to Milwaukee, however improbable as that may be.

Butler can lose to Valpo, which will make them 11-7. The Panthers will need to sweep Chicago to join them at 11-7. If Detroit loses both games in Ohio, and Wright State wins both Ohio games, that causes a three-way tie at 11-7 between Milwaukee, Butler and Cleveland State. The 2-2 universal record among the three teams will force the tiebreaker to go to record against Valpo, which means Milwaukee wins with its 1-1 record, thus giving Milwaukee the #2 seed and the bye to the semifinal.

It is a highly unlikely scenario, but one that is intriguing and shows you just how varying the finishes can be in the Horizon League, a conference that shows you every year just how crazy it’s going to get.