Rockets' announcer Bill Worrel reflects on memorable years at UH

Rohith Nandagiri

Staff Writer

For years we have heard his voice in our living rooms. He is the one we watched do the play-by-play for the Houston Rockets during their down years as well as the championship runs. He is also a staunch University of Houston athletic supporter who undoubtedly bleeds Cougar red.

He is Bill Worrell, the man with the lasting smile that never seems to fade in the face of all the adversity the Rockets or the Cougars might be going through.

Worrell went to UH during the mid-1960s when the university was going through some of its biggest changes.

"I was (at UH) during the most exciting times of the university," said Worrel, "with the school going with the state aid, the first admittance of black students and athletes, the Vietnam era - and, of course, the game."

The game Worrell is referring to is the 1968 "Game of the Century," pitting Lew Alcindor (later Kareem Abdul-Jabbar) and his UCLA Bruins against Elvin Hayes, legendary coach Guy Lewis and the Cougars. The game was played in the Astrodome in front of a frenzied crowd of 52,693.

"That game was my most memorable athletic event in my life," Worrell said.

Worrell started his education at UH in 1964 where he played baseball for the school. He started off as a pre-medicine major, but when his class load conflicted with his practice schedule, he decided to take some communication classes and change his major.

Worrell began his broadcasting career with campus radio station KUHF, where he broadcast the freshmen basketball games via telephone line. His aggressive nature helped to land many important positions in Houston.

One of his professors at the time, William Hawes, still teaches in the School of Communication and had nothing but praise for Worrell.

"About the time of his graduation, Channel 2 news director Ray Miller called me and asked about him. I told him how dedicated he was. Miller told me he did not want Worrell if he was just another pretty face," Hawes said. "Soon he was on air co-anchoring the evening news.

"Bill Worrell is a distinguished alumnus of the School of Communication and the University of Houston. He has definitely fulfilled my expectations," Hawes said.

After he got the evening news job with Channel 2, Worrell chose to go in a new direction. Since he had a good understanding of sports, he chose to take on the task of sports director for the station in 1974, the same job held by current Channel 2 sports director Craig Roberts.

In 1980, Worrell started working for then start-up cable network ESPN.

He said he never lost the joy for broadcasting athletics.

A friend of Worrell's approached him about a project he was working on called Home Sports Entertainment. In 1983, he began his career with the start-up station and still holds a job there today. Since then, the station has gone through a couple of changes as it became Prime Sports and Fox Sports Southwest.

Worrell first started working for the Rockets in the early '80s, as he wanted to get some experience doing play-by-play. In 1983, he applied to the Rockets' then General Manager Ray Patterson for the position of everyday play-by-play announcer. He was offered the position and since then has called almost every game the Rockets have played.

Even with this taxing assignment, Worrell has always made time for Cougar athletics. As an influential alumnus and a prominent Houstonian, he is well-received at all Cougar home games. Through his experiences with UH he still has concerns about the state of fan support.

"The state of the athletics is fine, but it is the state of support which is not so fine. Where I have a problem is the constant change in leadership, and every time there is a change there is a new direction and the program never really gets on solid ground," Worrell said. "Now I feel that we have some stability. I am a big supporter of (UH football coach) Kim Helton and (UH Athletic Director) Chet Gladchuk, and I think they have the program headed in the right direction.

"Baseball is in good shape, football is in good shape, but basketball is shaky," Worrell added. "I don't know what we are going to do about that, but I am sure that Chet and (UH President/System Chancellor) Arthur Smith will make the right decisions.

"That's something they are going to have to decide about what they are going to do with the basketball program," Worrell said. "You have to recruit kids who are going to stay more than two or three years. That's the only problem I have with the program right now is that there has been no stability.

Maybe the recruiting of Moses Malone Jr. will help keep the kids locally. It's not hard to get a national power in basketball because you only have five players. You can get two or three superstars and then complement them. He (head coach Alvin Brooks) just needs to keep plugging and get two or three players to stay from this area and one big player."

Worrell said that once you do get a great player, the problem is keeping them for more than a year.

"I will say this in defense of college basketball now. It's much harder to recruit a team because if you recruit young studs out of high school, they don't stay very long. They go right to the pros. It is hard to build a national power anymore unless all the kids are coming to your school like North Carolina, Duke and Kentucky. If he recruited four great players and they all leave after one year, he's going to be in trouble."

Worrell was a pitcher on the last Cougar baseball team to make it to the College World Series in 1968. He sees bright things for the Cougar baseball team, which was picked to win its second consecutive Conference USA championship.

"I am very proud of the baseball program, and (head coach) Rayner Noble is one of my favorite people. Rayner's got the team back in the playoffs, and that is a start and I really think this team is going to be good," said Worrell.

Since his days of broadcasting Cougar basketball, Worrell has seen the team rise and fall. "My first association was with Phi Slama Jama One, which was the most exciting basketball team in the nation outside of UCLA, and we beat them in the Astrodome. We also were the first integrated basketball team in the south.

"There was Don Chaney and Elvin Hayes and Theodis Lee, who has passed away. Ken Spain, who played in the 1968 Olympics, was a 6-11 center was also a great player. That was one of the greatest teams of all-time.

"That team was a forerunner to Phi Slama Jama Two in the early '80s. That team had appeal to the young people, but those of us who had seen the days of Elvin and Don remembered the good times of before," Worrell said.

"I remember when I went to UH to see (Hakeem Olajuwon) play. All he could do was shoot a hook shot. He didn't even have a pair of shoes. The year before Hakeem got here we were good anyway, and when he got here it was just the icing on the cake."

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