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CBS BASKETBALL TEAM PASSES ITS CHEMISTRY TEST BEHIND THE SCENES

As the red light is about to go on in the CBS Sports studio on West 57th Street, Pat O'Brien exhorts his colleagues, "energy, energy, we're happy to be watching these games."

O'Brien is the smooth host of halftime and periodic cut-ins during the NCAA basketball tournament. He also serves as cheerleader, philosopher, comedian and pizza purchaser.

Clark Kellogg, the former Ohio State basketball star, is the phrase man. He is constantly reaching for fun ways to entertain. And sometimes, his reach exceeds that of Manute Bol's.

George Raveling, who left his coaching job at USC this season, is the determined rookie analyst who takes things far more seriously than O'Brien or Kellogg.

I watched four games with this trio and the CBS crew on Friday night. It was far more entertaining in the studio than anything they had to say on the air, because they get precious little time to say anything on the air.

They sit on a set in front of nine televisions, which spotlight the two games playing simultaneously, as well as several other competing channels. On Friday night, the sporting choice included Michael Jordan's first home game in Chicago against Orlando on TNT, an old George Foreman fight on ESPN and, of course, Kato Kaelin on just about everything else.

The three announcers shout out questions to a myriad of CBS researchers who sit behind them and are the network's unsung heroes.

8:25 p.m. (Time approximate): "How many points for (Wake Forest's Tim) Duncan?" asks Kellogg. "He already has a double double tonight."

Not quite. He has eight points and 12 rebounds at that point in Wake's game with Oklahoma State.

"Hey, (Mike) Moorer's been knocked down by Foreman," jokes O'Brien, who doesn't take the games as seriously as his teammates. He serves as the backcourt man who dishes out questions so his partners can score.

8:32: Discussing the Memphis-Arkansas matchup, O'Brien suggests "this is a game they (Arkansas) really want to make a statement." His statement appears meant to put a seed in the mind of his teammates before the halftime show.

8:36: On-air, Raveling says there is nothing wrong with Arkansas. "I'm more worried about Memphis. Arkansas wants to make a statement."

8:41: During a break, I ask Raveling if he was surprised by Canisius' NIT upset of his old Pacific 10 opponent, Washington State. He wasn't. He says it is tough for a Western team to come East.

"Washington State tends to play off its crowd. It is much better at home than on the road."

8:52: Arkansas guard Corey Beck gets in a brief exchange with a Memphis player before halftime that results in a double technical foul.

"Is that his fourth?" asks Raveling, realizing it would make Arkansas' nine-point halftime lead tenuous. It is.

"OK, people, energy," says O'Brien before another halftime show. Still, he has time to look at Jordan's game. "Shaq (Orlando's O'Neal) just missed another free throw."

O'Brien notes that Arkansas' No. 1 fan, President Clinton, may be upset at Beck.

"That was costly trash talking," replies Raveling in his strongest statement of the night.

9:07: Kellogg is excited as Wake guard Randolph Childress makes a spectacular move for a basket. "Do it, Randolph, show everybody what you've got, young fellow."

9:18: With Memphis cutting the Arkansas lead, O'Brien asks: "Guess who's not afraid of Arkansas?"

"They miss Corey Beck," says Raveling.

9:34: Wake is in big trouble. They are down, 66-63, with 31 seconds left.

"I still say Wake is going to win it," says O'Brien. At least CBS hopes so. Wake is a sexier team than Oklahoma State.

Wake closes to 67-66, while Arkansas falls behind by 10 with several minutes left. Inexplicably, CBS gives viewers a split screen to show both games when only one is at crunch time.

Childress, trying to do too much, loses the ball. With it go Wake's hopes and CBS has to fear a possible Oklahoma State-Tulsa Eastern final.

Back to Arkansas, which has tied the game at 83 thanks to the return of Beck. The game goes into overtime, where Arkansas wins.

10:02: Kellogg and Raveling have an off-camera debate on the favorite in the Virginia-Kansas game being played in Kansas City. Kellogg favors Virginia, partly because Kansas is playing close to home and has more demands for tickets. Raveling favors bigger and stronger Kansas.

"When you host a party, it's a lot of work," argues Kellogg. O'Brien loves the line.

10:04: A member of the CBS crew wonders where Jordan has been in his game with the Magic. "Don't worry where he's been, he's there now," says Kellogg. "Another 10 days, we'll have a Michael Jordan volcanic eruption."

10:10: Ignoring Kellogg's advice, O'Brien hosts a pizza party. He's the only one on camera, while everyone else is eating pizza.

10:18: The Tulsa-UMass game is on but no one seems too interested. Especially Tulsa, which falls behind and never is in the game. Raveling predicts a Tulsa comeback, but newly arrived CBS Sports president David Kenin is skeptical.

10:55: Ready to return to the air, O'Brien exhorts: "Energy, children, don't let those pizza lie in your bellies."

With the UMass game a blowout, O'Brien gives Raveling and Kellogg some advice: "Frank is what you want to be in this business. There's an old saying: ------ will get you anywhere, frankness will get you somewhere."

11:00: Raveling tells Kellogg that his son is a fan of his. "My son repeats the line you had about (Maryland's) Joe Smith, where you said, 'don't show it to us all before the first television commercial.' "

11:32: Kellogg's excited because Virginia is living up to his prediction. "Do it, Harold (Deane), do it," says Kellogg, before being reminded that he is supposed to be objective.

"I am neutral," said Kellogg. "But I did some of their games and I know these kids." In other words, he isn't neutral.

11:35: The CBS floor director makes the most succinct statement of the night: "Kansas is shooting like ---- and is only two points down."

11:36: At halftime, Kellogg continues to support Virginia and Raveling disagrees. "I feel like I'm at church on Sunday and Clark is praying." He predicts Kansas will wear Virginia down.

11:53: While watching a postgame interview, Raveling sees disheveled Oklahoma State giant Bryant Reeves and notes: "Big Country needs some makeup."

"Yes, he does," replies the CBS makeup woman.

12:40 a.m.: Virginia wins going away, prompting O'Brien to tell Kellogg, "you called it."

"Was I a perfect straight man for Kellogg?" asks Raveling. "He'll have to come up with some green for me for being his straight man tonight."

12:42: A couple of Kansas players hug in defeat, but the CBS crew is not amused or moved. "Get off the court," they say somewhat jokingly. After all, it's way past bedtime.

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