- Associated Press - Friday, June 24, 2016

LAWRENCE, Kan. (AP) - A chance encounter with three Kansas legends left Topeka native Brian Hanni $7 richer - and with a wealth of advice that would guide the next two decades of his life.

Hanni, a 1998 graduate of Topeka West, was working a high school summer job as a bag boy at Topeka Country Club when a foursome including Roy Williams, Dean Smith and Max Falkenstien approached him on the 18th fairway, looking for someone to clean their golf clubs.

Williams left a $5 tip. Smith pitched in $2. Falkenstien - who was entering the final stretch of a 60-year career as a sportscaster for the Jayhawks - didn’t leave cash, but did contribute something else.

“He really instilled in me that day that I could do this if I worked hard enough and never said no to any opportunity that came along the way,” Hanni told The Capital-Journal. “So I haven’t, and 20-some years later, here I am.”

It turned out to be the tip of a lifetime.

Hanni officially joined the storied list of KU broadcasters - from Falkenstien to Kevin Harlan to Tom Hedrick to Bob Davis - when the school announced last week that he would replace the retired Davis as the play-by-play voice of Jayhawk football and men’s basketball. It is a moment Hanni calls a lifetime in the making.

Hanni got his first experience in play-by-play calling simulated games in “R.B.I. Baseball” for the Nintendo Entertainment System. His first exposure to an audience came broadcasting tape-delayed Topeka West football games in a basement for public access TV. More recently, he has been biding his time in Lubbock, Texas, as the voice of Texas Tech men’s basketball and baseball, waiting for his dream job to open up.

That opportunity came in November when Davis announced his impending retirement following a 32-year run in Lawrence. In the eight months since, Hanni has lost 20 pounds and about three hours of sleep per night. He said he has thought about the opening every single day.

Hanni finally got the news he was looking last Tuesday in Omaha, Neb., where the Red Raiders were preparing for an elimination game against Florida at the College World Series. Hanni had taken a jog downtown to clear his mind and “burn off some nervous energy,” as he puts it, when his Fitbit alerted him he had a call from KU athletics director Sheahon Zenger.

“I thought, ‘Oh buddy,’ I’d better stop and take this call,” Hanni said.

Zenger broke the news, and right after the call ended, Hanni fell to his knees and threw his arms up in prayer, his eyes welling up in tears.

“I’m sure a lot of people probably thought, ‘Who is this crazy person on the streets, and what’s wrong with him?’” Hanni said. “But man, it was one of the single most amazing moments of my life.”

During his call of Tech’s game last Tuesday, Hanni had to keep his phone 10 feet away to avoid its constant buzzing. After the dust settled on the Red Raiders’ 3-2 victory, he was surprised to see he had more than 300 text messages, congratulations from names including Mitch Holtus and Kansas City Royals broadcaster Ryan Lefebvre, members of what Hanni called a “brotherhood of broadcasters.”

Hanni, 36, also heard from at least three friends his age who relayed stories of their young children praying for his hiring.

“Every night at the dinner table, they thank God for food, for health, and then please get Brian Hanni back to Kansas,” Hanni said with a laugh. “It’s humbling and amazing.”

Replacing Davis, known for his unrivaled enthusiasm and for being an unabashed homer, will be a daunting task, Hanni admitted. He called his predecessor “as good as they come” and said there will never be another Bob Davis.

“We all wondered when Bob would hang ‘em up,” Hanni said, “but gosh, you listened to him this past year, he was amazing. He could’ve called 10 more years, maybe 20.”

Still, Hanni plans on doing everything in his power to keep the bar where Falkenstien, Davis and the others have raised it to over the years - with his own style and flair.

“I realize it’s a pretty high bar that’s been set, and I’ll spend the rest of my life trying to keep it close to what these guys have done,” Hanni said. “The good news is we’ve got a hell of a product to work with in our program and the traditions that makes any broadcaster’s job a lot easier as well.”

Hanni strives to be a “vivid picture-painter” and said he wants to be an ambassador to KU. In many ways, Hanni already has the second part down.

Even after departing for Tech in 2012, Hanni remains heavily involved in Lawrence area charity events - the highlight of which is the annual “Rock Chalk Roundball Classic” at Free State, which Hanni founded in 2009 as a way to help area children fighting pediatric cancer. That community involvement is what KU associate athletics director of public affairs Jim Marchiony said gave Hanni the edge “in a photo finish.”

Regardless of how close the race was, though, the job now belongs to Hanni, and hearing him speak Wednesday, it seems he plans on holding into it for a long time - just like the $7 he received from Williams and Smith, which remains framed on a wall in his home to this day.

Hanni’s immediate future includes another elimination game for the Red Raiders at 7 p.m. Thursday against Coastal Carolina. When Tech’s run ends, Hanni promises this to KU fans: Nobody will worker harder or cherish this role more than he will.

“We’re going to have a ton of fun, we’re going to call a lot of wins,” Hanni said, “and hopefully as Jayhawks we can get to know each other in the process on a one-on-one level.”

___

Information from: The Topeka (Kan.) Capital-Journal, http://www.cjonline.com

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