By Larry Penkava
CHAPEL HILL — There’s a new man in the Smith Center and he’s intent on changing the “wine-and-cheese foolishness.”
Brian McLaughlin, better known as B Daht (pronounced “B-dot”), is the “official host of Carolina basketball” this season. He sees his job as urging the crowd to “collectively cheer these guys on. I’m cognizant that fans are the sixth man. With the right energy, they can decide games. The boys feed off the energy of the fans.”
With a microphone in hand and a ram hat on his head, B Daht prepares the crowd just before the game, saying, “I need you to be loud all night. I need you to make some noise.”
He holds forth at most timeouts, introducing games and contests, and focusing the crowd on the four big video boards. When they show fans asked to dance or mimic surfing, B Daht urges them on.
At halftime, as the second half approaches, he counts down the clock: “You’ve got three minutes to return to your seats. … You’ve got two minutes to return to your seats.”
It’s obvious to B Daht that fans make more noise when they’re seated and focused on the game. During critical moments, he challenges fans: “If you think you’re a Tar Heel fan, you need to make some noise right now. I want some energy from my Tar Heel family.”
Sometimes, it’s just basic cheers: “I say Tar, you say Heels,” then shouts “Tar” as fans echo with “Heels,” repeating the refrain over and over.
What B Daht does isn’t unplanned. He’s coordinating with the recorded music and with the pep band through Ken Cleary, who is wearing a headset. Cleary is the associate athletic director for emerging media and oversees GoHeels Productions.
B Daht gets a script when he arrives on game day that tells him the focus at each timeout. The script tells him briefly what to say but he uses his “own creativity to freestyle.”
B Daht is the first to admit he never attended UNC, but that’s mitigated by his passion for the Tar Heels. He claims he caught Carolina fever from his father after they moved to Greensboro while B Daht was in middle school. His fervor was only increased when the Tar Heels won the national championship in 1993.
A Grimsley High School graduate, B Daht earned a mass communications degree from Winston-Salem State University in 2006. By then, he had already put in time as a public-address announcer at WSSU football and basketball games. Also during college, he began working at WJMH (102 JAMZ), where he continues on the morning show, “3 Live Crew.” He’s been the PA announcer for the Charlotte Hornets’ G League affiliate, the Greensboro Swarm, for the past six seasons.
B Daht just calls himself an entertainer. When not on the radio or at basketball games, he’s a standup comic. He was scheduled to do several shows in Baltimore this weekend.
As if he’s not busy enough, B Daht is married with a 15-year-old son and a 9-year-old daughter.
Becoming the host of UNC’s Late Night, which showcases the team before every basketball season, was a goal of B Daht. He idolized the late Stuart Scott, who epitomized the event.
That goal was realized after he got a phone call. His good friend and former Tar Heels player Theo Pinson, along with Eric Hoots, basketball director of operations, were on the other end of the line.
“We’d love to have you host Late Night,” was the message. B Daht said, “They wanted to bring a fun element.”
While it was a great opportunity, B Daht saw it as a platform for something greater.
“I was going to audition for arena host,” he said. “I was successful with that and I was asked to be the host of all the home games.”
Steve Kirschner, UNC’s senior associate athletic director for sports information and media relateions, said B Daht “did a great job” at Late Night.
“We wanted to try that [at games], keep the energy. The team and the fans enjoyed it,” Kirshner said. “The group that works on game day [talked about] how to make games more fun for fans. They decided to try B Daht. So far, we’ve noticed a difference. We’ll keep tweaking and it’ll evolve over time.
“There’s a lot of dead time during TV timeouts, nine breaks, almost a half-hour of non-playing,” Kirschner said. “It’s helpful to leave someone excited, to get the crowd involved.
With B Daht’s Swarm schedule, there were two conflicts with UNC games. He missed the Elon game and will also miss the Georgia Tech contest on Jan. 15. But that leaves him 16 games to host. Even for the Elon game, he recorded segments that were broadcast on the big screens.
“They trust me,” he said of UNC officials. “Everything I’ve asked, they allow. I take great pride in this position. It feels like home out there.”
B Daht admits to being nervous before each game.
“I want to do so well,” he said. “But once I start talking, it’s fun.”
It isn’t difficult for B Daht to put his situation into perspective: “I’m on the Roy Williams Court in the Dean Dome to get like-minded Tar Heel fans to scream as loud as they can.”
He said his goal is to “bridge generational gaps and to leave all bias outside. No matter the ages, if you’re 7 or 70, we want to cheer for the Tar Heels.”
Larry Penkava has been writing for newspapers since 1982. He has covered UNC sports, particularly the behind-the-scenes stories, for three years. When he’s not watching the Tar Heels, he enjoys running and reading.
Photo by Larry Penkava