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March 22, 2012

Billy Packer took shots at mayor

NCAA analyst's slight was 'a big deal'

PEABODY — If only college hoops announcer Billy Packer could see Peabody Mayor Ted Bettencourt now. ... Actually, maybe it's better if he doesn't.

"I certainly wouldn't run over and shake Billy Packer's hand if I saw him today," Bettencourt said with a smile yesterday when asked if he still holds a grudge against the now-retired college basketball analyst.

The first time Packer set his gaze on the future mayor was March 18, 1993, and he clearly wasn't impressed.

Bettencourt was a freshman backup guard on No. 13 seed Holy Cross, which was up against a buzz saw that night in No. 4 seed Arkansas and its "40 minutes of hell" full-court press defense in the first-round NCAA Division 1 tournament.

With three minutes to go in the game and Holy Cross down big, then-Holy Cross coach George Blaney inserted the seldom-used Bettencourt into the game. Television play-by-play announcer James Brown gave Bettencourt a warm welcome by informing the prime-time national television audience that the Peabody native was the prior year's Massachusetts Boys High School Basketball Player of the Year.

"That scares me a little bit," Packer quipped, never one to mince words. "Now I can see why UMass has to recruit out of state."

Bettencourt finished the game missing both shots he took and went into the locker room understandably feeling bad about his team's 94-64 loss, but obviously unaware of what had transpired over the airwaves. He was initially confused and alarmed when Blaney informed him that "something happened" and pulled him aside in the locker room for a private conversation.

"He told me that Billy Packer said something that might upset me," Bettencourt recalled. "He gave me a pep talk, said he was happy with the way I played this year, and he was looking for me to be the starting point guard the next three years."

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