Dick Vitale, 77, loves the NCAA Tournament, baby! He also loves talking college basketball — past greats, current stars and future hypotheticals. We caught up with one of the sport’s most recognizable voices and electric personalities. As always, Dickie V turned the volume up to 11 and spoke his mind...
Talk about the Allstate Bracket Predictor Tool…
It’s really a great tool, it really is. It’s something that can help people out there making their choices, trying to figure out the information in terms of stats and numbers, and it’s a great way of getting a familiarity with the teams. They break it down in a positive way. Again, I think it’s a great tool to go to the Allstate Bracket Predictor. Just go to allstatebracket.com.
Who’s going to win it all this year? And why?
Who’s going to win it all? My gut feeling is that Gonzaga finally is gonna break that snide and get into a Final Four. They’re going to get to the championship game. The only problem is they’re going to meet a team that they’re really score the ball and score big time, and that is North Carolina. I think when it’s all said and done, Carolina beats the Zags for the national title.
Who’s the best coach in the NCAA Tournament?
I mean, there’s coaches out there that have done a great job, but it’s pretty tough to argue against Mike Krzyzewski. He’s got five in the bank already, national titles, and he’s got a team ready right now that’s peaking at the right time. Think about this, if you can beat Louisville, North Carolina and Notre Dame in a 72-hour period, with seven players — because that’s all he plays is seven — you can beat anybody in the country. They’re not going to face a tougher trio than the three they faced there. Mike Krzyzewski, his record, it doesn’t lie, the numbers don’t lie. You gotta go with Coach K.
Coach K can’t do it forever. Who should replace Coach K at Duke when he’s done?
Who should replace him? Me! I work in basketball. I haven’t lost a game in 38 years. I coach every team in America. I coach North Carolina, Kentucky, UCLA. Let me give you a little word of advice, he is going nowhere. He loves what he’s doing. He’s in great, great shape, that guy can coach until he’s in his eighties. It’s like me, man! If you didn’t know my age, you’d say “Wow!” I got guys come up to me and say, “You’re a five-year-old kid with your energy!”
Coach K’s mentor, Bobby Knight, was in the news again recently. What’s going on with Robert Montgomery Knight?
I talked to Bob about two weeks ago, and he was great on the phone. Bob’s doing a lot of hunting and fishing and nature. Indiana is a sore, sore spot with him. I wish he could let that go. But that’s Bob and that’s what he believes in and that’s his feelings. I don’t agree with them. But again, that’s his feelings. I always hope and pray because I told him once on the phone, I was down there to do a game where they honored his great, great team, and I said, “Bobby, let me tell you, if you walk into the arena, you walk into that arena, that place, the roof will come off. The fans love you there, the fans care.” He doesn’t want to hear it. He’s very, very upset and bitter about what transpired and the way they let him go and he just can’t let that go. Again, that’s his choice and his decision. I tried to get him to go down there. But hey, he’s been good to me. That’s all I can tell you. He’s always been good to me.
What’s the best team you’ve ever seen in person, in a broadcasting capacity?
In a broadcasting capacity, you said the best “team.” Certainly a team, in the old days, when you think about the great North Carolinas, when players stayed in school. A Michael Jordan kind of team was certainly terrific. You think about teams over the years, certainly the Duke team with (Christian) Laettner, (Grant) Hill and (Bobby) Hurley was a dynamite team.
And then in the era before I broadcasted. As a coach, you think of Indiana in ’76. I mean, perfection! The last unbeaten team we’ve ever had, when you think about (Quinn) Buckner, (Bob) Wilkerson and (Scott) May and (Kent) Benson and (Tom) Abernathy. Those guys were terrific. They did everything a coach would like in a team. They shared the basketball, they knew their roles, they defended, they did everything. People don’t realize this even then, they might have went undefeated two straight years had they not had the injury of Scott May, their superstar.
As far as singular talents, who’s the best player you’ve ever called in person?
Best player I ever called a game in person? I’ll tell you what, at a collegiate level, I’m not talking about NBA because NBA obviously, you factor in Jordan. But on a college level, my best, because he was worth 15 points before the game started, just being his name in the lineup, Patrick Ewing. Patrick Ewing was the most dominant that I saw in college. His presence, his defensive ability, blocking shots, dominant, and we’re talking strictly college. Best player of all time, obviously, today is Michael Jordan, but a chance, and I say a chance, for LeBron James ultimately when the book closes the last chapter, you might be able to make the argument — LeBron, the best ever.
What’s your favorite broadcasting memory, all things considered?
My favorite memory really is basically — there’s so many, I’ve been so blessed — but just the fact that it took me from the depths of despair, I got fired by the Pistons on November 8, 1979, and then I was asked to do the very first game in the history of ESPN. To know now when I go to my grave that that will be part of my whole résumé, that I did the very first game. The first time I got a call from ESPN, they asked me about doing a game, (Allan B.) Scotty Connal, I said, “ESPN? Sounds like a disease. What is ESPN? never heard of it!” And today it is a disease for sports fans, they can’t do without it, which fans love being a part of. So, ESPN, walking in, doing that first gig, an incredible memory. I have no clue about television, still probably have no clue. Guys are talking in your ear and I’m saying, “Yeah, okay. Gonna go to commercial? Okay.” “Shut up, Dickie! We’re on TV!”
There’s been talk lately of men’s college basketball going to four quarters. Do you think that’s a good idea? Or should it remain two halves?
Why break something that’s really going well? I mean, really? It’s terrific right now. I could see a couple of rules maybe possibly change, but you don’t want to mess with the components that have been so successful. We’ve got a great game now, man. We got a game that gets people excited. I mean right now, March Mayhem is unbelievable. Fans going nuts like you can’t believe.
What would you change about the game? Would it be the “one-and-done” rule?
The “one-and-done” absolutely bothers me. Bothers me because there are kids in school that don’t want to be in school, many of them, many of them just want to play basketball and that is their number one, number one thing. And I have no problem with that. If that’s how they want to make their living, we should allow them to go right out of high school — like LeBron did and Kobe did, go right to the NBA.
But once you step onto campus, and make that decision, you should have to stay for three years. I firmly believe that, in my heart, it’d be better for so many people, so many people. It’d be better for the NBA, better for college and most of all better for the athletes because you get a chance to really develop. Isn’t college for those that want to be there?
You’ve been around so many great motivators and leaders throughout your career, what’s the best advice you’ve received?
Just be yourself. Be yourself. I do a lot of motivational speaking, in fact I’m going out to speak at a big convention right now out in Las Vegas. I’m very proud for over two decades to be with the Washington Speakers Bureau. I was asked the other day by some young people, “You’re so excited about what you do, why is that?” Well, if you do something you love, and you have a passion for what you’re doing, you have a sense of pride of what you’re doing, you’re gonna be a success in the game of life, and that’s the game we all play. Not all about jump shots.
I talked to a family the other day, their son is battling, possibly losing his eye in an accident he had. And a friend called to ask to call them to give them some encouragement. I lost my eye as a kid, and I thought it was the end of the world. You find out that people have worse problems. And you find out you could do anything. And my message was to the family, he’ll be able to do anything anybody else does — drive a car, play sports, and you can get by with the one eye. But again, my message is very loud and clear, be yourself, have incredible desire.
I learned as a youngster, from my mom and dad. I learned as a youngster two things. Never, ever believe in “can’t,” I was told, when I lost my eye. My mom used to always say to me, “Richie, don’t believe in ‘can’t.’ You can be what you want to be.” My parents were uneducated, fifth grade, but had a doctorate in love. And the second thing I would always hear every day at my dinner table, “Richie, be good to people, and people will be good to you.” And then my life? Think about it. I’m in 13 Hall of Fames. Not bad for a guy that can’t run, jump or shoot.