Dick Vitale is either beloved or notorious among college basketball fans, due to the excitement and sheer volume he has brought to his broadcasting career. But few can deny that he's the sport's most recognizable celebrity and a relentless supporter of the game. When he's in Madison once or twice a year to call a Badgers game, as he will be for Tuesday's tilt with Texas, the level of excitement at the Kohl Center is clearly elevated.
Celebrating his 30th year with ESPN this month, Vitale has released a book called, appropriately, Dick Vitale's Fabulous 50 Players & Moments in College Basketball: From the Best Seat in the House During My 30 Years at ESPN, which he'll be signing from 3-4:30 p.m. on Tuesday at the University Book Store in the Hilldale Shoppping Center.
I've heard Vitale call potentially hundreds of games during his career and fondly remember when he presided over the ESPN's coverage of the first two rounds of the NCAA tournament. He graciously answered a few of my questions over the phone last week.
The Daily Page: This is a question you're likely to get several times when you're here on Tuesday, but what's your assessment of Wisconsin this year?
Vitale: Well as long as they have one thing, the stability that goes along with the brilliant leadership of one of the premiere coaches in America, Bo Ryan, they will always have a chance to win, especially at home. The fans there, the Badger faithful, are so positive, they give them so much encouragement and enthusiasm and he's just created a phenomenal home court advantage.
Bo, I can't say enough. I wouldn't say he's underrated, maybe underrated by the average fan, but his peers know how good he is. But I think if you ask the average public, they would always talk about if you see the Big Ten, there's Michigan State and there's Illinois. But over the past few years, the most dominant team has really been Wisconsin.
This year, I think they're going to be right in the thick of the battle for the Big Ten championship.
Bo Ryan has obviously seen a lot of success running the swing offense. Why do you think that hasn't caught on more with other programs in college basketball?
Some people have utilized parts of that concept. But he has really adopted it and he gets personnel that can really fit the patterns that he runs. I think it's really important that you get people to fit your style of game. Some people get the kind of athletes that will fit a transition or a faster pace style.
Wisconsin will run when they get the opportunity. But I think the key to winning in basketball comes down to two factors when you're talking X's and O's. Shot selection is number one. And number two, playing as a unit defensively. A lot of teams play defense one-on-one really well, but they don't play as a five-man group and he does a great job in both those areas. His kids understand what a good shot is, they understand that the right people are going to shoot the ball and they're going to shoot it from a high-percentage area. Those are the kinds of intangibles that contribute to why you win.
It's probably too early to start thinking about brackets, but do you have any idea who might emerge as this year's Davidson?
A lot of teams fall into that category of teams that really create a lot of problems once you get into a tournament. You look at Butler, as usual, and Davidson, as you mentioned. You look at the other teams that don't get a lot of notoriety but once they get into the tournament… Last year you had a San Diego get to the Sweet Sixteen, out of that same conference you might get a Saint Mary's who's got a heck of a player in Patrick Mills. I think it's so early for us to get into that conversation. But the beauty of college basketball is that you've always got a David who is going to surprise a Goliath, especially in the early rounds.
Tell me a little about what basketball fans are going to find in your new book, Dick Vitale's Fabulous 50 Players & Moments in College Basketball: From the Best Seat in the House During My 30 Years at ESPN?
Jim O'Connell of the Associated Press just wrote a review and he says it creates an incredible debate, it gets people to agree or disagree on the way I charted them. It's just one man's opinion. Mike Kryszewski said to me that it brings back so many memories. We talk about great moments, obviously it's all related to my 30 years at ESPN, so that eliminates the (Lew) Alcindors, the (Larry) Birds and Magic (Johnson)s. One-and-done players were not included, everything was based on college performance, nothing to do with the NBA, and based on how you affected winning.
So, for example, Jimmy V. [Vitale, late coach of North Carolina State] cutting the nets down, Christian Laettner's miracle shot to beat Kentucky, Georgetown getting shocked by Villanova in '85. You think about Danny (Manning) and Miracles and how he carried Kansas, who was 12-8 at one time, to the  national championship.
Player wise, my number one choice, and a lot of guys disagree and I can respect that, was Patrick Ewing, because I thought going to three Final Fours and winning a national championship, that to me Patrick was worth 20 points before he even set foot on the court. Your preparation as an opposing coach was based on fear of what he was able to do defensively in the lane and it made you become a perimeter-oriented team.
Number two I got Laettner, who was a great college player, very average NBA player. Number three, and nobody realizes this because he gets looked at as just an average NBA player, but he was a great college player. Nobody really knows this, but he was the only player to ever win three player of the year awards, and that's Ralph Sampson. And then I talk about [Michael] Jordan at number four. Jordan played with some great college players in [Sam] Perkins and [James] Worthy. If you talk NBA, Jordan would be number one.
Number five, I had Danny Manning. If you're a basketball lover, I think it will bring you a lot of excitement. It's an over-sized book, coffee-table size, all in color. We have each player's profile and stats, based on their college days.
The biggest thing I'm excited about is that every book I sell, even when I'm up there in Madison, I have a goal of raising one million dollars for pediatric lung cancer through the V Foundation and they get all of my proceeds, every dollar. So if anybody wants to help us battle that dreaded disease that affects all people -- rich, poor, black, white, Christian or Jewish, it brings you to your knees -- and we are trying like heck to raise those dollars. If you're interested in helping, please visit dickvitaleonline.com
I don't know how much time you get to follow the pro game, but a lot of people around here are excited about the season former Badger Devin Harris is having in New Jersey.
Devin Harris has been absolutely phenomenal. He's been unbelievable. That could be the greatest trade they every made...
Do you remember seeing Harris in college and did you ever think he'd put together a successful NBA career?
I knew he'd be a good pro player but I never thought he'd be a special pro player. I'll be very honest with you, I thought he'd be a third guard, come off the bench and be a factor from that standpoint, but I never thought he'd have the kind of scoring ability he has.