Dick Vitale doesn’t come to Allen Fieldhouse as much as he used to. But at age 76, Vitale is still working and has no plans to stop. On Monday, the legendary voice of college basketball will be in Lawrence for Kansas-Oklahoma and a special broadcast of Big Monday with ESPN partner Brent Musburger.
Before coming to town, Vitale talked to The Star about calling games at Allen Fieldhouse, this latest Kansas team, and, of course, Nick Collison.
The Star: Let’s start here. You’re doing another season of college hoops and will be in Lawrence for Kansas-Oklahoma. So no plans for retirement anytime soon?
Vitale: Absolutely not. And the man upstairs will dictate that. I know one thing: If I ever felt in my heart that I wasn’t as sharp as mentally and as sharp with energy, I would be the first to say: “It’s over. The party is over. It’s been a great run.”
I don’t know how old I am, because I feel as energetic and as passionate and full of love for what I do as I did 30 years ago. I really mean that. I get goosebumps thinking about coming to Kansas-Oklahoma … I love it. I love being there with the people. People always say: “Dick, why don’t you retire? Why don’t you relax and enjoy life?” I say: “Why would you retire if you’re doing something you love, my bosses want me to do it. And I feel great physically and every other way.”
The Star: You’ve done dozens — heck, maybe close to 100 games — at Allen Fieldhouse over the years. Do you have any specific memories about the place? What comes to mind when you go inside that building?
Vitale: It’s certainly one of the venues that is like a museum. It’s like Fenway Park; it’s like Wrigley (Field). It’s so special, it’s so unique, and anyone who is a basketball fan should have it on their bucket list, to experience. I just get an incredible feeling. Over the years, I’ve been treated to some incredible basketball there. I can go back years, the Danny Manning era, watching him carry that team as he did. I think about the Roy Williams era, and all the great players that he had on his teams. The enthusiasm, the energy that’s generated there. The passion that people have for the team and for the game, it’s so unique and so special there. It makes it a treat. I’ve been stealing money. Don’t tell my bosses.
The Star: I don’t know how much you think about this game, but I know the fans at Kansas won’t forget it. When you gave the standing ovation to Nick Collison (during a game against Texas in 2003), what was going through your mind in that moment?
Vitale: That was a special moment for me. His rebounding that day … his tenacity. I was telling somebody the other day, I’ve been on TV 37 years, I’ve done over a thousand games. Two players I gave standing ovations to because their efforts were beyond the norm. It was Nick in that game against Texas. It was incredible. Incredible watching his work ethic and how he played with such feeling and emotion. And the other was David Robinson, the Admiral. I told him that recently. I ran into him at Madison Square Garden. When he played for the Naval Academy, and I don’t remember the exact numbers, but it was something like 45 and 20 rebounds against Kentucky on the road. He just played out of his mind. He fouled out, and when he fouled out, I just erupted on the sideline and gave him a standing ovation. And the same with Nick. That was a special moment.
The Star: If Kansas and Oklahoma both win this weekend, it could be a 1 vs. 2 matchup on Monday night. What have you thought about Kansas and the season they might be able have?
Vitale: I (saw) them early at the Champions Classic, and they were playing really well for a period of time, and then all of a sudden, Denzel Valentine put on a show, and caused them to leave that building with an L. And since then, they’ve run the table. They combine tremendous experience. You look at Ellis, Selden is having a terrific year, and Mason. They’re strong in every area. They’re going to be a tough team to deal with. But Oklahoma is not going to back down. The kid Buddy Hield. If we were to talk about five players who could be player of the year, he could be one of the five. They’re going to come in there with a big chip on their shoulder to prove their legit. But they (also) got a big game on Saturday, obviously, with Iowa State. So whether it’s No. 1 and No. 2, certainly that adds to the glamour of the game, however Kansas-Oklahoma is going to be a special game. And it’s going to be a key game in the conference.