It's nearly impossible to discuss college basketball without bringing up the legendary Dick Vitale. For over three decades, Dickie V. has called a countless amount of games, creating terms like "PTPer" and "Diaper Dandy," as well as having a tendency to end sentences with the word "baby!" in that very recognizable inflection. At 74 years old, Vitale is just as boisterous and excited about the collegiate game as the passionate youngn's who sit in the student section. It's awesome, baby, with a captial A!
With the excitement and unpredictability of March Madness and the Round of 64 beginning tomorrow, we spoke with Dickie V. to discuss his involvement with the Allstate March Mayhem Challenge, his favorite moments from this season, and advice for those seeking help with filling out their bracket.
Interview by Jose Martinez (@ZayMarty)
Can you describe the Allstate March Mayhem Challenge for those that don't know what it is?
The Allstate March Mayhem Challenge is a great, great bracket challenge. I'm going head-to-head with Joel the Longhorn who will make his own picks. And the way he's going to make his picks is they're going to roll these big balls out with the name of a team and the one that Joel grabs from the matchup is his choice. Then, I'll make my picks. [Ed. Note—you can see images from the event in the thumbs] Bottom line, I can't not let a Longhorn beat me. It'll be totally humiliating. Last year, I went head-to-head with a dolphin. This year, it's a Longhorn. I have no idea what they'll have for me next year. It's a fun situation. I think the news that excites me about Allstate being involved is that they're donating a lot of money to The V Foundation for cancer research, as well as the Fort Worth Herd. I think it's so positive that they're helping people in need. And there's nothing, nothing better in sports than March Madness.
What is it about college basketball that keeps you coming back every year?
In a season where everyone was talking about the best freshmen players, [Doug] McDermott has clearly become, without a doubt and it's not even close, the player of the year.
[Laughs.] Number one, the man upstairs has been nice enough to give me some pretty good health. That's obviously very important. Number two, I just love the game, the spirit and the excitement. I like the fact that the kids play with such passion and intensity for the name that's on the front of their jersey and not the one on the back. You get to see the Davids against the Goliaths. It brings about a lot of excitement. Plus, it gets everyone involved from grandma to grandpa. For me, it's been like that for over 50 years and 35 years on ESPN. That's probably more years than you've lived.
[Laughs.] It is. Looking back at this college basketball season, what would you say are the best three moments in no particular order?
Number one, I think seeing the arrival of all the new star kids on the block, like Andrew Wiggins, Julius Randle and Jabari Parker. Just seeing these incredible talents. That's special. Number two, we had such major changes with the conferences. We saw Syracuse go to the ACC which resulted in those two games against Duke. They were unbelievable. Those two games brought out everything that college basketball is about, in terms of intensity and excitement. And number three is watching the way Doug McDermott has taken over. In a season where everyone was talking about the best freshman players, McDermott has clearly become, without a doubt and it's not even close, the player of the year. He's a scoring machine and it's been been really amazing to see him perform the way he has this season.
And speaking of McDermott, is there a player who you've seen that can be compared to him?
I like giving kids their own identity. I can't think of anyone out there because he's himself. He's very versatile. His punch is unbelievable. His scoring talent is unreal. I can understand that NBA teams in the top 10 of the draft are looking for athletic ability, size and strength. Because nowadays, everybody drafts people based on potential. Not what you can do today, but what you can do in the long run. So, he slides down that ladder a bit. But, any team after No. 10 would make a mistake by not taking McDermott.
As for the freshman class, which player in particular would really benefit from staying another year?
Now, financially, I could respect any kid wanting to go out because of the money. It's just unbelievable. We're not in their situation where with the stroke of a pen could change their life, their family, etc. Purely on basketball, I'd say Joel Embiid of Kansas, who may be the first pick of the draft based on potential, would benefit most from staying. I think Parker and Wiggins are ready to play in the NBA right now.
What advice would you have for someone filling out a bracket for the first time?
I would look for teams that have coaches who have been very successful. Coaches in the tournament who understand how to handle the one-and-out. I would put an emphasis on squads who are really strong defensively because teams get real conservative at tournament time. I would also look for a team that also has a good perimeter shooter who can give their squad momentum offensively by making threes.
Who would you say could potentially be a sleeper team?
The way I define sleepers is teams that are seeded No. 5 down. So, saying all that, there are two teams that jump out at me. Oklahoma State as a No. 9 seed with Marcus Smart. They didn't live up to expectations this year, but they have a chance to redeem themselves now. And the same thing can be said for Kentucky. They were No. 1 in basically everyone's preseason poll. Now, here they are as a No. 8 seed. They could be very dangerous.
How do you feel about Wichita State going forward?
Purely on basketball, I'd say Joel Embiid of Kansas, who may be the first pick of the draft based on potential, would benefit most from staying. I think Parker and Wiggins are ready to play in the NBA right now.
I think they got a bad deal. The deal they got for going 34-0 by the committee was totally unfair. Think about what they have to do to win the title. They might have to beat Kentucky, Louisville, Duke or Michigan. Then they might have to beat Arizona to get to the final game. You think about that, it's unbelievable what they have in front of them.
When you see the upcoming schedule prior to the season, what arenas do you look forward to visiting?
There's nothing like Cameron Indoor Stadium where the kids are right on top of you and the Cameron Crazies are going nuts. Rupp Arena with the Big Blue Nation and the passion of their fans is special. The Carrier Dome and their 30,000-plus, especially during that game against Duke. I think about going down to the Dean Dome in North Carolina, you feel like you're in a museum with jerseys hanging of all the greats that played there. There's just so many. Also, Michigan State with Spartan Country. With these places I'm mentioning, you know why they're special? They're special because the teams have won. When you win, it creates those kinds of environments.
Who do you have as your Final Four?
I'm going with the Florida Gators against Michigan State. On the other side, I'm going with Louisville against Arizona. When it's all said and done, I have Louisville versus Michigan State with the Spartans and Tom Izzo standing tall with the big, big trophy.