In his more than 30 years with ESPN, Dick Vitale has become one of the most prominent faces in college basketball. He’s one of ESPN’s top announcers and has seen as much college basketball as just about anybody.
With the season beginning Friday, Vitale, a Manatee County resident, took some time to answer a few of the most burning questions for the coming months, tackling everything from the presumed favorites and Final Four contenders, to his Diaper Dandies and potential sleepers.
The Bradenton Herald: Duke seems to be the consensus No. 1 team in the country. Do the Blue Devils have any shot to run the table?
Dick Vitale: I think running the table’s almost impossible. When you think about, for example, the conference, how tough it’s going to be. The (ACC), from top to bottom, will be the best in America. You line up with teams like North Carolina, who’s going to be outstanding, Louisville’s going to be fantastic, Virginia—I mean it’s incredible. You go down the line: Syracuse. It’d be so difficult on the road to be able to do that. You’ve got injuries. They’re going to have a great team. There’s no question, but when I look at, certainly, Carolina, I look at Virginia, I look at Louisville — those are all Top 10 teams, and away from home very, very difficult.
BH: You have Kentucky ranked No. 2. Do you see the Wildcats as Duke’s toughest challenger?
DV: We’ve got to wait and see what they’re freshmen look like. All early reports are they’re phenomenal. The kid De’Aaron Fox they say is lightning, could be like a version of John Wall. The kid (Malik) Monk they have’s supposed to be just a real outstanding athlete. The perimeter game has three supers with Monk, and Fox and with (Isaiah) Briscoe coming back. They have size inside. It’s going to be a very good basketball team, but again I think we have to take an evaluation after we see them play in the spotlight. My first game is Michigan State-Kentucky, Madison Square Garden, so I’ll get a better read. I don’t think there’s any doubt talent-wise they’re the best in the (SEC). I think Florida, with a wealth of experience — Florida’s got so many key kids back — that’s starting to play a role for them, but I think there’s no question Kentucky, head and shoulders in the SEC.
BH: Who are a couple of the freshmen you’re most excited to finally get a chance to see this season?
DV: I can’t wait to see the Kentucky kids. Every year John Calipari has some wonders with the one-and-dones bringing in. I don’t like that rule at all, I don’t dig it, however he’s only doing what the rule says and he does a better job than most. There aren’t many schools that would turn down kids like Fox, Monk and (Bam) Adebayo, but he happens to beat them out. He’s an incredible recruiter. He’s a recruiting machine. I can’t wait to see those kids.
I can’t wait to see maybe the best freshman in America down at Kansas with Josh Jackson. He’s just a terrific talent. People rave about him. That’s the beauty of college basketball. Seeing all these new kids come aboard, see if they live up to what people say about them. You can’t wait to see them and they come in — they’re like instant-impact players right from Day 1.
BH: Who from outside your top 12 do you think can be a Final Four or national-championship contender?
DV: I think when you look across America and you look at the major conferences, sometimes there are the teams in the middle of that pack that can really, really be dangerous, that have a chance to really create noise. I look out there and you see teams, for example, out in the Pac-12 are going to be really good. Oregon I guess most people have them very high. UCLA should really be improved this year. They’re a team that can really surprise some people because they were down last year, big time, but they’re talent level’s a lot better right now.
When you think of the ACC, I mentioned early teams I hit you with in terms of the Top 10: Virginia, Carolina, Duke and Louisville, but you look there and you see a team like Syracuse, not going to be in the Top 10. Their talent level’s really a lot better than they had last year. The kid (Tyler) Lydon should be a terrific inside player for them, can step out and shoot the 3, as well.
You think about Kansas and that certainly is a top-five team, but you think of that conference and you look at the conference, you see clubs there like Texas. Keep an eye on Texas. Shaka Smart can really create problems with the Longhorns.
BH: Do you have a preseason Player of the Year pick?
DV: My preseason National Player of the Year — and, again, preseason’s nice, it’s great for PR, it’s great for selling tickets, great for promotions, but it’s postseason that counts — but I think a kid preseason that jumps out at me is Duke’s Grayson Allen. I mean, he’s a scoring machine. He’s a tough, tenacious competitor. He plays as hard as anybody in America and he just has a nose for scoring. He can score in traffic, he can score in many, many ways: Shoot the 3 and go to the foul line — he gets fouled a lot — so I think early in this season I’d say he’d be my choice.