By ALAN DELLadell@bradenton.com
Looks as if our esteemed neighbor “Dickie V” took a turnaround shot from midcourt that cleanly made it through the nets without a wrinkle.
Thanks to this Albert Einstein of college hoops, we will be able to relive March Madness in the flesh when his Sixth Annual Dick Vitale Gala is held on May 20 at the Ritz-Carlton Sarasota.
Vitale has gotten commitments from the head coaches of this year’s Final Four, a distinguished guest list even for the Queen of England.
It makes Bradenton-Sarasota the basketball capital of the world for a day and, more importantly, puts the area among the leaders in the fight against cancer.
It also might make for some interesting verbal jousting, particularly if some Virginia Commonwealth faithful find their way inside.
Connecticut’s Jim Calhoun took home the big prize, and Kentucky’s John Calipari always draws a crowd, but the most popular person in the house could be Shaka Smart.
The VCU coach looks like he just got his learner’s permit to drive, but navigated his way to a raise of nearly a million dollars for turning his Rams into a real-life fairy tale.
While Butler head coach Brad Stevens reminds us of our favorite biology teacher or school psychologist, Smart makes us think he should play Michael Corleone in the next “Godfather” movie. He already earned the title America’s favorite hit man with the way his team shot treys during the tournament.
With Vitale and college basketball analyst Jay Bilas at the Gala, Vitale should auction off space to see this duo and Smart get together and settle their differences.
Smart doesn’t back down from anyone, and Vitale never wavered from his position that VCU never deserved to be in the tournament. Bilas has also stood firm on his No Mas VCU stance with even more vigor.
But credit Vitale. Lakewood Ranch’s most famous citizen, for not being a sore loser. This is all about raising money for kids battling cancer, which he has turned into his personal war.
After the tournament, Vitale and Bilas visited the VCU campus and took their medicine in front of the college president and students signing a huge “Eat Crow Baby” banner.
Vitale is auctioning it off with the proceeds going to his gala, which raises money for pediatric cancer research.
“I told Shaka I haven’t changed my mind and that his team should not have gotten into the tournament, but they represent the American way,” Vitale said. “The big thing is helping these kids, and we are going to use the proceeds to do it.”
The only time Vitale picked VCU to win was to beat Butler in the semis and then lose to Kentucky in the final. So he might be getting another plate of crow from the Huskies and Bulldogs. It’s all right with him if he can aid his cancer-fighting kids who number in the millions.
Still, the basketball in Vitale won’t let him concede he made a mistake, noting Smart didn’t hold a team meeting when the invitations were handed out because he didn’t think his Rams would get one.
“In my thirty years with ESPN, what VCU did is the biggest miracle in the history of the NCAA Tournament,” Vitale said. “They made 55 treys in their first five games prior to the Final Four, and their opponents made 20. The 3-point shot has changed the complexion of the game.”
There are limited tickets available. They are selling at $1,000.
That’s a lot of pop for the average Joe, but the cause should not be forgotten. The product of working-class parents, Vitale says anyone can make a tax deductible donation of any amount by going to his website or The V Foundation website.
“We are going to have the Final Four coaches under one roof just like they were in Houston, but instead of battling each other they are uniting and fighting cancer so these kids have a chance at life,” Vitale said.
Among the college basketball coaches who have committed are Florida’s Billy Donovan, Roy Williams (North Carolina), Jamie Dixon (Pittsburgh), Gary Williams (Maryland), Bob Huggins (West Virginia) and Ben Howland (UCLA).
Vitale also has gotten a Heisman Trophy sampling with former winners Desmond Howard, Chris Weinke and Vinny Testaverde along with Florida State head football coach Jimbo Fisher. Joining them are NBA Hall of Famer Dave Cowens, legendary basketball coach Larry Brown and IMG founder Nick Bollettieri. Bilas and Rece Davis will introduce the celebrities, and John Saunders will be the emcee.
That is just a small sampling of sports figures who will be there.
Alan Dell, Herald sports writer, can be reached at 745-2112.