Just when you think Dick Vitale has done all he can do Lakewood Ranch’s most famous citizen makes your head turn.
Vitale begins his 33d season broadcasting college basketball games this Friday in a an historic game that will be played on the deck of the USS Carl Vinson off San Diego with President Obama expected to be in attendance.
The participating teams, North Carolina and Michigan State, aren’t too shabby either.
Coming off his visit with the Pope last summer, Vitale now gets to shake hands with the President of The United States.
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Not bad for a poor to middle class kid from New Jersey.
Vitale has had events, buildings, playgrounds, causes, statutes and fund raisers named after him. The only thing left is a country.
The United States of Dick Vitale would certainly sit well with all the basketball junkies around the country. But his best legacy will be raising all that money to fight pediatric cancer. In that cause, he did bring a country together.
“‘I feel as excited about this season as any I can remember because of all the quality players who came back for another season,” Vitale said. “I am going to speak to the troops Thursday in San Diego and it’s going to be a great setting. Last week I was at the Air Force-Army game and felt honored beyond belief. Cuba Gooding threw up the coin for the game and I took a picture with him.”
Vitale’s pre-season top five are North Carolina, Kentucky, Connecticut, Ohio State and Syracuse and he has Florida in his top 10. He says the Tar Heels have an NBA front court led by soph Harrison Barnes.
Vitale is putting everyone alert to watch his “Diaper Dandies.” The best of that group could be Duke guard Austin Rivers from Winter Park, a polished, savvy player, who learned the game from his dad Doc Rivers, who happens to coach the Boston Celtics.
“He will be an impact player right out the gate,” Vitale says.
The basketball guru also tells local hoop fans it will be worth it to make the trip up to Gainesville and watch the Gators, who have one of the country’s backcourts with Kenny Boynton and Erving Walker that will be bolstered by Bradley Beal. The freshman from St. Louis is the 2011 Gatorade National Player of The Year and led Team USA to the U17 FIBA World Championship averaging 18.3 points per game.
Vitale says South Florida will struggle, but has a quality player in Gus Gilchrist and 6-7 Victor Rudd, a transfer from Arizona State, is worth keeping any eye on.
Taggart best bet of the weekend
Want to make a good wager whether it’s a dinner or ham sandwich?
Take our own Willie Taggart and his Western Kentucky miracle workers this Saturday at LSU.
Before you sneer and call this a delusional suggestion, check the resume on this guy who is fast becoming Manatee High’s most famous gridiron hero.
WKU is a 40-point plus underdog against LSU. In 2007, with Taggart as assistant coach Stanford was a 40-point underdog to USC and beat the Trojans in what is considered college football’s biggest upset of all time.
Concerned people suggested to Taggart that he hold out some of his players for LSU and let them heal for their last two Sun Belt Conference games.
Ouch! Apparently they don’t know the Manatee High product, who calls the Tigers an NFL Minor League team.
Taggart says the upset has to start with the head coach. If he doesn’t believe and make his feelings known it cannot happen. He sold that pitch along with head coach Jim Harbaugh before they shocked the world with win over USC.
“I said from the beginning we are chasing greatness and looking to catch some excellence this weekend,” Taggart said. “This is not the NFL where you rest guys. We are not going to do anything like that. That basically says you do not have a chance. If that is the case, we might as well forfeit the game.
“How many times do you get a chance to play the number one team? You will not get that often, especially here at WKU. It was a great feeling after we did it at USC and I told our guys it will be a great feeling when we do it here and turn our program around.
“It is not just going to happen by talking about it, but we are not going to stand a chance if we go in not believing or believe what everyone else says about it.”