Dick Vitale talks NCAA Tournament Final Four

From ESPN –

ESPN’s Dick Vitale Conference Call Transcript

ESPN hosted a media conference call today with the network’s Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame commentator Dick Vitale to discuss men’s college basketball, Kentucky coach John Calipari and the NCAA Final Four matchups. Vitale, a big Major League Baseball fan, closed with some comments on the Tampa Bay Rays and New York Yankees.

On the 2012 Final Four:
Dick Vitale: I think we really have all the Goliaths here. It’s almost like an Ali, Tyson, Frazier, Holyfield. Unbelievable. I think that many of us projected before the tournament started that this would be the year of the Goliaths, that eventually the Davids would be put away because the talent level, there was a separation. And who knows what we’d have seen.

And my heart goes out to the beautiful fans and the players and the coaches from North Carolina losing the likes of Kendall Marshall and another No. 1 seed when you think of certainly – you think of Syracuse losing Fab Melo and you go one step further, Michigan State losing the kid Dawson. Those were major losses at a time of the year when it’s so difficult to be able to get a rhythm and timing and get back into that flow.

But saying all that, you look at Kansas and Ohio State, they took advantage of that, and certainly Louisville has been on a run. I mean, Kentucky has been a team from day one, everybody has projected as the team to be here, and the one beauty of college basketball ‑‑ most people you talk to right now, Kentucky, Kentucky, Kentucky, including Yours Truly. But the one beauty of college basketball, it’s not four out of seven, à la the NBA. It’s a one‑time shot.

And we have seen miracles before. Just reflect back to ’85 in Lexington when Villanova pitched the perfect game to beat Georgetown. Think about Jimmy V, my buddy, running around the court looking for somebody to hug and cutting the nets down after beating a great Houston team via Slamma‑Jamma.

Saying all that, we really don’t know, but I’ll tell you this: Bourbon Street will be rocking. You’d better believe bluegrass Bourbon Street will be in big numbers, and it’s going to be a phenomenal time. They do a great job in that city, NOLA, hosting that tournament, and I’m excited. I can’t wait to get there this afternoon and be part of this incredible weekend.

Thoughts on the Ohio State‑Kansas match‑up
Dick Vitale: When you look at that matchup they played earlier, there’s no Sullinger, and that’s really a difference maker. You’ve got two – talk about marquee teams and players, you’ve got all of it. You’ve got marquee coaches, you’ve got Robinson, Sullinger, these are two of the premier college players all year, and then you’ve got teams that really have found a way to win.

Kansas should have been put away by Purdue. They won. Should have been put away by North Carolina State, they won. They were up 68‑67 late in the game with North Carolina, they find a way to make the big shot, Johnson, a big three, and they rip off 12 in a row, find a way to win.

Ohio State we haven’t heard a lot of people talking about. They got beat by Michigan State at the end and were a little up and down, but they’re a team, very, very dangerous, and they can win it all. No doubt about it, they have a great defense, they have a leader in Kraft. Sullinger gives them post presence.  I think the key for them is Buford has got to help out and get a little bit more scoring.

I would give a slight edge to the Buckeyes and give a slight edge to Kentucky over Louisville.

Pick for the championship game
Dick Vitale: It’s Kentucky. I’m not going to change my mind. I think Kentucky stands tall and reigns supreme as the national champ.

I think John Calipari will join the likes of Adolph Rupp and certainly Joe B. Hall and Tommy Smith, Rick Pitino winning a national title, be the fifth one.  I really feel that way.  I think the team is so good and so much on with a purpose that they’ve played all year in unselfish fashion, I just don’t think they’re going to be stopped.

Q.      I wanted to get your opinion on Iowa under Fran McCaffery.  This year they made the NIT, first time in six years for the Hawkeyes.  What are your thoughts on the way he’s building the program?
Dick Vitale: I think Fran is doing things in a positive way. I think you have to be patient. They’ve got fans that can be very passionate, but they’ve had some great wins this year. I think building off of – I did a speaking engagement out there, and they were all raving about a youngster, a seven‑footer who I have not seen coming in and a great guard from the same area, one area of Iowa, and they signed those two, and everybody thinks they’re going to be instant impact players.

Q.      Obviously so much talk about Kentucky.  What’s their biggest risk then on Saturday?
Dick Vitale: I think the biggest risk, that’s a good question, really a great question. I would think if you’re Kentucky and you’re John Calipari, and I got a text message from him today, and I won’t tell you what I texted him, but let me just tell you this:  I think when you look at Kentucky you’ve got to be concerned if Davis were to get two fouls. Now, they’ve played, they’ve practiced without him. They did all of it to simulate if that happens. They’ve worked in that area.

But it’s a difference maker. Psychologically it affects people around him. That would be a question.

Another one I would be concerned about is the play of the point guard, which is so vital in tournament play. When you get into this stage, that point guard has to be effective in getting you with your offensive sets and doing a great job starting your defense starts there, and I think when you look at Teague, it’ll be interesting to see how he reacts on this big stage as a young kid because he’s going to be challenged.

I think one of the great match‑ups in that game is going to be Siva and Teague. Siva has to win that match‑up. He has to not only win it, he has to dominate it for Louisville to have a chance to win. By that I mean he’s got to penetrate, beat him off the bounce, create opportunities for Kuric to shoot a three, Russell Smith who can be up or down has to be able to put points on the board. They really need Siva to be so effective and not turn the ball over.

On the other side Teague has got to be just good. If he can get them in their offense and he can not turn the ball over, and he’s had some magical moments and he’s had some down moments, but the bottom line is I think that’s the key.

Q.      I wonder how much pressure do you think John Calipari is under right now having come close so many times, and do you see any similarity between him and now and when Rick Pitino came in in ’96 with that great team and everybody thought he was going to win one sometime and is this the time?
Dick Vitale: He can say anything he wants about there’s no pressure, they had a phenomenal year, it’s not all about winning the national title. He can say about the fact that John Chaney never won one, Keady never won one and they’re great coaches, and that’s all valid. John Calipari is still to me going to be labeled as a great coach.  When he can take three different teams in three consecutive years and have them on the cusp of possibly being a national champ, to me that is special.  That means you’re motivating, that means you’re recruiting, that means you’re teaching, that means you’re getting players to play unselfishly.

I’m going to tell you, any way you cut it, the pressure is on, and it’s doubly now. Why is it doubly? You’ve got an incredible rivalry, which we all know exists.

Now, that rivalry is compounded big time because the coach at Louisville was a former coach at Kentucky and won a national title at Kentucky and did such a marvelous job, and the fact that a lot of people didn’t expect them to be where they’re sitting right now, possibly the obstacle, possibly the obstacle in front right now of Kentucky. So there has got to be pressure, and he knows it.

But I’ll tell you this: He’s the kind of guy that just has a special way of preparing and getting people ready to play.  They make free throws last year, and they win, I think, the National Championship. I really believe that. They were 4 of 12, if I think I’m correct, my memory, against Connecticut.

But I want to tell you one of the keys to the game, as well. It just blew my mind in preparing ready to go down there with all my guys at ESPN for the pre‑ and post‑game stuff, I believe it’s 81 trips to the free‑throw line in two games.  Think about that number. That’s unbelievable. Eighty-one trips made 65 of 81 in two games. That means two things are happening: They’re getting you in foul trouble, number one. Number two, they’re stopping the clock and giving their players – they don’t have a keep rotation, they’re giving their players a chance to recover physically, emotionally get ready to play, going to that line, and number three, those are charity points.

So a key for Louisville, they’d better keep them off the line.  I mean, you’re not going to keep them all the time because they attack so much, but that is certainly big, and I couldn’t agree more.  I think the pressure has to be directed, without a doubt, with John, because there is the perception ‑‑ I mean, let’s face reality.  Any way you cut it, there’s a perception, and a lot of people say, well, he can get close.  But look what happened at the end of the game in Kansas in that championship game.

Look, a scenario against Connecticut. My friend, I don’t buy that. I think John Calipari got two raw deals. I really do.  Nobody is going to believe me in this, but I do because I happen to like him and I happen to respect his coaching ability and his generosity what he’s done for us at the V Foundation, as well.

But saying all this, let me tell you this. This thing should have never been vacated –you talk about vacate‑schmacate. They can call it anything they want. They should be ashamed of themselves. They walked in on Memphis and sat there on three occasions and told the administrators flat up and down you can play Derrick Rose.  Derrick Rose is eligible. We studied his numbers.

Then they come back when he wins them 30 plus games, goes to the final game, and now they say you’ve got to vacate it? Why don’t they take the burden and the blame for maybe not doing their effectively at the right time.

I thought maybe if you want to fine them and take dollars, but to take away those wins I thought was unfair. The first one, Marcus Camby, what coach in America –you can’t control your players 24/7 who they’re dealing with. Kid’s got no money and here comes a guy, don’t tell your coach, I’ll take care of you, I’ll represent you down the stretch, here’s a few extra bucks. Come on now. The bottom line is they went out and won those games, and to me I don’t buy that vacate nonsense. I don’t buy it.

John Calipari, he can win at Massachusetts, I knew it was just unbelievable what he’d achieve at Kentucky with the resources that they have. I can go on and on because you can’t believe because I think the guy gets unfairly ripped by a lot of people. There’s a pro and there’s a con. If you want to be anti John he will be some ammunition to be anti, and if you want to be pro John, he’ll give you a lot of ammunition to praise him.

But I sometimes don’t think he gets his due as a guy that can do more than recruit. That man can coach. You can’t take three different teams like he has and do what he has done in three years, and you can’t win five consecutive years 30 games and not – like 30 games in terms of a season when he was at Memphis and all and not know how to coach. He can coach, but the guy across the way can coach, too.

Q.      Once upon a time Bill Self was a guy who did a good coaching job on both ends of Tulsa. Now he’s in his second Final Four and not many people expected him to get to this Final Four. Where do you think Bill ranks in the current scene of college basketball coaches?
Dick Vitale: You know, Bill is starting to put on résumé numbers that he’s going to build on, getting to Hall of Fame status. I will never forget talking to him when the job came open, when the job came open down at Kansas ten years ago maybe, nine, ten years ago, and we had talked on the phone. I get a lot of calls from a lot of coaches when jobs open just to share – I would never, ever tell a coach flat up and down you should take it, not take it. I wouldn’t do that.  I would never do that.

But I would give my feelings if he’s asking, and I said at the time, I said, man, replacing Roy Williams is going to be a monster, a monster.  Twenty-eight games a year he averaged wins, trips to the Final Four, championships in the Big Eight, Big 12. But he loved the idea of coming back there, and he loved the idea of what they can provide, and he loved it also with all the language. It was a great job, as well, a great job. But he took the job here, and I am so absolutely beyond belief what he has achieved.

To win the Big 12 you’ve got to go through Lawrence. You’ve got to go through Lawrence. He’s been incredible.  This year I’ll be honest, I voted for him for my national coach of the year. He lost four starters this year including the two Morris twins, lost the guards, as well, and here it is, he’s now like 80 minutes away from being a national champion.

And I saw them early in the year against Kentucky in the first half and I saw them during that game, I said to myself, they’re going to have a good year. You can say they’re going to have a good year, but I would have never, ever imagined that they would be sitting where they are, and it starts with his leadership. The man can lead.

Q.      What do you think about Danny Manning as the next Tulsa coach?
Dick Vitale: Well, I think that Danny certainly brings a wealth of unbelievable credibility. He’s synonymous when you talk about the Final Four in 1988, Danny and the Miracles, what he did to carry Kansas on his back to win the national title. You think about all his experience, Kansas player, coach, NBA experience, he’s a magical name in recruiting. I just think –his dad was a coach. He learned so much in his home, learned so much under Bill Self and guys that he played under, Larry Brown.

I think he’s a great hire, and I look for him to do some really outstanding things, because in Tulsa they love their basketball. He’ll get people in the stands. I feel bad for Doug Wojcik because I was a big fan of Doug’s.  Bottom line is Danny should be able to put some people in the stands, I’ll tell you that, sell tickets.

Q.      Having never been a Division I head coach, period, what would you recommend for his staff?
Dick Vitale: He’s got to get a staff with lots of experience. I mean, we could have said the same thing basically about Roy Williams when Roy Williams took over at Kansas. He had never been a head coach, ever. I mean, he came there – the fact that many people would say he was probably the second or third assistant on a staff with Dean Smith, but Bob Frederick was able to recognize potential greatness and rolled the dice and gave him a shot, just like I feel about Chris Collins. I think people with no experience –I’m telling you, I’ve been around that kid. I call him a kid, he’s not a kid anymore, but I’ve been around him, and he’s a star in waiting. He just needs somebody like a Bob Frederick to open the door and give him an opportunity because with his background as a player and his background as a guy with his dad and his dad’s name and his name, I think he’d be a natural – I think sometimes that experience factor can be overrated a little bit.

Q.      I know you’re a big baseball fan. With the season beginning here after the Final Four, I need to at least ask you on what your thoughts are on the beginning of the baseball season.
Dick Vitale: Well, I’m a baseball fanatic as you know. In fact, I’m looking at tickets right now while I’m talking to you, opening home game with the Rays with the Yankees. I look at that pitching staff, I can tell the Yankees have all those bats, but the Rays light up with Price and Shields and Moore, Hellickson and Niemann, Davis. That starting cast means the Yankees will battle it for the wild card.


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