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Dick Vitale on Kansas's 'best backcourt in basketball' and KU's Final Four chances

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Talking Kansas, March Madness, and an incredible career with the legendary broadcaster.

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NCAA Basketball: Notre Dame at Miami Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports

Here at RCT, we’ve been blessed in the past to get the opportunity to speak with some interesting folks, including Rece Davis, Clark Kellogg, and even Norm Stewart. This year is a most special treat, as we bring you the legendary Dick Vitale.

UPDATE: If you would rather hear the audio, scroll down to the bottom and listen to the embedded SoundCloud applet, or visit our podcast page at https://soundcloud.com/rockchalktalk/


MIKE: This is Mike Plank with Rock Chalk Talk, and I am here with David Potter and our special guest, ESPN’s Dick Vitale. Dick, it’s great to be able to spend a few minutes with you talking college basketball and March Madness. Just right off the bat, this looks like it’s going to be a tough bracket, one of the tougher brackets in recent memory. With a relatively weak bubble this year, it looks like just about everyone who is in has earned it. Just kind of give us your thoughts on the brackets as a whole.

VITALE: Well, you’re talking about Kansas, are you not?

MIKE: We are with Kansas, yes.

VITALE: Obviously, every bracket right now is pretty tough.

You go down south, you see Kentucky, you certainly see UCLA, North Carolina, that’s a knockout one. You go east, you look at teams like Villanova, Duke. You go west, you see teams like Arizona, Gonzaga. So, you gotta win.

The bottom line, we can look at all the brackets you want, we can look at all the seeds, this team should have been seeded this, this team that, you gotta win six games. Any way you cut it, you gotta win six games in a row. Then you gotta beat anyone who comes in your way if you wanna be the national champ. And Kansas has that potential. They got the best backcourt in basketball. I’ve said that from day one, and I will not change that.

Mason and certainly Graham, and you factor in Josh Jackson, I really can look at those three on the perimeter, I mean, there’s not a better threesome. And for me, Mason was my Player of the Year. He’s been terrific all year, offensively, defensively, games I had him on I was so impressed with him, especially in that game against West Virginia. 14 down, 2:40 on the clock, and he and Graham would not let them lose, would not let them lose!

DAVID: With all of the solid teams out there you just mentioned, obviously there will be difficult matchups ahead, difficult for the teams but also for fans trying to fill out their brackets. So I understand that you have teamed up with Allstate this year to sponsor a bracket predictor to help fans with their office pool picks. Can you talk a little more about that and your involvement with Allstate?

VITALE: So you go to Allstatebracket.com so you can get the AllState Bracket Predictor and that can help you analyze and evaluate and give you some expert advice as to who to pick. It breaks down all the numbers, it gives you all the strengths and weaknesses of teams, and it shows you basically which way you should go.

So even a fan who doesn’t follow the game – you see, there are a lot of people who don’t follow college basketball until we get to this time of the year, to March Mayhem. And I’ll tell you this right now, it’s a great, great tool to have.

People always look for that winner’s edge, well that’s what it’ll do, it will give you that winner’s edge. So I’m sure Bill Self is always looking for that winner’s edge, man, with the Jayhawks! The only question I have about the Jayhawks is depth, and size up front. Will that eventually catch them? That is really a question and a concern I would have.

MIKE: I heard that you have actually picked Louisville to knock off KU in the Elite 8! Say it ain’t so! Don’t you think that KU’s guards would benefit them against Louisville, to help them break the press?

VITALE: You’re right about that, they’ve got the guards to break the pressure. No question about it.

Now my gut feeling tells me, in that matchup, I think the depth factor becomes big. It really becomes big.

Louisville has got two pretty good guards; they’ve been up and down a little bit lately, but Snider and Donovan Mitchell certainly can negate or neutralize a little bit Mason and Graham.

I’m not saying they’re as good as them, because obviously I love Mason and Graham, but I think the fact that they’ve got so many bodies, you don’t know who to really focus on. Will it be Johnson on the inside? Will it be Matz Stockman, Adel, King? You got so many players you can go to, that I really believe you never know which one is going to break out.

And then their pressure is so relentless and creates so much offense. I’m not saying it’s like West Virginia’s press, but it’s a very good, effective press, features a lot of athletes, they’re long, they’re lean, and Rick Pitino has an incredible record at tournament time.

DAVID: You mentioned that the Jayhawks struggle a bit with depth, especially in the post. Knowing that they have a couple of flaws, with that in mind, what do you feel like the keys are for them to go ahead and still make a Final Four run using the talent they do have?

VITALE: Flaws. Everybody has flaws, guys. I don’t care who you are. I don’t care. Everybody has flaws. Louisville has flaws. Their flaw is, they don’t shoot the ball consistently from the perimeter on a regular basis. North Carolina has got some flaws defensively. So everybody has got flaws. You’ve got to try to minimize those flaws as much as possible.

And I think when Kansas does a great job — Bill Self’s team, the one thing they have, the one thing I’ve noticed all year, people have played them tough. But they have found ways to win. And that’s all geared to the kid up on top, Mason.

Mason has an incredible toughness mentally, and so does Graham. Graham is so underrated. He makes big shot after big shot. Jackson is a flat out star. I don’t like that fact of what happened, that he got suspended for a game and put his team in that kind of a mode to come into the tournament psychologically and emotionally and now he’s gotta go out there and play with a little chip on his shoulder and show people that he didn’t really hurt the team.

But he hurt the team certainly in the game against TCU, cuz they never would have won that game with him on the floor. But again, you don’t like those problems affecting a team’s mentality. But they’ve found a way to win, and that’s special.

Bill Self is special. I’ve said from day one there should be an investigation this year if he doesn’t get into the Hall of Fame. Thirteen consecutive Big 12 titles? That’s incredible, unheard of! Unheard of in a power conference to do that year in, year out. Kids there play with a lot of pride in front of a lot of fantastic, passionate fans, even though I can’t get over that a lot of the fans left that day in the game against West Virginia. It was unbelievable to be walking out and going out into that parking lot and then see what happened! But never underestimate the Jayhawks. The depth is a factor, size, Landen Lucas has a lot of pressure on him. He really doesn’t have a whole lot of help on the inside.

MIKE: So, based on your comments right there, I think I know how you’re going to answer this next question, but I’ll ask it anyway. Does Bill Self need to win another national title to make him one of the greatest coaches ever?

VITALE: Bill Self, is to me, a giant as a coach. I don’t know about one of the greatest ever, I mean, there have been a lot of guys out there that have coached this game, and he is still very young at heart. I think when all is said and done you are gonna talk about him in that mold, because really, the numbers he is putting up are scary, are flat out scary. And he’s a terrific guy, and that’s what separates the whole deal too. Not only is he a winner, he’s a great guy, and I have great respect and admiration for Bill.

DAVID: So, looking at Bill Self’s time at Kansas, if you were to pick, say, three players who you would say are the best players that Self has coached there, who would they be, and then does Frank Mason make that list, or are we maybe focusing on him a little too much just out of recency bias since he is there right now?

VITALE: Well, this is a tough question. Bill Self has coached at Kansas – oh man, that’s tough. Talent-wise, to be there for four years – you know, Wiggins was pretty good, man, he was pretty good. But, you know, Mason is gonna be a national Player of the Year.

I know he didn’t coach, but he wore a Kansas uniform, there’s Danny Manning, he [had] a game [last night]. Joel Embiid, I was thinking of, but he didn’t get a chance to really play, he was always hurt. He’s had so many quality players. The team that won the national title with Chalmers – I tell ya the truth, it’s very difficult to pick, he’s had so many good players.

DAVID: So just to switch gears a little bit – just talking about your career. You, maybe more than any other broadcaster, in any sport, I think you bring so much legitimate enthusiasm for the game to your broadcast. If I’m not mistaken, I think you’re entering your 38th year of broadcasting basketball. How have you managed to continue to keep up that level of energy and enthusiasm and love of the game over so many years?

VITALE: People ask me that all the time. A bunch of young players, people ask me that recently, I’m 77 years old and I act about 12. And I’ll know that day that comes when I don’t have the excitement or the adrenaline — I mean, after I’m done with you guys here, I jump on with Brent Musberger on ESPN, we have a special show, be on at 6:15, it’s a marathon challenge show, and I’ll be on with Brent.

And Saturday, Sunday rather, I did the SEC champs and Sunday night I was on for two hours with the Selection Show. Monday morning, yesterday, I did about five hours in the morning on shows like CNN and Fox and Friends, and Sporting News, and people ask me, don’t you get tired of that? Not really. I’m very flattered that people even want to talk to me about basketball.

Look, I’m a basketball junkie. I was a non-player. I was a guy that just loves the game. I got a lucky break in my life coaching. Had some success coaching, then got fired, made a mistake, went to the (inaudible), then here comes this network that gave me my first opportunity to do the very first game in the history of ESPN.

Back on December 5, 1979, DePaul-Wisconsin, and if you would’ve told me I’d be doing this 38 years later, and I got an extension on my contract, so I’ll be there for a few more, I hope, that’s up to the man upstairs, it’s how you feel physically. And I feel great. I’m speaking tomorrow at a major convention here in Las Vegas for an insurance company. My point is, I love what I’m doing. When you love what you do and you work with great people — ESPN has been like a second family to me.

I’ve been blessed in my life to have a great wife of 46 years, two beautiful girls that went to Notre Dame. I couldn’t spell Notre Dame! Two great sons-in-law, one is a surgeon, one is a judge, a United States circuit court judge. I’ve got five grandkids. I’ve lived a life that’s exceeded any dream. And I think when you have that going for you, you have a passion for what you’re doing.

One reason why I respect Bill so much, is you know we honored him one year, to support a charity dear to my heart now, raising money for kids battling cancer. And that’s what I love about people that help me and that’s what I love about AllState. AllState is raising money for the V Foundation. And I’m close with those guys.

Simply, have a sense of pride in what you’re doing, believe in what you’re doing. And always, I learned from mom and dad who were uneducated, my parents taught me as a kid growing up never ever to be content. I lost my eye as a kid and I thought it was the end of the world. And my mother said, You can do anything you want, Richie. I learned from my parents, and they’d remind me every day of my life, be good to people and people will be good to you. And that goes for all things. People have been so good to me in my career.

And I thank you for even asking about that. Because people sometimes, they just think oh you’re basketball basketball basketball. And I’m lucky that I’m in basketball. But I’ve been able to see Donnie and Marie. Yesterday I went to see Wayne Newton. Last week I went to see Smokey Robinson. Last week I went to see Blake Shelton. I mean, I love concerts, a lot of people don’t know that about me. They just think I’m basketball all the time.

Hey, thanks for having me on, I always love coming out there, I love coming to do games, they’re my kind of people because they’re passionate and have pride about what they’re doing and cheering Rock Chalk Jayhawk! Love it! Love it!

MIKE: Thank you, we really appreciate your time!

VITALE: Well thank you! Remember, Allstatebracket.com and get the Allstate Bracket Predictor and it can help you. It may say Kansas, baby! Vitale was wrong! Kansas over Louisville! Check it out!

MIKE: Let’s hope so!

DAVID: Thank you.

VITALE: All right man, take care!

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Editor’s note: This interview took place on Tuesday afternoon, March 14, 2017. The transcription has been edited for readability.