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East County Wednesday, Dec. 12, 2018 1 year ago

Lakewood Ranch's Dick Vitale says, 'Just read it, baby!'

Dick Vitale's newest book raises funds for the fight against pediatric cancer.
by: Jay Heater Managing Editor

Dick Vitale was in a hurry.

Sitting in the garage of his Country Club neighborhood home in Lakewood Ranch, he was speed-signing his new book, "Mount Rushmores of College Basketball" for the masses.

More than 100 copies of his book, written with Dick Weiss, sat in stacks in front of him, and ESPN's most beloved basketball announcer was grabbing one at a time and signing his trademark "Awesome baby!" along with other personal tidbits followed by his signature.

At 79, it wouldn't seem Vitale needs to be in a hurry for any reason. With four decades of ESPN announcing, coaching stints in high school, college and the NBA, 12 inductions to various halls of fame and eight movies in the bank (six playing himself), he has earned the right to sit in his beautiful home with his wife of 47 years, Lorraine, playing checkers.

That won't happen, baby.

He's got so much money to raise, and so little time.

Besides still working a full schedule of college basketball games for ESPN, offering his motivational speaking services and writing books, Vitale is a man on what he considers his most important mission. He wants to provide every dollar possible to The V Foundation, a non-profit organization dedicated to finding a cure for cancer that was founded in 1993 by ESPN and the late Jim Valvano.

At the front of the book is a page with the photos of 17 children who have attended his fundraiser, the Dick Vitale Gala, and since have died due to cancer.

He dedicated his book to those by saying, "I want to dedicate this book to all of these beautiful young kids who have or their families have been to my gala over the years. They will be missed, but certainly not forgotten."

Those memories, painful as they might be, keeps Vitale hurtling forward as he approaches 80. Every dollar he earns from "Mount Rushmores of College Basketball" will go to The V Foundation.

"Can you believe what happens in life?" Vitale asked in-between signatures. "My dad (John Vitale) was a factory worker, and I've spent 40 years at ESPN doing games and more games. The other day I was in Ann Arbor  (Michigan) and I couldn't believe the kids there were treating me like royalty. It gave me goosebumps."

While he was talking, his daughter, Sherri Krug, pulled into the driveway with his granddaughter, Ava Krug. It was just in time.

Vitale called Sherri to him, and loaded about 10 books into her arms with instructions on where to place them in the house so they could be shipped. Ava, a home-schooled seventh-grader who is a nationally ranked junior tennis player, chatted with her grandfather for a few moments before she was loaded up with books as well.

Lakewood Ranch's Dick Vitale has a new book out, "Dick Vitale's Mount Rushmores of College Basketball."

It was obvious that everything Vitale does includes a family team effort. Sherri and her husband, Thomas Krug, have twins Jake and Connor, along with Ava. Vitale's daughter, Terri, and her husband, Chris Sforzo, have a daughter, Sydney, and son, Ryan. To Vitale, they all belong on Mount Rushmore.

Back in the garage, Vitale needed more help. Sherri and Ava did not come back out, so he grabbed a stack of books himself and headed into the house. He dropped off the books with the others and went to his office, which sits on one end of his home and is stuffed with a museum's collection of memorabilia.

Behind his desk, he wondered aloud how he was going to handle the six minutes he was being allotted on Dec. 11 when he was inducted into the Sports Broadcasting Hall of Fame at the New York Hilton.

"I can share what I learned at the dinner table (growing up in East Rutherford, N.J.)," he said. "Never believe in 'can't.'

"And I always was told (by his dad, John, and mom, Mae) to be good to people and people will be good to you."

But those six minutes are likely to include a few other things he learned along he way, such as lessons learned after being fired as the Detroit Pistons head coach Nov. 8, 1979.

"When that happens, people don't return your calls," he said. "It's like you have the plague.

"So I went home and was moping. I had been watching Luke and Laura on General Hospital every day. I was as down as I ever have been. I would go to church, and we usually had donuts and coffee and people would mingle, but nobody would say hello to me.

"Then my wife ... and everything starts with my wife because for 47 years she has been a saint ... forced me to stop. She said, 'You're not the first guy this has happened to, so stop moping.'"

It formed a speech he still gives at his dinner table. "The key in life, and I give my grandkids this talk, is how you handle tough times. You have two choices. You can just feel sorry for yourself, or you can pick up the pieces."

Vitale quickly picked up the pieces and on Dec. 5, 1979, he worked as a broadcaster at ESPN's first college basketball game, Wisconsin at DePaul.

"When I first was told about ESPN, I thought it sounded like a disease," he said.

He became infected with the love of broadcasting and now, 40 years later, those who want to read his picks of the best performers during that time can enjoy the book and at the same time support The V Foundation.

Will there be a book after 50 years? Don't bet against it. Vitale remembers a lesson he learned from Valvano after he gave up coaching in college to try the pro ranks.

Vitale leaned forward in his office chair, and a smile widened across his face. "He said, 'Never mess with happy."



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