NEW ORLEANS – Welcome to the Final Four that has almost everything.
Cinderella almost made it, but No. 15 seed Saint Peter’s lost in the Elite Eight to No. 8 seed North Carolina (28-9), which is here for its 21st Final Four and after its seventh national championship.
No. 1 seed Kansas (32-6), which has the most wins in college basketball history at 2,355, is also in town at its 16th Final Four and looking for a fourth national championship.
The Jayhawks will play No. 2 seed Villanova (30-7) in the first national semifinal on Saturday (6:09 p.m. eastern, TBS) in the Superdome. Villanova is in its seventh Final Four and playing for a fourth national championship and third since 2016.
And there is No. 2 seed Duke (32-6) and coach Mike Krzyzewski, who will be coaching in an NCAA record 13th Final Four in search of his and his school’s sixth national championship. Krzyzewski, 75, announced his retirement last summer, effective at the end of this season. Duke is in its 17th Final Four.
Duke and North Carolina meet for the first time in NCAA Tournament history on Saturday (8:49 p.m., TBS) after avoiding one another for the 36 previous NCAA Tournaments.
What’s missing? Only the voice of college basketball since the 1980s – Dick Vitale, who has been sidelined since December with cancer that brought on vocal cord surgery, which prevented him from talking for several weeks. He recently learned, though, that the cancer is in remission, and he is talking again.
Interestingly, Vitale, aka Dickie V, and Krzyzewski, aka Coach K, became synonymous abbreviations for college basketball in the 1980s and remain so through the present day after arriving on the scene at about the same time. Vitale, a former coach of the Detroit Pistons in 1978-79, announced his first game at ESPN on December 5, 1979 when DePaul beat Wisconsin 90-77 in Chicago. And Krzyzewski, a Chicago native who was Army’s head coach from 1975-80, was introduced at Duke on March 18, 1980, and promptly spelled his name.
“I wish I could be there at the Final Four,” Vitale, 82, told OutKick.com via text from his home in Lakewood Ranch, Florida, near Sarasota on Thursday. “But I’m still recovering. Doctors will not allow me to go. After doing every UNC-Duke game for nearly four decades, I am crushed that I will not be in New Orleans.”
Vitale is not retiring, though.
“My goal is to get all the health issues put to bed and be back doing what I love – talking hoops in the 2022-23 season,” he said. “Trust me, it will be very emotional for me and my family when I get to sit at courtside again to call a game.”
It was extremely emotional at Vitale’s last game. He announced No. 2 Baylor’s 57-36 win over No. 6 Villanova in Waco, Texas, on Dec. 12 after he had been battling melanoma and lymphoma since September.
Baylor presented him with a No. 42 jersey for his years as a broadcaster with ESPN and played a video tribute to him, and he wept profusely.
“The crowd brought me to tears, chanting my name, and they gave me a very warm standing ovation,” he said.
Vitale’s vocal cord issues grew worse at the time, and he recently had surgery on that with orders not to speak. Dick Vitale with a muzzle?
“I felt trapped by not being able to speak,” he said. “The vocal cord surgery was a big success. About a week ago, I was given permission to speak, but can’t go for long interviews, etcetera, until the total recovery is completed. And a recent scan said I had zero cancer. The doctors said I am in remission.”
The cancer did not stop Vitale from watching the NCAA Tournament and commenting on it via videos.
“I miss the excitement of being there with the coaches, the players, the fans and the media,” he said. “I truly loved walking into an arena and sharing time with all involved. Going into the crowd, taking pictures. That is the hot dog in me.”
Fans would often hold Vitale up completely and pass him through the crowd.
“He was probably the most accessible of any announcer that has ever been in any sport for the fans to touch and associate with, and he just laps it up,” his former ESPN play-by-play announcer Tim Brando of FOX Sports told OutKick on Wednesday.
“Without Dickie V this season, he was really missed, especially at the big games and with the fans back for the first time in two years because of COVID,” Brando said. “It hasn’t been the same. He’s so synonymous with the game.”
He’s also a rock star. Brando found that out in his first game with him on January 5, 1985, when No. 2 Duke and Coach K won 63-58 at Virginia on ESPN.
“He was so easy to work with, and he didn’t know me from Adam,” Brando said and launched into one of the better Vitale imitations out there.
“We’re going to have fun Timmy B,” Brando said Vitale told him. “We’re just going to say what we see, BABY!”
After the game, Brando said Vitale told him, “Yeah, baby, we’re going to be doing this for a long time together. It was AWESOME, BABY!”
And they did for 10 years.
“Working with Dick was liking being the security officer on the side of a Mardi Gras float, with Dickie V being the float,” Brando said. “Dick’s waving at everybody, and you’re just directing traffic. You’re in his world, so just enjoy the ride.”
Brando can’t wait for the king of the college basketball parade to return.
“He’s a lifer. He needs it,” he said. “Being at a game is like an instant shot of the adrenaline of youth to him. And believe me, ESPN wants him back. He’s genuine. I love the guy, and you can’t come away not loving him. College basketball misses him.”
In the meantime before his return, Vitale continues to immerse himself in raising money for the fight against cancer as he has for decades through the V Foundation and his own cancer battle galas that have raised close to $50 million. His 17th annual gala will be on May 6 at the Ritz-Carlton in Sarasota.
“The seven months have been really tough on me,” he said. “Not just the chemotherapy, but all the scans, blood work, blood counts. But I can take it. My heart breaks for kids who have to go through that. I am obsessed with raising money for kids.”
Vitale continues to be obsessed with the NCAA Tournament from home as well.
“My favorite was watching No. 15 seed Saint Peter’s from Jersey City go all the way to the Elite Eight,” Vitale, a Passaic, N.J., native, and Seton Hall alum, said. “That truly defined March Madness. Now, though, it is Blue Blood time as four Goliath programs will battle in the Big Easy.”
That was a text, but it sounds like Vitale is courtside again with microphone.
“Added to the drama is that this is the finish of the greatest career in the history of college basketball,” he went on. “Yes, to me, Coach K with a mind boggling 1,202 wins is the GOAT (greatest of all time), BABY!”
And Vitale couldn’t exit without a prediction.
“I have Duke beating Kansas for the title, and a movie will be made about the last rodeo of Coach K,” he said.
Then production should start on “The Life of Dickie V.”
It could be awesome, baby.