Dick Vitale Dick Vitale
The 2007 NCAA College Basketball tournament is officially under way, driving even the most casual hoops fan into a state of excitement known as March Madness. Yet when it comes to frenzied fandom, no one holds a candle to Dick Vitale. After leaving the coaching ranks in 1979, Dickie V began his college-basketball broadcasting career with a then-fledgling cable sports network known as ESPN. Since that time, the Passaic, New Jersey, native has become a household name with his signature brand of unbridled enthusiasm. To celebrate this athletic rite of spring, TVGuide.com recently spoke with Vitale about the tourney, endorsing Hooters, and his latest nomination to the Basketball Hall of Fame.

TVGuide.com: Do I even need to ask if March is your favorite month?
Dick Vitale:
You know, March Madness to me is so unique in that it captivates fans of all ages and creates such an unbelievably spirited scenario for everybody. The Davids against the Goliaths — everybody gets so excited about that.

TVGuide.com: Have you felt that sense of excitement this year?
Vitale: I felt it today when I went to my normal place for breakfast. I was sitting outside and people were abuzz, coming up and asking about the Final Four. These are people who don't follow basketball all year long, and they get so involved around this time. They find a team they love and they stay with that team. Right now, it's constant chatter. I went to a spring-training game yesterday, and I was talking to some of the baseball players and all they wanted to talk about was who was going to make the Final Four.

TVGuide.com: All the talk this season has been about Ohio State's Greg Odin and Texas' Kevin Durant.
Vitale: I think both guys have been so special, and have lived up to every description that's out there about them. Both have been magical, but I cast my ballot for National Player of the Year for Kevin Durant. I never thought I'd vote for a freshman for player of the year.

TVGuide.com: So he's what you'd call a "premier diaper dandy"?
Vitale: He's the best. He's the most skilled parameter big player I have witnessed in my years on television. He's a different type of big player. He can score in a variety of ways. Now, if you ask me who I'd take first in the draft, I'd pick Odin. You win championships with the unbelievable defense he brings into that three-second area. He has the makings of a Patrick Ewing.

TVGuide.com: What teams have a good shot at wearing the Cinderella slipper?
Vitale: I think we might have a lot of them. This year the No. 1 seeds will not be dominating, invincible teams. They're all beatable clubs. That leads me to speculate that we're going to see a tournament where even a No. 5, 6 or 7 seed makes a magical run and gets to the Final Four. I like teams like Maryland and Arizona, who really didn't have a great year, but have talent and a great coach. Teams like Southern Illinois, I really believe, can play with some of the so-called giants up top.

TVGuide.com: I've seen a few of the Hooters spots you've been doing lately. Honestly, what's your favorite thing about Hooters? And don't say the wings.
Vitale: [Laughs] You know, my favorite thing about Hooters is very simple: People don't realize [the restaurant chain's] generosity. They've given over a half-million dollars to the V Foundation for cancer research. Jimmy Valvano was a good friend of mine, and their donations to his foundation have been very special to me.

TVGuide.com: For the third year, you're a candidate for the Basketball Hall of Fame. Coincidentally, Bill Davidson, the Detroit Pistons owner, is a finalist as well. Seeing as he fired you as head coach of the Pistons during the '79-80 season, would it make it especially sweet to get the induction over him?
Vitale: No. If anything, I'm indebted to him. At the time, I didn't think so. I had tears flowing out of my eyes getting the ziggy on November 8, 1979. Little did I know that 28 years later, I'd be nominated for the Basketball Hall of Fame and he would be nominated as well. But I owe everything to Bill Davidson. If he didn't fire me, there [would be] no television career. I was recently touched by Bob Knight, who went out of his way and got all the living Hall of Fame coaches, from John Wooden to Mike Krzyzewski, to write letters on my behalf. To me, I have no reason to be optimistic, because I've been rejected two times already, but that's my hall of fame right there. The fact that the people who are the fabric of college basketball felt that much about what I've done just blows me away.

TVGuide.com: Still though, you've got to really want to get into the Hall....
Vitale: Who wouldn't want to be in there? That's the highest praise I can achieve in my profession. I would cherish and love it. The point I'm trying to make is that it's really tough for me to be optimistic, because I've had those letdowns.

TVGuide.com: You seem like such a resilient guy. Don't you just brush it off?
Vitale: You do. You get on with your life and realize it's something you can't control. I went from 1970 as a sixth-grade teacher coaching high school to, seven and a half years later, head coaching in the NBA. It was such a high. Then all of the sudden, bam! I got fired and I learned so much. I learned about family. I learned about friends. I learned that all those who I thought were my friends were nothing more than acquaintances, who wouldn't return phone calls. Then all of the sudden, I got a magical phone call from ESPN. They wanted me to broadcast their first game, Wisconsin versus DePaul. I said, "No, I want to go coach college." I was down. I was humiliated. I was sitting at home watching soap operas at the time. My wife kicked me in the butt and said, "Why don't you go do that game and have fun? Stop feeling sorry for yourself." She gave me a real wake-up call. So I went and did the game, and it changed my life.

CBS' coverage of first-round NCAA Tournament games continues Friday, March 16, at noon/ET.

Send your comments on this Q&A to online_insider@tvguide.com