Wichita State Shockers

Shocker success brings Dick Vitale back to Wichita

ESPN basketball analyst Dick Vitale reports from a game at Cameron Indoor Stadium in Durham, N.C., in 2012. Vitale returns to Wichita for the first time in three decades on Tuesday night to cover Wichita State’s game against Alabama at Koch Arena.
ESPN basketball analyst Dick Vitale reports from a game at Cameron Indoor Stadium in Durham, N.C., in 2012. Vitale returns to Wichita for the first time in three decades on Tuesday night to cover Wichita State’s game against Alabama at Koch Arena. Getty Images

Dick Vitale has questions. About Wichita and about Wichita State.

They start with the basic.

“What’s the weather been like there?”

Then, when talk turns back to basketball, they come in a flurry.

“What’s Koch Arena like? How many does it hold? Do the Shockers play anywhere else?”

Then, the big one.

“What’s the situation with Kansas playing Wichita State?”

If you’re excited for Vitale’s trip to Wichita on Tuesday, his first time calling a game here in three decades, that’s understandable. Because he is, too.

The legendary ESPN commentator and Basketball Hall of Famer comes to Koch Arena to call No. 11 Wichita State’s game against Alabama on Tuesday night, with tipoff scheduled for 8:05 on ESPN2.

Vitale will also be signing copies of his new book, “It’s Awesome, Baby! — 75 Years of Memories and a Lifetime of Opinions on the Game I Love” from 3:30-5 p.m. Tuesday at the WSU Bookstore in the Rhatigan Student Center.

Alabama (6-2) is coming off a 65-53 win over Tennessee Tech on Saturday. WSU (7-1) has won three straight since losing to No. 14 Utah on Dec. 3.

In an interesting twist, the Shockers’ last two opponents both have ties to Vitale. WSU defeated Seton Hall, Vitale’s alma mater, 77-68 on Dec. 9 in Wichita. The Shockers traveled to Detroit on Saturday, where Vitale coached from 1973-77, and won 77-68 on the court named after him.

Now, they get to play in front of the real thing.

“I don’t remember the exact date, but the last time I was (in Wichita) was during the early 1980s, during the Antoine Carr, Cliff Levingston and Xavier McDaniel era,” Vitale said. “It’s been a lot of years.”

The Shockers’ recent success has drawn him back — the Final Four in 2013 and last year’s record-setting, 35-1 campaign.

“There hasn’t been the frenzy there is around the team like there has been the last couple of years,” Vitale said. “I asked my boss to let me get out and be able to watch legit contenders, teams that have a shot at the Final Four. And Wichita State is one of those teams.

“I love watching that backcourt, with Fred VanVleet and Ron Baker and Tekele Cotton. ... Baker is a really, really special player. And Alabama is an athletic team, so it should be a good matchup.

“And of course, there’s Gregg Marshall.”

Vitale, who was on the air for ESPN’s first college basketball game between DePaul and Wisconsin on Dec. 5, 1979, had high praise for Marshall, WSU’s eighth-year coach.

He also mentioned Marshall during the ESPN broadcast of the UCLA-Gonzaga game on Saturday night.

“(Marshall) is similar to Gonzaga’s Mark Few, in that they’re not at the quote, unquote ‘elite’ schools and they’ve got a tremendous thing going,” Vitale said. “Wichita State is obviously in that elite category now, and Marshall is synonymous with WSU. It’s an incredible thing that he’s done there. I’m excited to watch his team play.”

And Vitale isn’t oblivious to the buzz that comes with his trip to Wichita – his reaction tinged with a heartening humility. And a favor he may ask of Marshall.

“The book is special to me because every dollar I make is going to fight pediatric cancer,” Vitale said. “There are pictures in the back of 10 youngsters, ages all between 5 and 12, who lost their lives in a battle with cancer. There’s nothing worse than having to see a child battling cancer. It touches me, big time.

“To all the people that want to come out to the Rhatigan Student Center … I’ll take pics, I’ll sign books, I’ll spend time with them. It’s all for a good cause.”

Vitale, 75, raised $2.1 million last year for pediatric cancer research through the Dick Vitale Gala, an annual event featuring famous coaches and celebrities that works through the V Foundation, in honor of Vitale’s friend, the late Jim Valvano.

“I hope, with my book, that we can top that this year,” Vitale said. “And I hope Gregg comes to the gala this year.”

Reach Tony Adame at 316-268-6284 or tadame@wichitaeagle.com. Follow him on Twitter: @t_adame.

ALABAMA AT NO. 11 WICHITA STATE

When: 8 p.m. Tuesday

Where: Koch Arena

Records: Alabama 6-2, WSU 7-1

Radio: KEYN, 103.7-FM

TV: ESPN2

Alabama at No. 11 Wichita State

P

Alabama

Ht

Yr

Pts

Reb

F

Michael Kesssens

6-9

Jr.

6.3

4.3

F

Jimmie Taylor

6-10

So.

4.8

5.4

G

Ricky Tarrant

6-2

Jr.

13.4

2.0

G

Rodney Cooper

6-6

Sr.

13.0

3.8

G

Levi Randolph

6-5

Sr.

17.8

5.1

 

Wichita St.

    

F

Evan Wessel

6-4

Jr.

4.5

4.1

F

Darius Carter

6-7

Sr.

12.3

5.8

G

Ron Baker

6-4

Jr.

18.5

4.4

G

Tekele Cotton

6-3

Sr.

10.9

4.0

G

Fred VanVleet

6-0

Jr.

13.0

x-5.3

Alabama (6-2): Randolph isn’t just a star on the court, he’s also a star in the classroom. The senior and Madison, Ala., native graduated in August with a bachelor’s degree in marketing, is working toward his master’s in marketing and has been on the SEC academic honor roll for three straight seasons. He’s also the Crimson Tide’s leading scorer, hitting for a career-high 28 points in a win over Arizona State on Nov. 25.… Alabama coach Anthony Grant is in his fifth season, but hasn’t been in the NCAA Tournament since earning an at-large bid in 2012. Grant led VCU to two NCAA Tournaments in three seasons.

Wichita State (7-1): Freshman Rashard Kelly is becoming a go-to player off the bench for the Shockers. The 6-foot-7, 232-pound freshman from Fredericksburg, Va., is averaging 15.1 minutes, most outside of the starting five, and played a season-high 21 minutes in Saturday’s 77-68 win over Saint Louis, scoring a season-high nine points.… More and more, WSU is beginning to run its offense through Carter. The 6-7 senior forward has an offensive rating of 109.3, according to kenpom.com, behind only Baker (129.7) and VanVleet (116.6) and he’s taking 30.3 percent of WSU’s shots.

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