He's back, baby!
After a two-month absence, Dick Vitale returned to the airwaves last night to call the rivalry showdown between Duke and North Carolina.
The 68-year-old ESPN analyst, whose excitable, raspy voice is synonymous with college basketball, had been sidelined for two months because of vocal cord surgery to treat benign ulcers.
Prior to his layoff, Vitale had never missed a game in 29 years, and described his absence as an emotional period filled with tears of sadness, fear and joy.
There were times he thought he may never appear behind a microphone again, times he contemplated not having a courtside seat to describe a sport that has enriched his life with happiness.
Although Vitale draws mixed reviews for his on-air antics - you either love the enthusiasm or instantly hit the mute button - his passion can't be denied and his knowledge is unquestioned.
Vitale's throat problems were something he'd been struggling with for a few years, but said he was "bluffing" his way through games.
"I'm going to tell you, every game I was a worried, nervous wreck about what was coming out of my throat," Vitale said.
Vitale went to four throat specialists, who told him his hoarseness was caused by acid reflux. But Dr. Steven Zeitels of Massachusetts General Hospital was able to probe deeper with special instruments and discovered the ulcers.
After his throat surgery, Vitale wasn't allowed to talk for three weeks. But a bladder problem that required prostate surgery actually kept him from dwelling on the silence too much.
He used a dry erase board to communicate, and said he scribbles as fast he talks: "I went through so many pens it was unbelievable."
Once Vitale was cleared to speak, no words came out on the first attempt. Tears welled in his eyes.
But when Zeitels asked Vitale to slowly count to 10, his trademark raspy voice was back.
Vitale is making a few modifications to his schedule. He is trying to eliminate double-headers and calling games on back-to-back nights.
He is working with a voice coach once a week to talk more from his diaphragm than from his throat.
Vitale will be in Lexington, Kentucky on Saturday to call the Louisville-Georgetown game, and ESPN plans to debut a graphic no other sports network can likely claim.
Along with shooting percentages, ESPN will display the use of Vitale's vocal cords thanks to a device provided by Zeitels, who has treated Julie Andrews and Aerosmith lead singer Steven Tyler.
Although Vitale plans to pick his spots on the excitement meter, he realizes there is only so much he can change.
"I'll always be raspy," he said. "Hey, Rod Stewart's raspy and he makes million of dollars."
Zero marks the spot
Memphis is the only undefeated team remaining in Division I, and the New Jersey Institute of Technology is on the opposite end of the spectrum.
NJIT (0-24) is the only winless school in Division I. The Highlanders have lost 28 straight games, including an 81-69 loss to Utah Valley State last weekend. Their last win was Feb. 19, 2007.
This season started with a 70-28 loss to Manhattan, and the closest NJIT has come to a win are nine-point losses to Lehigh and Stony Brook.
Things aren't looking any easier. The Highlanders play four of their last five games on the road, starting Saturday against Texas-Pan American.