ACC notes

Vitale a nice match with Duke-UNC

Legend to call rivalry game for 41st time

acarter@newsobserver.comMarch 3, 2012 

Dick Vitale is 72 years old, but there are at least a couple of times a year when he feels like a much younger man, times when he even feels the kind of excitement he felt as a boy.

One of those times will come tonight, when ESPN's Hall of Fame college basketball announcer is back in the broadcast booth at Duke's Cameron Indoor Stadium for another Duke-North Carolina game.

"It never gets old, man," Vitale said by phone earlier this week. "I may be 72, but when I come in that gym, in Cameron, I'll feel like I'm 12."

Vitale can't remember the first Duke-North Carolina game he broadcast, but they tell him at ESPN that he has called 40 games between the Blue Devils and Tar Heels - every single one that ESPN has aired. Vitale will make it No. 41 tonight when he climbs into the crow's nest high in Cameron's rafters.

Among the Duke-UNC games he has broadcast, Vitale identifies a couple favorites. Basketball isn't a contact sport - and neither is broadcasting - but the two Duke-UNC games that Vitale recalls with the most fondness both involved blood.

The first of those is obvious enough to pick out: No. 9 UNC's 75-73 victory against No. 1 Duke at the Smith Center on Feb. 5, 1992 - a game more commonly known as "The Bloody Montross Game." During the Tar Heels victory, UNC center Eric Montross suffered a couple of lacerations that required stitches.

The second of Vitale's favorites: UNC's 102-100 victory, in double overtime, at Cameron on Feb. 2, 1995. When Duke's Jeff Capel made a running 35-footer at the buzzer to send it into the second overtime, Vitale excitedly rose from his seat and banged his head against the top of the broadcasting booth.

"Man, blood starts coming out," Vitale said. "(Broadcasting partner Mike) Patrick said, 'Dickie V's a gamer, man!' "

Cynics scoff at Vitale's enthusiasm for the Duke-UNC rivalry, but his passion is authentic. When his daughters were younger, Vitale would pull them out of school and bring them along to Duke-UNC games so they could see the campuses, and feel the electricity of the environment.

"I still get that same feeling I always get," Vitale said Thursday. "I'm sitting here, and I can't wait. I'm getting all my notes ready ... I mean, I'm as prepared, and I am as absolutely into it as I've ever been, and I can't wait for the magical moment."

Vitale is in his 33rd season with ESPN and over those three decades he has become the most identifiable voice of college basketball. "All I can tell you is it's been an honor," he said of calling Duke-UNC games. "It's been an absolute honor, a privilege. To think I've been able to sit and observe and watch some of the greatest players, some of the greatest coaches and to be able to be a part of an environment that has so much electricity.

"It's been absolutely unique and special."

In and out: Three ACC teams - UNC, Duke and Florida State - are locks for the NCAA tournament; one should be in (Virginia) and it becomes murky after that. A weak NCAA tournament bubble helps the causes of Miami and N.C. State, but both have work yet to do.

A vote for Z: UNC point guard Kendall Marshall might be biased, but to him the ACC Player of the Year discussion shouldn't even be a discussion. Marshall said Friday that teammate Tyler Zeller, the Tar Heels' 7-foot center, should win the award without question. Zeller could solidify his standing with a strong showing against Duke.

Record watch: Speaking of Marshall, he needs 15 assists to set the all-time single-season ACC assist record. Who owns that record? It's not N.C. State's Chris Corchiani. It's not Duke's Bobby Hurley, either. Georgia Tech's Craig Neal set the mark with 303 assists during the 1987-88 season.

And finally: One writer's first-team all-ACC team, entering the last weekend of the regular season - Zeller, Virginia's Mike Scott, UNC's John Henson, Florida State's Michael Snaer and Duke's Austin Rivers.

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