By LARRY LAGE/AP Sports Writer
DETROIT (AP) – Dick Vitale was back in his old stomping grounds, standing on a court named after him.
The University of Detroit Mercy honored its former coach and athletic director, who turned into a college basketball icon, by unveiling Dick Vitale Court at Calihan Hall on Monday night before hosting St. John’s.
He was celebrated on the 32nd anniversary of becoming an analyst for ESPN.
“I’ve had many honors come my way, the ultimate was going into the Basketball Hall of Fame, but having a court named after you is an incredible honor and I’m emotionally spent about it,” Vitale said earlier in the day. “When they called to tell me about it, I didn’t feel comfortable with it.
“But they made it clear that this wasn’t based on solely what I did as a coach, but also for the visibility and exposure I’ve given the school with my career at ESPN.”
The Titans (4-6) beat St. John’s (4-6) before a season-high 5,377 fans.
Detroit’s athletic department presented Vitale with a check for $5,000 during a first-half timeout for The V Foundation for Cancer Research, which was started in 1993 and benefits from Vitale-led fundraising efforts.
Vitale led Detroit to the NCAA tournament in 1977 after earning a bid by beating eventual champion Marquette coached by Al McGuire in Milwaukee, winning on Dennis Boyd’s jumper from the top of the key just before time expired.
“To get the kids to relax, I told them, `I’m so confident that I guarantee I will dance at center court after we win in Milwaukee,”‘ Vitale recalled. “We won the court and the buzzer and the kids reminded me, `You said you were going to dance.’ So, I did a little Disco Dick for them.”
He was with the Titans from 1973-77 as their coach and was athletic director during the 1977-78 season, his final one at the school.
After leading the Detroit Pistons for a season and 12 games, he was fired. He had a 78-30 record with the Titans and was 34-60 with the Pistons.
Vitale’s passion for college basketball and platform on cable TV helped him get inducted into Naismith Memorial Hall of Fame in 2008.
“I can’t run, I can’t jump, I can’t shoot, and yet I’m in 10 Hall of Fames because of passion,” he said. “Passion plus hard work ethic plus good decision making equals wins in the game of life.”
The 72-year-old Vitale is from New Jersey and lives in Florida.
He has been given an extension by ESPN, which hired him soon after its launch in 1979, that keeps him under contract through the 2014-15 season.
Matt Dery, who emceed the pregame ceremony, said Vitale “carries the torch for the sport,” and that his passion for the game is unmatched.
“We love you Dickie V” a fan yelled.
“It’s awesome baby!” another shouted, using one of Vitale’s catchphrases.
School president Dr. Antoine Garibaldi said the basketball program has produced greats such as Spencer Haywood, John Long and Terry Tyler, but its former coach still creates a buzz.
“The one name that is always mentioned is coach Dick Vitale,” Garibaldi said. Athletic director Keri Gaither asked for 5 minutes to be put on the clock for Vitale to make his remarks.
“I think that’s the only way to slow Dick down,” she joked.
Vitale was greeted by a standing ovation by the crowd, which was bigger than any game the Titans have hosted this season in their 8,295-seat facility.
“There would be no Dickie V if this school didn’t give me an opportunity and a chance to chase my dream,” he said.
(Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)