For all the accolades he’s received as a college and professional basketball coach and an even longer career in broadcasting, Dick Vitale insists his greatest accomplishment has been raising money for pediatric cancer research.

It’s an obsession, he says, that one night each spring transforms his adopted home of Sarasota, Florida, into the Vitale-proclaimed “sports capital of the nation” because of an all-star cast of sports and entertainment celebrities that support his annual charity event.

 

 

LAS VEGAS, NEVADA – MARCH 11: Sportscaster Dick Vitale broadcasts before a semifinal game of the West Coast Conference basketball tournament between the Pepperdine Waves and the Gonzaga Bulldogs at the Orleans Arena on March 11, 2019 in Las Vegas, Nevada. The Bulldogs defeated the Waves 100-74. (Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images)

 

 

Over the past decade-plus, the Dick Vitale Gala has raised $25.2 million through the V Foundation for cancer research, formed by the late North Carolina State basketball coach Jim Valvano, who died of cancer in 1993.

The event attracted more than 900 guests and raised a record $3.7 million last year. The target for this year’s sold-out edition Friday is $4 million.

 

 

LAS VEGAS, NEVADA – MARCH 12: Sportscaster Dick Vitale (C) cheers with fans before the championship game of the West Coast Conference basketball tournament between the Saint Mary’s Gaels and the Gonzaga Bulldogs at the Orleans Arena on March 12, 2019 in Las Vegas, Nevada. The Gaels defeated the Bulldogs 60-47. (Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images)

 

 

“It should be a great night,” Vitale said. “Most of all, a night really dedicated to young people battling a disease that is so vicious.”

Honorees this year include Clemson football coach Dabo Swinney, former NBA star and coach Avery Johnson, college football analyst and ex-coach Lee Corso, and broadcasters Chris Fowler and Holly Rowe of ESPN.

Guests who have committed to attending include college basketball coaches Leonard Hamilton (Florida State), Mike White (Florida), Johnny Dawkins (UCF) and Tom Crean (Georgia); Florida football coach Dan Mullen; Murray State point guard and projected top five NBA draft pick Ja Morant, and former NFL players Warren Sapp, Simeon Rice and Dexter Jackson, who helped the Tampa Bay Buccaneers win their only Super Bowl title.

 

 

LAS VEGAS, NV – MARCH 07: Sportscasters Dick Vitale (L) and Brent Musburger broadcast before a semifinal game of the West Coast Conference Basketball tournament between the Pepperdine Waves and the Saint Mary’s Gaels at the Orleans Arena on March 7, 2016 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images)

 

 

“We’ve got a who’s who coming … personalities galore,” Vitale said.  “They all come free. They all pay their own expenses.”

The one-time Detroit Pistons coach said the real stars of the night of the night, though, will be the “10 kids who have battled cancer big time” and will be recognized, along with their families.

“I’m obsessed with this. I get to know these kids. These are not just people I meet at my gala. … They become part of me,” Vitale said.

 

 

CHAPEL HILL, NC – FEBRUARY 06: ESPN sports commentator Dick Vitale prepares for the matchup between the North Carolina Tar Heels and the Duke Blue Devils at the Dean E. Smith Center on February 6, 2008 in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. This will be Vitale’s first game after missing two months after throat surgery. (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)

“What frustrates me, to be honest with you, is if you went to the campuses of any elite football power … if they wanted to raise 60, 70, 80 million for football facilities, they could do it in no time,” he added. “I have to beg and plead continually trying to get $4 million to help kids battling disease.”

It’s well worth the effort, the 79-year-old added.

“The greatest feeling to me is the one I’ll get (Friday) when they say we’re getting close to that goal,” Vitale concluded. “It’s like winning the national championship game when they give me that final number.”

 

© 2019 Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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