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Dick Vitale moved to tears by Detroit naming court after him

Jeff Eisenberg
The Dagger

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Whether it's being inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame, shaking hands with President Obama or chatting with Pope Benedict XVI, Dick Vitale has managed to stay composed in numerous memorable settings.

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Therefore it's a testament to how touched the beloved ESPN analyst was by the University of Detroit naming its basketball floor after him Monday night that he couldn't hold back his tears even before the official unveiling of "Dick Vitale Court."

As he reflected on Detroit giving him his first college head coaching job during a pregame news conference, Vitale's eyes were red and swollen and his voice was thick with emotion. He said he initially felt his 78-30 record in four years with the Titans from 1973-77 was insufficient to merit an honor that typically goes to coaches who spend most of their adult lives at a particular school.

"I'll tell you guys, I'm taken back by this big-time," Vitale said. "When [Detroit athletic director Keri Gaither] called me, I told her I don't deserve this honor. I really don't. I only coached here four years. She made it very clear to me — and I'm sorry for being so emotional — she made it very clear to me it was based on my career and not on what I did here as a coach. I told her if that's the case I will go along with it.

"I can tell you this has hit me more than any award I have received. I know there would be no Dickie V, there would be no ESPN, there would be no Hall of Fame, there would be none of the financial rewards out of my life. I wouldn't have the things that have happened in my life, meeting the president, meeting the Pope out in Italy. All of that is because of what this university did for me."

The debut of Dick Vitale Court was easily the highlight of an otherwise lackluster slate of college basketball on Monday night.

A spirited crowd of 5,377 and members of Detroit and St. John's gave Vitale a standing ovation before tipoff. Many of Vitale's friends and former players were on hand to celebrate with him. And ESPN aired numerous memorable photos and video clips from throughout Vitale's coaching and broadcasting career including this long-forgotten mid-court dance after a marquee win over Marquette during his days at Detroit.

Perhaps the best part of the night for Vitale was that Detroit found a way to win the game.

Clad in hideous yet strangely fitting throwback jerseys meant to resemble the ones Vitale's teams wore, the Titans defeated St. John's 69-63 to improve to a pedestrian 4-6 this year. That's a long way from the success Vitale enjoyed at Detroit, yet perhaps it can serve as a springboard for the Titans to overcome the injuries and suspensions that have decimated their frontcourt and return to that level again.

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