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Jamie Vaught: ESPN personality Vitale passionate in leading fight against cancer

In a recent interview with TV broadcaster Dick Vitale at his cool Florida home on a hot sunny day, he was wearing his blue plaid short pants and looking very fit.

And the 75-year-old New Jersey native is staying very busy this summer even though there are no college basketball games for him to cover.

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“I’m very active,” said Vitale, a grandfather who regularly keeps his fans informed about his daily activities all year around with comments or pictures on Twitter and Facebook.

“I’m a very big baseball fan. And obviously I have season tickets with the (Tampa Bay) Rays. So I go to quite a few baseball games. And I do a lot of travel, a lot of motivational speaking, just got back from California and spoke for US Trust (which is a part of Bank of America). I’ve got loads of speeches from different places each year. So I do a lot of motivational speaking which keeps me busy. I’ve got five grandchildren who are very active in tennis, baseball and lacrosse. I watch them play and have a great time. I work with them a little on basketball and have a little fun. Their ages right now are between 9 and 12, and they keep me busy but they’re in the area here in Lakewood Ranch. I have a full day (along with daily tennis and exercise).”

Then the popular college basketball ambassador mentioned that he would be leaving for New York City the next day for two formal engagements when he would receive a couple of honors — Man of the Year by the American Cancer Society and Court of Honor by the National Association of Basketball Coaches Foundation.

Dick Vitale (Photo from Facebook)

Dick Vitale (Photo from Facebook)

“I’m getting one of the highest honors (by American Cancer Society) — a very humbly effect,” added Vitale, the former NBA and college coach who tirelessly has been promoting and raising millions of dollars for cancer research for many years, especially in the area of pediatric cancer.

Speaking of the 2014 Court of Honor award, Vitale said, “They’ve (NABC) only had four other recipients (in the past). I’m so humbled to be there with those people. Phil Knight – Nike, Bill Bradley, Jerry Colangelo and Jim Nantz. So to be in a convention with those type of people just gives me goose bumps.”

One of Vitale’s good friends is Kentucky coach John Calipari, who attended the coaches’ gala affair and met with Vitale and his wife, Lorraine. Calipari even tweeted the next morning, saying, “Congrats to @DickieV on winning the NABC’s Court of Honor award last night. It was a terrific event that raised money for a great cause.”

Along with his family and basketball, fighting cancer has become one of Vitale’s biggest passions. Vitale has been on a heartfelt crusade in combating that dreaded disease with his fundraising projects. He gets very emotional about helping the cancer-stricken kids.

At a local establishment near his home, he even had pictures of himself posted in social media recently when he was doused with buckets of ice water after folks paid $100 a bucket to help raise money for cancer research.

A huge event dear to Vitale’s heart in waging the war on cancer is his annual gala at nearby Sarasota, attracting big-name celebrities like Alabama football coach Nick Saban, who was one of the event’s three honorees this past May. Vitale, by the way, has a standing invitation from Saban to attend a Crimson Tide football game weekend in Alabama.

Now, Vitale and his wife are already planning for the 10th annual Dick Vitale Gala in May 2015, benefiting the V Foundation, which is a non-profit organization dedicated to finding a cure for cancer and established by ESPN and the late Jim Valvano in 1993.

And one of the faithful supporters for Vitale’s causes over the years is Calipari. The Wildcat boss was also one of the three honorees at Vitale’s 2011 gala event.

For nearly 10 years, the Dick Vitale Gala has raised more than $12 million for pediatric cancer research with the V Foundation.

A Basketball Hall of Famer who was inducted in 2008, the energetic Vitale — who once had a cancer scare when he had surgery on his vocal cords in 2007 — is firmly committed to the war on cancer.

“I’m so entrenched now and to my last breath I’m going to plead with people, to donate to help me,” said Vitale in his nicely-decorated home office, which includes a framed Hall of Fame jersey on the wall. “If you look behind my desk, you will see some articles. The articles are all from my gala, my Dick Vitale Gala, we just had, and we raised $2.1 million. Joe Craft was there and we got a big donation out of Kentucky. We had 83 coaches with us; we had about 800 people there at $1,000 a person. We raised over $2 million and we dedicate to kids, all to pediatrics. I have gotten to know so many beautiful kids over the years. I mean, I’ll be honest with you. I was crying this morning, and I met a dad who came to visit me. I got to know him and his family, and he lost his son.

“And I’ve become so obsessed, I say, ‘If you can help us man, help us.’ Tomorrow I’m getting the Man of the Year cancer society award. I mean everyone on my team deserves that award. On my team, there’s my family, my ESPN family and my friends. Those three parts really are so valuable to me. But my biggest mission now is raising money.”

When we are winning the war on cancer, Vitale would say, “It’s Awesome Baby!” You can go to his Web site at DickVitaleOnline.com for more details about the V Foundation.

Jamie H. Vaught is a longtime sports columnist, author (four books on UK basketball), and college professor. A Middlesboro, Ky., resident, he is the editor of the new KySportsStyle360.com Web site. You can follow him on Twitter: @KySportsStyle or reach him via e-mail at KySportsStyle360@gmail.com.

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