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December 2011: Forever ours

Court dedication an everlasting reminder of coach's passion for Detroit

By Michael Martinez
On December 7, 2011

The man who did so much for the University of Detroit was immortalized on its basketball court Monday night.

But it was what the university did for him that had Dick Vitale in tears earlier that afternoon.

"This city was so good to me," he said, crying, during a press conference hours before the game. "I'm really taken aback by this big time. It's hit me more than any award I've ever received. All of this is because of what this university did for me. They gave me a key and an

Vitale coached U of D to a 78-30 record from 1973-77. The 1977 team posted a 25-4 record, including a 21-game win streak that culminated with a win against Marquette, that year's eventual national champion.

Vitale said he expected that success from day one, and told his players so in their first meeting.

"I told them, ‘As of today, I'm telling you we're going to be a special program,' " he said. "If you don't want to be part of it, there's the door. Goodnight. Goodbye. I will find 12 kids that want to play in this

He wouldn't have had the opportunity to speak those words without first being offered the job. And he credits Titan legend Dave DeBusschere with helping him become coach.

"He denied it to the day he died, but I know he helped me," Vitale said.

Vitale was speaking with New York Knick player Willis Reed in the Knick locker room when DeBusschere approached him.

"He said, ‘Why don't you apply for a job at my school. They're looking for a coach,' " Vitale remembered. "Willis Reed looked at him and said, ‘Hey, Dave, why don't you call for him?' "

Vitale said he forgot about the conversation until the phone rang a week later.

"I picked it up and a voice said, ‘Hey, Dick, this is Bob Calihan. You've been highly recommended. We want you to fly out tomorrow for an interview.' "

Part of Vitale's success at Detroit was his ability to draw the city – especially the surrounding community – to Calihan Hall.

"I said, ‘Fellas, trust me. One day we're going to walk into this gym and see a sign that says Sold Out,' " he said. "That was my goal. It was a great feeling to see that happen."

It almost happened again Monday night, with a crowd of 5,377 witnessing the dedication and ESPN2-televised game.

Vitale vividly remembers countless moments from his time in Titan Territory and admits that he shouldn't have left (to become head coach of the Detroit Pistons) when he did.

"I made a major mistake," he said of his decision to leave Detroit. "My buddy Jimmy V always said, ‘Don't mess with happiness.' But the money was so different and the ego of being a pro coach… I didn't belong.

"My spirit, my enthusiasm belonged with college kids."

Now, his spirit will always be at UDM.

"When it's all said and done and I'm long gone, I know my family can come back, look at the court and say, ‘Wow, that's my papa,'" He said. "I can't believe what's happened in my life."

 

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