December 2010: Vitale impacted former ball boy

When I first had the opportunity to meet Dick Vitale in the 1970s, I was a junior high school player at the University of Detroit High School. The university's men's basketball team was using our high school gym to hold practice sessions. After our practice was over, I would stay to watch the Titans practice.

I can still hear him barking instructions to his players and yelling, "You have got to play defense, baby."

Teaching techniques are critical when it comes to coaching and Vitale was always stressing the basic fundamentals to his players.

Vitale had an intense enthusiasm for coaching. You could tell that he had a passion for what he did.

He coached at U of D for five years, 1973-1977, and took the Titans to the 1977 NCAA Tournament.

During that season, the Titans went on a 21-game winning streak, including a win over Marquette University, the eventual champions.

After his fourth season as the U of D head coach, Vitale became athletic director. In 1978, he left the university to become coach of the Detroit Pistons.

I would sit in the stands as a youth and watch certain techniques demonstrated by Vitale during his college practices.

One day, Vitale approached me and asked if I would like to help him out as a ball boy during practice.

After a week, I eventually got the courage to ask Vitale if I could participate in a few drills. He said, "OK."

What I did not know at that time is that I would also get to know a few of the players years down the road on a more personal note.

I was stationed in Sacramento, Calif., for a few years when Terry Tyler played for the Sacramento Kings.

I ran into Tyler and he remembered who I was and got me free tickets to all the home games.

Terry Duerod and I were teammates a few times at different Detroit summer league venues.

Vitale put his heart and soul into coaching but what I respect most about him is that he truly cared for his players.

Today, Vitale is best known as a college basketball broadcaster and for the enthusiastic remarks he makes during games. It is ironic that Vitale's first reaction to the idea of becoming a broadcaster was "absolutely no way. I know nothing about television. I want to get back to where I belong and my spirit belongs."

That was a classic Vitale reaction.

There have been many great coaches and players who have coached and played at Six Mile and Livernois but surely Vitale is one who will always be remembered.

All are entitled to their beliefs and opinions, but for me Dick Vitale was always "AWESOME BABY."

Houston is a UDM communications student.