You've got to get up pretty early to catch up with hoops and Vitale


November 19, 1993|By RAY FRAGER

Maybe it's our obsession with getting an NFL team. Maybe it's the anticipation of seeing the Orioles enter the free-agent market. Or maybe it's just all the excitement surrounding the NAFTA vote.

Whatever it is, the college basketball season has seemed to sneak up this year.

But ESPN already has carried two nights of basketball, so there's no time to waste. Drastic measures are needed. Only one thing to do: Get on the phone with Dick Vitale.

ESPN analyst Vitale is in midseason form. He calls at 8:30 a.m. after working the North Carolina-Western Kentucky game the night before. And, no, he doesn't TALK LIKE THIS, BAY-BEE, at that time of day. But, as befits the nation's most recognizable college basketball voice -- and hairline -- he's a busy guy.

From his North Carolina hotel room, he's on the phone to a reporter in Baltimore (OK, not really a reporter -- just me).

He's asking a bellhop to get him a couple of newspapers. He can talk for only a little while because he has to go on radio. He's due on Larry King's show to discuss NAFTA with Mexican President Carlos Salinas de Gortari and Canadian Prime Minister Jean Chretien.

Sorry, this NAFTA fever just won't go away.

And now over to Dick:

"Carolina looks like a prohibitive favorite, but certainly they're not invincible," he said.

"The essence of college basketball is that it's a one-game shot in postseason. In the NBA, it's four out of seven, and nobody would be able to beat them."

Even while acknowledging the all-important nature of the NCAA tournament, Vitale bemoans what that has meant to the regular season.

"There are certain programs that get in the postseason, and it's dessert, it's a thrill," he said, adding that, in high-profile programs, an early-round NCAA loss makes the entire season seem to be a failure. "The visibility, popularity and exposure of the tournament diminishes the regular season."

So who else does Vitale look for to get lots of that visibility, popularity and exposure?

"Kentucky probably has one of the deepest baselines and backcourts in the country. Arkansas has outstanding athletes. I like [forward] Corliss Williamson. Louisville, [forward] Dwayne Morton is the key there, once his wrist heals. . . . Michigan, they still have the Fab Four, but they're hurting for height."

More top teams tumble from Vitale's lips -- Temple, California, Georgia Tech. (The bellhop returns and helps Vitale pick up the teams from the carpet.)

And, of course, he has an opinion on Maryland.

"I think Gary's team will be improved immensely, but they'll have problems," Vitale said, meaning that coach Gary Williams' Terps face stiff competition in the Atlantic Coast Conference.

"I think the ACC has the toughest conference. . . . Clemson could be the surprise."

Aah, I'm feeling much less surprised about college basketball season. Now, what's the deal with this APEC thing?

Talkin' 'bout Jackson

ESPN's women's college basketball schedule begins tomorrow at 12:30 p.m., with Vanderbilt-Texas Tech in the (take a deep breath) State Farm Women's Hall of Fame Tip-Off Classic from Jackson, Miss. . . . "The NFL Today" Sunday on CBS (12:30 p.m., channels 11, 9) will feature a segment on the NFL's decision to play two days after President Kennedy's assassination, a decision that former commissioner Pete Rozelle later said he regretted. Among those quoted are Redskins coach Richie Petitbon, a member of the Chicago Bears in 1963: "On one hand, we thought we shouldn't play. On the other hand, if you have a job to do, there's a lot more at stake than showing sympathy for the president. I think we should have played."

Oh, my

With three seconds left in Saturday's Titanic Tilt between Notre Dame and Florida State, as the tension mounted toward what ended up being a failed attempt at a last-second touchdown by FSU, NBC's Charlie Jones offered: "This is a moment that memories are made of."

Thanks, Charlie. It sure heightened the excitement. Let's remember the line from Talking Heads: "When I have nothing to say/My lips are sealed.". . . .

The Irish-Seminoles game drew a 16 rating with a 39 share, making it the highest-rated regular-season college football telecast since 1981.

For one night only

This is it, so don't miss it: The Washington Bullets make their one TNT appearance of the season tonight at 8, playing the Charlotte Hornets. . . . Good news for hockey fans. No, it's not that Peter Puck is back. WITH (1230 AM) is picking up about a quarter of the Washington Capitals' schedule, beginning with tomorrow night's game against the Florida Panthers. . . . ABC is dropping the New York City Marathon after 13 years. "It's been a very good, rewarding relationship," network spokesman Mark Mandel told the Associated Press. "It's just that it's been a long run [yes, he really said that], and it's time to move on to other things." Last weekend's rating of 3.0 was in line with other recent New York Marathon telecasts.

Later, Pat

You'll have to wait an hour for Stupid Human Olympic Tricks during the Lillehammer Games in February. CBS said yesterday that the late-night Winter Olympics highlights program with host Pat O'Brien will be telecast after David "The Stitches Are Out" Letterman's show at 11:35 p.m., the AP reported.

Originally, the Olympics highlights were scheduled to air after late local newscasts, the slot occupied by Letterman.

"Our thinking was very simple. Letterman is the hottest thing on TV right now," CBS senior vice president George Schweitzer said. "We were not going to delay Letterman for an hour during the highest viewing time of the year. We'd look pretty silly if we did that."

And Letterman generally handles looking silly fairly well by himself.

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