Hey, Dickie V, it was just a super speech, baybee!

May 12, 1994|By Bill Tanton

People around town are still talking about Dick Vitale's speech the other night at the 43rd annual McCormick Unsung Hero banquet.

There aren't many Dick Vitales in this world, and there's no one who puts more energy into a speech. That's one reason his standard fee is $18,000.

Paul Baker, known to some as Baltimore's basketball guru, was so impressed that yesterday he sat down and wrote Vitale.

"The speech was magnificent," Baker wrote. "Your inner self shines through. That's what made it."

Vitale's message was a good one for an audience of high school athletes, parents and coaches.

He told them (if it's possible to reduce 30 minutes of near-hysteria to a few sentences) it doesn't matter who you are, black, white or yellow, and it doesn't matter where you came from, you can be successful.

He advised his audience: Open up to people. Don't be afraid to tell your parents you love them. Don't be afraid to write a letter to the McCormick Company thanking them for the banquet. Work hard. Never give up.

As an example, Vitale cited himself, a man of humble origin who has carved a great career as a basketball TV analyst.

Today he lives in a 10,000-square-foot home with swimming pool and tennis court in Sarasota, Fla. His daughters attend the University of Notre Dame.

Vitale's life shows what a person can accomplish with the right attitude. He got me thinking about the importance attitude has played in the success of a lot of athletes.

Take Brooks Robinson. If you've ever heard the ex-Oriole speak to a bunch of kids, which he has done a lot of over the years, you've probably heard him say:

"God didn't make me bigger or stronger or faster than the other guys, but when I was growing up in Little Rock I wanted it more than the other guys did.

"I stayed after practice and took ground balls long after they'd gone home. That's the reason I was able to become a big-league ballplayer."

A Hall of Fame ballplayer at that.

You see? Attitude.

Brooks wasn't born with superior athletic skills, and Vitale didn't make it big in TV because he had a pretty face. Both did it with hard work. With attitude.

Take Tom McMillen, the former Maryland and NBA basketball star.

God enabled McMillen to grow to a height of 6 feet 10. That helped. But that's not why he made it big. If you saw him, you know he wasn't the most naturally gifted player.

Lefty Driesell, who coached McMillen at Maryland, once told the audience at The Evening Sun Prep Athlete of the Year luncheon:

"I know why Tom McMillen has a great 15-foot jump shot. It's because he's shot more 15-foot jumpers than anybody in the country. Tom never comes to the gym to fool around. He has a notebook and he methodically writes down his practice routine, how many minutes he'll work on this shot, how many on that shot. And he follows it."

McMillen was on Sports Illustrated's cover when he came to Maryland. In the fall of his freshman year, I asked him when I could spend an hour interviewing him.

"Let's see," he said, thumbing through his appointment book. "I don't have an hour open until Jan. 13."

McMillen wasn't going to rely on his talent to get him where he wanted to go. He had a better attitude than that.

Quite often, small athletes need some Dick Vitale in them to overcome prejudices against them.

There's a 5-6, 155-pound lacrosse player at Loyola College, Sean Heffernan, who, when he came out of Dulaney High, was considered too small by most college coaches.

Heffernan spent two years at Essex Community College and is now a senior at Loyola. As the second-seeded, 11-1 Greyhounds go into the NCAA tournament he is the team's leading scorer (53 points on 18 goals, 35 assists).

When attackman Tim Whiteley graduated from St. Paul's two years ago, many said he would get shoved around by bigger college defensemen. He hasn't been.

Whiteley lifted weights and is now 5-8, 162. This week he was named first team All-ACC.

Heffernan wouldn't give up. Whiteley worked at developing his body. Both have made it. Vitale would be proud of them.

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