Cancer recurrence for basketball legend Dick Vitale stings a bit more for USF & Tampa

Champions Classic - Kentucky v Michigan State
Champions Classic - Kentucky v Michigan State / Andy Lyons/GettyImages

To millions of fans, Dick Vitale is the conscience and soul of college basketball.

ESPN viewers know him by his boundless enthusiasm for the game. And when you hear the words, “That’s awesome, baby,” come through your set, you don’t have to see the face to know who was talking.

Here in the Tampa Bay area, though, Dickie V. is more than that. He is a neighbor, friend, supporter, and always available for a good cause. And no one outside of USF players and coaches was happier to see the success of the Bulls’ basketball team last season than Vitale.

That’s why the news of his cancer is back for a fourth time seems a little more personal here.

He lives in the Lakewood Ranch area of Sarasota, about an hour south of the main USF campus. He is a regular at Tampa Bay Rays games and always spreads the word about the Buccaneers, Lightning, and any other good thing that happens here.

Vitale pushed hard for men’s basketball coach Amir Abdur-Rahim to be considered the national coach of the year. He was an unabashed champion who used his massive Twitter reach to ensure the Bulls got their proper due. He knew what an accomplishment this was because he once referred to USF as the toughest coaching job in America. That was 20 years ago, and, well, he wasn't wrong.

And when the Bulls lost to UAB in the semifinals of the American Athletic Conference tournament last March, he made one last push for the Bulls to make the big dance.

In addition to all that, though, Dickie V. is just about the nicest, most sincere human you will ever know. There is not an ounce of pretense in him. If he has an ego, he keeps it in check.

He also gives back passionately to causes he believes in. For the last 19 years, his Dick Vitale Gala in Sarasota has raised money for pediatric cancer research. This year, that total was $24.8 million.

Yes, this area and USF are blessed that Dickie V. calls it home and is one of us. If you’re so inclined, send a prayer or two his way. It’s what friends do for friends.