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March Madness: Dick Vitale Calls Zion Williamson the ‘Most Unique Player’ He’s Seen in 40 Years

”The beauty of the tournament is having the little guy playing the big guy, that excites me more than you can believe,“ ESPN college basketball analyst says

No one gets more fired up about March Madness than Dick Vitale.

The veteran ESPN college basketball analyst shared his contagious excitement with TheWrap ahead of the 2019 NCAA Tournament, dishing his tips on the Cinderella teams to watch out for, his picks to win it all, and which player is changing the face of the sport.

“This is the time of the year when grandma, grandpa and people who don’t follow basketball all year get totally involved,” Vitale said. “The beauty of the tournament is having the little guy playing the big guy, that excites me more than you can believe,” he gushed.

Each year, the only guarantee of March Madness is that a surprise team will blow up everyone’s brackets, and Vitale told us to watch for.

“Nevada are a team to watch. They made some noise last year but a lot of the average fans don’t know that,” Vitale said. “Louisville, Wofford, Texas Tech and Loyola Chicago (‘that’s always a great story’) are also “capable of winning several games and creating a lot of noise … maybe not winning the whole thing, but they are very dangerous basketball teams.”

But who is the smart money on? “I think when it is all said and done, there’s about a handful of teams out there that can do it. Duke, Carolina, Kentucky, Tennessee, LSU, Virginia, Gonzaga. They have the chance to win six games in a row because that takes a special type of team.”

Of course, there’s been one player this year who’s had such an impact that he even caused Nike’s stock to drop last month when a broken sneaker led to a knee injury, and that’s Duke phenomenon Zion Williamson.

“Zion Williamson is a very unique player, he’s the most unique player I have seen in my 40 years of college basketball calling games on ESPN,” Vitale said. “I have never seen a guy who is 285 pounds with the agility, mobility and explosiveness that he has.

“He affects Duke big time when he is playing. When Duke has their A-game on and all their parts, they’re a tough team to beat. The key is the presence of Zion. It’s not only his explosiveness, his jumping ability and his shot blocking — it is his personality that becomes so contagious to all the kids around him,” Vitale said. “He makes momentum plays and just flies through the air and gets the place into a frenzy. It gets him and his teammates playing on another level.

“I have never seen anything like it — his talent level is unbelievable. I think he will be the first pick of the draft and I can’t see anyone not taking him. He will be the box office bonanza. How many players do you know who have played less than a year on the collegiate level and known only by their first name?” he said.

Vitale will be honored with a Lifetime Achievement Award for Sports at the 40th Annual Sports Emmy Awards in May, but the 79-year-old still thinks he’s unworthy of the recognition. “I can’t run, I can’t jump, I can’t shoot … to look at the list of names and to think that my name is going to be on that list. I never thought of myself being a broadcaster, I just thought of myself as an ex-jock and someone gave me a microphone to talk about the game I love,” he said.

Vitale recalled how after he was fired as head coach of the Detroit Pistons in November 1979, he “thought it was the end of the world. I was so depressed and sat home moping watching ‘General Hospital.’ Lucky for me, my phone rang and a guy called Scotty Connal said he was the head of a new network and he wanted me to call their first college basketball game.” After rejecting the offer, Vitale’s wife, Lorraine, persuaded him to “go out and have some fun.”

The new network was a fledgling ESPN, the game was Wisconsin at DePaul, while Vitale has called over a thousand games since and spawned almost as many catchphrases, such as “This is awesome, baby,” to “Bringing a W.”

“I can’t go out on the course of a day without somebody yelling one of those things,” he laughed. “I get a kick out of it, it keeps me young. The adrenalin when I walk into an arena and the kids are chanting ‘Dicky V,’ I feel like I am 12 years old.”

Vitale’s latest soundbites come courtesy of Bounty, as he’s teamed up with the Quicker Picker Upper and taken his legendary commentating skills from basketball to bacon in a Cheesy Broccoli Bacon Fritter recipe. And yes, he gets just as excited about paper towels as he does about big plays.

“The celebrations on and off the court are awesome, baby and if I could join Bounty in providing fans with some quick food inspiration for their celebrations, then that’s a Big W!” he said.

Watch the video below, which is a two-part series in partnership with BuzzFeed’s Tasty. ”

Aside from basketball and bacon, another cause close to Vitale’s heart is supporting cancer research. Every dollar from his new book, “Dick Vitale’s Mount Rushmores of College Basketball: Solid Gold Prime Time” Performers from My Four Decades at ESPN is going to kids battling cancer for the Jimmy V Foundation. “If anyone wants an autographed copy they can go to my website to learn what we’re about,” Vitale said.

Turner Sports and CBS Sports’ exclusive coverage of the 2019 NCAA Division I Men’s Basketball Championship begins Thursday, March 20 at 9 a.m. PT/noon ET.

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