When I caught up with Vitale, he was on his way to St. Louis to take in college basketball's championship weekend, and he couldn't believe UK was not going to be there. "It should be a great Final Four," said Vitale, although he was quick to mention it won't be the same without the Cats. "It's sad that Kentucky's not going to be there. They lost a heartbreaker. I thought maybe Sparks got fouled on that three point shot. I really thought Kentucky had the momentum when the overtime started. But somehow, someway, Michigan State's seniors, and especially Anderson down the stretch making those free throws, really stole the end from Kentucky."
The saddest thing for Vitale will be the fact that he won't see Chuck Hayes in a Kentucky uniform again. "He's really a special kind of kid, not about statistics, just about winning," said Vitale. "What a warrior he is. What an absolute winner he is and constantly a team player. He had four outstanding years at Kentucky."
Vitale also agrees with the big blue nation about the fact that this Kentucky team, next year, could be even better. But not because of the players and the experience returning. "No doubt, every year, they are going to be good," surmised Vitale. "Because of Tubby. Although some fans are going to be very critical of him, because he's lost three times since 1998 in the Elite Eight. You know, give me a break. It's unfortunate, that today the tournament has become such a monster. A lot of people wish they had Tubby Smith. He's a big time winner. He's a class guy." Vitale believes that not enough people are focusing on the big picture. "What's happened in the tournament is that there is such an emphasis on the Final Four and not on the entire season.
What he has done in SEC has been unbelievable and really most of the fans at Kentucky are great fans, but some of them get a little carried away. I judge a coach for what he does for the entire year, and to me Tubby Smith is one of the elite coaches in America."
Well, I couldn't talk to Mr. College Basketball without finding out what he thought of the Final Four he was traveling to observe this weekend. He won't change his prediction he made at the end of last season. "I said last year about April, that North Carolina would be the team to win it all, and I'm not going to change that now, despite the fact that we haven't seen them play their "A" game yet. Illinois has the best threesome on the perimeter, and I think they may have just a little too much for Rick Pitino and Louisville. Though Rick is a master. What I love about Rick is that he's an absolute genius in putting a game plan together. He changes, he adapts, and he adjusts to the situation. But somehow, I just don't think those kids are going to allow themselves to get beat, the kids from Illinois. I think they are so talented. The other game, Carolina is just too much offensively for Michigan State. I think it's going to be a close game, but I think we got Carolina and Illinois for the national title."
The headline in the Lexington newspaper's sports section on Wednesday had the headline Just Wait Till Next Year. And this one quote from Dick Vitale both echoes and sums up that sentiment perfectly. Vitale said, "Remember your team is a young team. When you talk about Rondo and the big man inside, I'm telling you that they have really got a great future, and we know that it's Kentucky. Every year they are going to be in the hunt." Not much salve for that wound, UK fans. But it's at least it's something…