Editor’s note: This is the first story in the Journal-World’s series of the top 10 games in Kansas University hoops history. Introducing No. 10:
Read Gary Bedore's original story from after the 2003 game.
Can you guess No. 9?
Check back Wednesday for the next entry in the Journal-World's countdown of the 10 greatest KU games.
Dick Vitale, the voice and spirit of college basketball, first worked a game for ESPN on Dec. 5, 1979, sitting next to play-by-play man Joe Boyle. Mark Aguirre and DePaul defeated Wisconsin, 90-77.
During his time for the network, he has showered “Awesome, baby!” on superstars such as Ralph Sampson, Michael Jordan, Danny Manning, Larry Johnson, Christian Laettner, Glenn Robinson, Tim Duncan, Elton Brand, Kenyon Martin, Dwyane Wade, Carmelo Anthony, Kevin Durant, Michael Beasley and Blake Griffin.
Goosebumps fly off Vitale’s tongue, so blown away is he by the feats of great college basketball players. Yet, here in his fifth decade of talking into an ESPN microphone, only two players brought Vitale out of his seat, onto his feet, his hands clapping: Navy’s David Robinson and Kansas’ Nick Collison.
Collison inspired the latter Dickie V Standing O, delivered as he walked off the floor after being whistled with his fifth foul, on Jan. 27, 2003, when he scored 24 points and took down 23 rebounds in a 90-87 victory against Texas in Allen Fieldhouse.
“It absolutely was special what Collison did,” Vitale said by phone from his home in Sarasota, Fla. “He was so tenacious. It just had me so emotionally charged watching the effort he put out against a great Texas team, phenomenal job of attacking the glass. He was like the Windex Man, just poured his heart out.”
Vitale never lacks energy. He doesn’t do sluggish. He loves his job, and it shows. Whether it’s a tiny gymnasium in Hawaii or a dome filled with tens of thousands of basketball spectators, Vitale gushes enthusiasm. Even so, it wouldn’t be accurate to say his ovation was all about what he saw and not at all about where he saw it.
“It was just a great environment,” Vitale said. “The place was unbelievable, electric, Rock Chalk Jayhawk at its best.”
What triggered the rare standing ovation?
“I was just so passionate, I got caught up in the moment and did what I thought the kid deserved, a standing ovation.”
Vitale looks back fondly on the game. Collison was a favorite of his, as was Robinson, otherwise known as “The Admiral.”
“I’ve only given two standing ovations to players in my life while doing a game,” Vitale said. “As you know, I get a little enthusiastic, a little passionate about the game. I still do. It’s 31 years I’ve been doing it on television for ESPN, and I’ve only done this twice, stood up and cheered for a player. The first time was when David Robinson fouled out against Kentucky after he scored about 45 and got I don’t know how many rebounds.”
The late Sam Miranda, an assistant coach at Kansas for 13 seasons under Ted Owens, lived in Lawrence until his death last May. He reflected in recent years on the individual performance that impressed him most, saying, “That Texas game here, the one where Dick Vitale stood up and gave him a standing ovation, I don’t know if anyone could play a better game for Kansas than that game Collison played.”
Both Texas and Kansas reached the Final Four that season, and both teams lost to national champion Syracuse, Texas in the semifinals, KU in the title game. Collison and UT’s T.J. Ford joined Marquette’s Wade, Xavier’s David West and Josh Howard of Wake Forest as consensus first-team All-Americans.
The Seattle SuperSonics used the 12th overall selection in the 2003 NBA Draft, one of the deepest in league history, on Collison. Four of the NBA’s top 10 scorers — 2. Anthony (third pick), 3. LeBron James (first), 6. Wade (fifth), 10. Chris Bosh (fourth) — were drafted that year.
In his sixth season with the organization that became the Oklahoma City Thunder in 2008-09, Collison, 29, has not enjoyed that level of success, but has been a solid NBA player. He is averaging 5.9 points and 5 rebounds per game. His best season came in 2007-08, when he averaged 9.8 points and 9.4 rebounds. His career game came that season when he totaled 29 points and 21 rebounds.
Emotions not being quite the same in the pro ranks, there was no broadcaster rising to his feet to give Collison a standing ovation when he produced those numbers in a road game against the Phoenix Suns.