V-MAIL | Oct. 15
Q: First, I want to thank you for the great job you do fighting cancer through the Jimmy V Foundation. I'm a registered nurse and see thousands of people every year who suffer from that terrible disease. My question: Do you feel that Kentucky coach Tubby Smith has a hard time recruiting top-notch players? We really haven't seen many McDonald's All-Americans lately. -- Scott Carty, Lakeland, Florida
VITALE -- I find it interesting that you mention McDonald's All-Americans, because Tubby Smith has put together an impressive group of players during his time at Kentucky. Just look at their record in the SEC (undefeated last season) and in NCAA action. Expectations are so high, they are out of whack, like they are for Notre Dame football.
How many high school All-Americans were playing college football at Toledo, Northern Illinois, Miami-Ohio and Marshall earlier this football season? Yet they went out and beat the likes of Pittsburgh, Alabama, Colorado State and Kansas State! It takes a kid with tremendous heart and desire to win, someone who has a great work ethic. It also takes a system that helps you get to the winner's circle.
That's what Kentucky has -- a system that leads to success and great fan support for one of the sport's traditional powers. Tubby is a great teacher, his teams do things the right way and his talent level has been good. They might not have the mega-names, but that isn't what it's all about. You need to get people to blend together as a team.
Q: Do you think Indiana will be good this year? The Hoosiers picked up several good recruits. Is IU a serious threat in the Big Ten? -- Brian, Bloomington, Indiana
VITALE -- Indiana lost a lot, but the returning nucleus certainly has talent. The Hoosiers need a healthy Bracey Wright. Coach Mike Davis' club needs George Leach to be a presence inside. He must be a consistent factor with point production and blocked shots. Indiana will be in the mix in the Big Ten. A lot depends on Wright's physical status, because he suffered last season from a pinched nerve in his back.
Q: Looking at the Big Ten schedule, the big game of the year will be when Michigan State visits Champaign to take on Illinois. That game will be the only time the two rivals play each other during the regular season. So the burning question is: Who will win the Big Ten? And most importantly, will you be in Champaign on Feb. 10? Go Illini! -- Mark Perkes, Champaign, Illinois
VITALE -- This should be an exciting season for the Big Ten. You have to look at Michigan State and Illinois as favorites, for sure. For coach Tom Izzo's Spartans, if big man Paul Davis can develop and Alan Anderson can improve, they'll be up there. The Illini have guard Dee Brown and Co. to help them contend. You also have to look at Wisconsin and the addition of 7-foot diaper dandy Brian Butch, who will be a big factor for coach Bo Ryan's squad. Other teams will battle to move up -- teams such as Indiana, Michigan and an improved Iowa team (with the return of Pierre Pierce to provide scoring from the perimeter for coach Steve Alford's Hawkeyes). It should be a really exciting year.
Q: What do you think about the young Cal Bears team? -- Peter, California
VITALE -- Talk about a dangerous team -- watch out for the squad from Berkeley. I think Cal is a team to watch. Leon Powe is one of the top diaper dandies and an impact player. This club should create nightmares for the upper-echelon teams in the Pac-10. The Golden Bears are one of the nation's dangerous teams, and coach Ben Braun does a terrific job year in and year out.
Q: You're a big figure in the basketball world and I've seen you broadcast hundreds of college basketball games, but one thing I really want to ask you about is your basketball playing experience. What high school or college teams did you play basketball for? Did you ever play professionally? -- Adam, New York
VITALE -- I was Mr. Cupcake City -- I couldn't play a lick! I did play in high school in East Rutherford, New Jersey. I also played in college for Seton Hall-Paterson, which played a Division I schedule against lower Division I teams. I was not a good player, I couldn't guard anyone, but I could make open shots. I can still challenge you if we were shooting free throws right now or playing H-O-R-S-E. I was a basketball junkie who lived in gyms, studied the game, analyzed as much as I could, hung around coaches and people I respected. I got as much knowledge as I could. Now I am lucky enough to have the chance to share it with beautiful people like you.