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Monday September 16th, 2019 12:22AM

Vitale raising millions for pediatric cancer research

By The Associated Press

For all the accolades he's received as a college and professional basketball coach and an even longer career in broadcasting, Dick Vitale insists his greatest accomplishment has been raising money for pediatric cancer research.

It's an obsession, he says, that one night each spring transforms his adopted home of Sarasota, Florida, into the Vitale-proclaimed "sports capital of the nation" because of an all-star cast of sports and entertainment celebrities that support his annual charity event.

Over the past decade-plus, the Dick Vitale Gala has raised $25.2 million through the V Foundation for cancer research, formed by the late North Carolina State basketball coach Jim Valvano, who died of cancer in 1993.

The event attracted more than 900 guests and raised a record $3.7 million last year. The target for this year's sold-out edition Friday is $4 million.

"It should be a great night," Vitale said. "Most of all, a night really dedicated to young people battling a disease that is so vicious."

Honorees this year include Clemson football coach Dabo Swinney, former NBA star and coach Avery Johnson, college football analyst and ex-coach Lee Corso, and broadcasters Chris Fowler and Holly Rowe of ESPN.

Guests who have committed to attending include college basketball coaches Leonard Hamilton (Florida State), Mike White (Florida), Johnny Dawkins (UCF) and Tom Crean (Georgia); Florida football coach Dan Mullen; Murray State point guard and projected top five NBA draft pick Ja Morant, and former NFL players Warren Sapp, Simeon Rice and Dexter Jackson, who helped the Tampa Bay Buccaneers win their only Super Bowl title.

"We've got a who's who coming ... personalities galore," Vitale said. "They all come free. They all pay their own expenses."

The one-time Detroit Pistons coach said the real stars of the night of the night, though, will be the "10 kids who have battled cancer big time" and will be recognized, along with their families.

"I'm obsessed with this. I get to know these kids. These are not just people I meet at my gala. ... They become part of me," Vitale said.

"What frustrates me, to be honest with you, is if you went to the campuses of any elite football power ... if they wanted to raise 60, 70, 80 million for football facilities, they could do it in no time," he added. "I have to beg and plead continually trying to get $4 million to help kids battling disease."

It's well worth the effort, the 79-year-old added.

"The greatest feeling to me is the one I'll get (Friday) when they say we're getting close to that goal," Vitale concluded. "It's like winning the national championship game when they give me that final number."

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