Best wishes for Vitale

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Dick Vitale will be sidelined from calling college basketball games until early February after recently undergoing surgery to remove lesions in his throat.

Some critics regard Vitale as a caricature, always sticking up for coaches and promoting the positives of college basketball.

But from my experiences, you would be hard-pressed to find a public figure of his magnitude that is more generous with his time to the media.

Dick has been enormously helpful during my four-plus years covering basketball for The Sun. I’ve always found him engaging and insightful about the game. Some forget Dick’s chalkboard roots, which date back to coaching high school basketball in East Rutherford, N.J., before a successful stint at Detroit University and a brief NBA coaching stint with the Detroit Pistons.

Even when Vitale became a story last February, involving his unknown off-the-cuff comments regarding the draft status of Al Horford and Joakim Noah, he handled the situation with class. Vitale was quick to call me back and state his position.

As it turned out, Horford was drafted ahead of Noah anyway. Florida emerged from the turbulence to win its final 10 straight games and a second straight national title.

As well as being an ambassador to college basketball, Dick has raised millions in cancer research for the foundation named after his close friend and former N.C. State coach Jim Valvano, who succumbed to the disease in 1993.

Florida will host ESPN College Basketball GameDay on Jan. 19 (ESPN completed its site inspection at the O-Dome on Tuesday).

Vitale won’t be at the mic, but he’ll be in my thoughts.