ESPN analyst Dick Vitale calls the game between the Kentucky...

ESPN analyst Dick Vitale calls the game between the Kentucky Wildcats and the Michigan State Spartans during the Champions Classic at Gainbridge Fieldhouse on November 15, 2022 in Indianapolis. Credit: Getty Images

Dick Vitale is 83, but during the worst days of chemotherapy treatment, he said, “I felt like 93, not 83.”

Now?

“I’m back to being a kid again,” he told Newsday. “I feel young. I feel like 23.

“I walked into Cameron [Indoor Stadium] the other day for the Duke-Ohio State game and all the students chanted, ‘Dick Vitale!’ It gave me goosebumps, man.”

Tuesday night, Vitale will get another goosebumps-worthy thrill when he visits Madison Square Garden to analyze the Duke-Iowa game for ESPN — the second half of a Jimmy V Classic doubleheader that opens with Texas-Illinois.

From there, it will be on to Indiana-Kansas on Dec. 17, then probably one game a week — and occasionally two — once college basketball fully ramps up in January.

It is all part of a carefully planned road back to health and regular work after a series of challenges.

They have included treatment for melanoma and lymphoma in 2021, then vocal cord surgery in February 2022, all of which forced him to miss most of last college basketball season.

Now he is back, with a new, even more personal connection to a cause he has championed for 30 years.

Vitale was a close friend of Jim Valvano, the coach and commentator for whom the V Foundation for Cancer Research is named. He died in 1993.

“Over the years, I've been obsessed raising money for kids battling cancer,” Vitale said. “I'm even more obsessed now, because I can't even imagine your kids going through what I went through.”

He cited not only the treatments themselves, but testing regimens and other complications that come with the process.

“I just can't imagine a mom and dad with a 7-, 8-, 9-year-old child, and the child, going through that,” he said. “So for that reason, it has motivated and inspired me more than ever to raise big dollars.”

His 17th annual gala in May raised $11 million for pediatric cancer research.

After the vocal cord surgeries, his doctor does not want him doing a full load of games, and he has cut back on speeches, podcasts and interviews.

“All I’m really doing now is whenever it's required as part of my job at ESPN,” he said. “Occasionally I do a little interview. But I used to say ‘yes’ to everything.”

Vitale, who has been with ESPN since 1979, said he feels “great” physically after being told in August that he was cancer free.

But it has not been an easy road. He said that as much as his wife and daughters were excellent caregivers and as supportive as his ESPN colleagues and others in the business have been, there are times one must get through dark moments alone.

“You lay there by yourself [in the hospital] at 11, 12 at night, tossing and turning in bed, and your thoughts are really not about basketball,” he said. “The thoughts are, ‘How am I going to make this, beat this?' I just kept fighting.”

Even when he was with people, Vitale said, he found it maddening when he was not allowed to speak and had to convey his needs by writing on a whiteboard.

“It was frustrating,” he said. “I felt trapped in my body. I couldn’t communicate.”

He needed melanoma surgery between his eyes, requiring six procedures that at one stage left his face “a mess.” He said he looked as if he had been in the ring with Sonny Liston, Muhammad Ali or Mike Tyson.

“I could not believe it when I looked in the mirror,” he said, “That's how bad it was . . . Then I beat that. I'm on Cloud Nine. And out of the blue comes lymphoma.”

Vitale said one reason he has been public about the details of his situation is that he “wanted to use that to raise money to help me get people to understand this is no fun and games, man.”

He said in quiet moments he would hear Valvano’s words from his famous 1993 ESPYS speech. “I would say at times to myself, ‘Don’t give up, don’t ever give up,’ ” Vitale recalled.

He also would remember his parents’ words when he lost the vision in his left eye as a child and they told him not to let that hold him back.

“I ended up getting lucky,” he said. “I'm cancer free, so I figure I’ve got a great chance to live my dream to be the first announcer in the history of broadcasting to walk in, sit at courtside and a call a game at 100 years of age.

“It’s only 17 years!”

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