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Praising Plaisted: Cougar center gets Vitale all fired up

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BYU's Trent Plaisted battles North Carolina's Alex Stephenson, left, for position during last weekend's game in Las Vegas.

BYU’s Trent Plaisted battles North Carolina’s Alex Stephenson, left, for position during last weekend’s game in Las Vegas.

Jae C. Hong, Associated Press

PORTLAND, Ore. — During BYU's closer-than-the-final-score-looked 73-63 loss to No. 1 North Carolina a week ago in Las Vegas, ESPN's loud and loquacious color commentator, Dick Vitale, practically turned the broadcast into a two-hour Trent Plaisted infomercial, heaping an abundance of praise upon the 6-foot-11 Cougar center.

A sampling of Dickie V's commentary: "He is playing like an All-American — he's had a brilliant performance."

"I'll tell you one thing — Plaisted has a future in the next league."

"I'll tell you what my friends, he is the best big man in America nobody knows about. I'm telling you people if you didn't already know the name Plaisted, you're going to know it by the end of this year ... Plaisted is flat-out talented."

"I'll be a member of his fan club, I'll tell you that. I want to join in."

Yes, Vitale is prone to hyperbole, but who could blame him for constantly gushing about Plaisted? In the setback to the Tar Heels, Plaisted poured in 24 points and pulled down 17 rebounds, just one day after he tallied 21 points and 12 boards in BYU's upset of No. 6 Louisville.

It was quite a weekend for Plaisted and the Cougars — an opportunity to play on national television against two of the most storied programs in college basketball. Not surprisingly, a couple of days later, BYU jumped into the national rankings at No. 21.

Vitale won't be on hand tonight when the Cougars visit Portland, but thanks in part to the one-eyed hoops analyst, Plaisted is becoming a household name in NCAA basketball circles.

Plaisted hasn't listened to Vitale's comments, but everyone has let him know about them.

"I've been hearing all about it. I heard he said some nice things and that's all great and everything, but you've got to produce on the floor," he said. "It was fun to play in a nationally televised game on ESPN. I had a bunch of people I knew in Texas who said they saw me play. They don't get to see our games too often, and I was excited about that."

BYU coach Dave Rose likes what he's seen out of Plaisted this season, particularly his rebounding. "At this point, the thing we're most pleased with is he's become much more aggressive on the offensive and defensive boards," Rose said. "If he can rebound like he did, that will really help our team. It has also increased our expectations. It's like anything you do — you want to be consistent and get better. That's what we're looking for out of Trent."

Rose also understands that opponents will try different defensive schemes to slow Plaisted down.

"Trent has progressively expanded his role on this team over the course of the first six games," he said. "We really relied on him last weekend because as we were making perimeter shots, that defense really spread out on us and it left him with a matchup down low which allowed him to get a lot of catches and looks at the basket one-on-one. He's really good when that's the case. Other nights, it will be different (depending) on the schemes others will use to try to stop him."

Perhaps partly because of all the talking Vitale did about him, Plaisted doesn't want to talk much about himself. It's all about the team.

"(Last weekend) showed we can compete at the highest level with the best teams," Plaisted said. "It was good for our program to give people around the country an idea of BYU basketball, the way we play and to show that we're a pretty good team."

Plaisted is glad to see the Cougars in the national rankings, but he quickly puts it in perspective.

"It's always a big deal to get into the national rankings. But once you get there, for it to mean anything, you've got to stay there a while," he said. "We've got to keep winning basketball games and stay in the rankings. If anything, it probably makes other teams want to beat us more. Being in the national rankings doesn't mean anything if we don't win Saturday. We want to get better. Our goal this season isn't being in the national rankings. We want to win a conference championship and go to the NCAA Tournament."

Along the way, Plaisted will likely continue to wear out opposing teams — and Dick Vitale's vocal cords.

E-mail: jeffc@desnews.com