Dick Vitale, the voice of college basketball for almost three decades, had vocal-cord surgery yesterday and was expected to be sidelined from his ESPN job until at least February.

The 68-year-old Vitale said on his Web site that he still would give his take on college basketball through postings on ESPN.com and dickvitaleonline.com while recuperating. He expects to return to the air in early February.

The operation to treat ulcers on his left vocal cord was performed by Steven Zeitels at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston.

"College basketball fans will miss Dick's enthusiasm in the coming weeks. But we are delighted to learn his surgery was a success, and we all wish him a speedy recovery," ESPN president George Bodenheimer said.

Vitale had never missed an assignment in his 28-plus seasons at ESPN.

"The past six weeks have been very emotional [for] me and for my family as we've visited some of the most outstanding throat specialists," Vitale said in a letter posted on ESPN.com. "Visiting college campuses and interacting with the fans has kept me so young and energized. I can't wait to get back out there, having a blast with all of you, who are so vital to our game."

Vitale, who coached at the University of Detroit and for less than a season with the NBA's Detroit Pistons, was a finalist for the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in 2004, 2006 and 2007.

Vitale was hired at ESPN in 1979. His trademark catchphrases and his almost fanatical zeal for the sport have become part of the sports lexicon.

Rising at Arizona. Kevin O'Neill will succeed Lute Olson as Arizona's basketball coach when the Hall of Famer retires.

O'Neill was hired as an assistant in May. He has served as the 19th-ranked Wildcats' interim coach since the 73-year-old Olson went on a personal leave of absence Nov. 4 - a leave he recently extended through the end of the season.

Athletic director Jim Livengood made the announcement yesterday, ending weeks of speculation that O'Neill eventually would succeed Olson, who has said he plans to return next season.

"Kevin is our coach for now, and will be our coach in the future when Lute decides to retire," Livengood said in a statement.

The 50-year-old O'Neill went 152-165 in 11 seasons as the coach at Marquette, Tennessee and Northwestern. Arizona is 7-2 under O'Neill this season.

"It's an unbelievable honor to follow Lute Olson," O'Neill said in a statement. "I'm thrilled to get the opportunity and will work to continue the superb tradition of Arizona basketball when Lute is done."

Olson is 589-187 in 24 seasons at Arizona and has led the Wildcats to 23 straight NCAA tournament appearances, the nation's longest active streak. Arizona won the 1997 national title under Olson.

Injured. Georgia Tech senior center Ra'Sean Dickey, who has missed the first eight games of the season with an injury, will sit out the rest of the season as a redshirt.