COLLEGE PARK -- They will be forever linked, their names so closely attached and their styles so vastly different that it's difficult to separate one from the other.
Chris Corchiani and Rodney Monroe.
Fire and Ice.
The consummate point guard and the quintessential shooter.
Apart, they can stand alone on their statistics: Corchiani, the all-time assist leader in National Collegiate Athletic Association history; Monroe, the all-time scorer at North Carolina State.
Together, they are perhaps the most productive backcourt to play together in the Atlantic Coast Conference -- perhaps one of the best to play Division I basketball.
"We both probably received too much attention with being a combination," Corchiani said. "And probably we didn't receive enough attention for what we've done individually."
There they were together yesterday, on the court at Cole Field House, filming a commercial for CBS to promote today's start of the NCAA tournament.
Marking the NCAA's return here for the first time in 14 years, N.C. State (19-10) meets Southern Mississippi (21-7) this afternoon after Oklahoma State (22-7) plays New Mexico (20-9). Tonight, Purdue (17-11) takes on Temple (21-9), and Syracuse (26-5), the second seed in the East Region, plays Richmond (21-9).
There are some great individual talents in this sub-regional -- most notably Big East Player of the Year Billy Owens of Syracuse and two-time Metro Player of the Year Clarence Witherspoon of Southern Miss -- but no two players on one team have attracted more publicity.
"There's been a lot written about us, and we are pretty good friends, but off the court we tend to respect each other's privacy," said Monroe, who this week was named ACC Player of the Year. "On the court, I think we've made each other better players."
They were recruited together by former Wolfpack coach Jim Valvano. Monroe came out of St. Maria Goretti in Hagerstown, Corchiani out of Miami. They had met each other the summer before their junior year in high school at an all-star basketball camp.
When Corchiani heard that N.C. State was interested in Monroe, he called Valvano. "I thought he was a point guard," said Corchiani, laughing now at the notion. "When they signed him, I called again. I didn't want to be competing against him for four years."
Said Monroe: "Coach Valvano said that we would be the backcourt of the future. I knew that we would play together well, but I didn't know that it would reach the level that it has."
Monroe passed David Thompson earlier this season as the all-time scorer at N.C. State and, with 2,057 points, is 81 shy of former Wake Forest star Dickie Hemric as the ACC's all-time scorer. Corchiani broke former Syracuse star Sherman Douglas' NCAA record for assists, and now has 1,021.
The NCAA tournament has been bittersweet for Corchiani and Monroe. As freshmen, they were on an N.C. State team that was upset by Murray State in the first round. As sophomores, they reached the final 16, only to lose to Georgetown on a controversial traveling call against Corchiani in the final two minutes.
Then there was last year, one which both would rather forget. With the Wolfpack on NCAA probation, with the program in turmoil and Valvano on the verge of being fired, both players wondered about the future. Corchiani considered transferring. Monroe thought about turning pro.
N.C. State coach Les Robinson, who played for the Wolfpack in the early 1960s, was familiar with his backcourt before he was hired from East Tennessee State last spring. Robinson had coached against the two players last season, and had coached them as an assistant to Georgia Tech's Bobby Cremins with the U.S. World team the previous summer.
"Rodney's a better shooter than I ever thought, and Chris is a lot better defensive player than I thought," Robinson said.
As for Monroe's award, "I was very surprised I got it," he said. "I was very aware that other players were having great years. My teammates had a lot to do with it."
The guy they call Fire.