CHAPEL HILL, N.C. -- On a recruiting trip to North Carolina last Monday, Florida State basketball coach Pat Kennedy had dinner with Jim Valvano, for whom he was an assistant at Iona many years ago.
Valvano won an NCAA championship at N.C. State before becoming a television analyst. He told Kennedy, whose Seminoles are newcomers to the Atlantic Coast Conference, he would be measured in his new conference by a variety of things but none more important than how he does against Dean Smith. And then Valvano gave his old assistant some pointers on how to deal with Smith and his undefeated, No. 5 North Carolina Tar Heels.
Yesterday, in the building named for Smith, where there are more ACC championship banners hanging from the rafters than in any other building, Kennedy's Seminoles made their ACC debut by beating North Carolina, 86-74.
And if you had just walked in and hadn't known the circumstances, you would never have thought it was an upset. The Tar Heels led a couple of times but never really looked like they were in the game. Maybe their bodies were, but their heads weren't.
The Seminoles used a Valvano tip and spread the floor on offense to take advantage of their superior quickness and slickness. They also used a 1-3 zone defense with a chaser on Hubert Davis, the only Tar Heel who can shoot with any degree of accuracy.
"You people who have been around the ACC may remember that Jim Valvano did that a bit," Kennedy said.
Florida State also negated North Carolina's dreaded transition game.
And that was all it took. The Tar Heels did the rest, losing the backboard battle, turning the ball over, shooting 38 percent in the second half and making only eight of 27 three-point attempts.
Kennedy used to sit at home and watch ACC basketball on television and wonder how he could get his Florida State program to that level.
"Being in the ACC is a dream," he said, "an absolute dream. I was never a dreamer before. I didn't have a silver spoon in my mouth. I didn't play for a big program," two years at King's College in Pennsylvania before his coach decided he couldn't play and made him an assistant.
"Jim Valvano got me to dream a little bit when I went to Iona."
Kennedy dreamed, but he left the awe behind. Yesterday, he said: "We talked about winning all week long, not about just hanging in there. Our kids aren't intimidated by anybody. These are great athletes."
And two of them, including forward Doug Edwards, the Seminoles' best player, missed the game because of a one-game suspension for fighting in a holiday tournament game.
Kennedy did the obligatory shaking of hands after the game, then, round face beaming like a harvest moon, ran into the arms of the Florida State president Dale Lick, and they did everything but dance as they hustled to the locker room.
"This probably ranks among the greatest moments, the greatest victories in the school's history," Kennedy said.
Before the game, the public address announcer said, "Today is a great day in the history of the ACC. Today, Dec. 15, 1991, Florida State University plays its first ACC basketball game."
The crowd gave the newcomers a standing ovation and settled back to watch their Tar Heels show these guys how basketball is really played.
Florida State has been blowing smoke about its new family. Kennedy tells people, "Bobby Bowden [FSU football coach] told everyone he had no problem with us joining the ACC, but he couldn't understand why our crazy basketball coach wanted to go."
And after yesterday's win, FSU athletic director Bob Goin said: "I'm going to have to hide out from the other athletic directors in the ACC. I think I had them convinced we were all football."
Near the end of the game, Florida State's small contingent of fans broke into its version of an Indian war chant and did the tomahawk chop. Get used to it. These guys can play.