At N.C. State, Jimmy V always will be No. 1 Coach of '83 title team still has magic touch

February 22, 1993|By Barry Jacobs | Barry Jacobs,Contributing Writer

RALEIGH, N.C. -- Once this was his fiefdom, his basketball program, his stage. But in 1990 he was forced to resign amid ongoing evidence of academic and other irregularities, and he had not been back since.

Yesterday afternoon, Jim Valvano finally returned to Reynolds Coliseum, overcoming the ravages of bone cancer and the passage of time to again cast his spell over North Carolina State basketball.

The occasion was a 10th anniversary salute to N.C. State's 1983 national championship team, which defeated a heavily favored Houston team led by Clyde Drexler and Hakeem Olajuwon in the title game. But even as the Wolfpack's managers, trainers, assistant coaches, and many of its players were introduced, it was clear the packed house had come primarily to see Valvano, the mastermind of that improbable victory.

Kindled by the sight of his former associates, the banner commemorating the '83 title, and a sea of appreciative, red-clad fans, Valvano too seemed pleased. He quickly offered a hummed rendition of the school fight song, and was met with a united shout of "Go State!"

"I miss that," he admitted. "Nobody had more fun than I did in the 10 years when I was fortunate to stand right there in that corner and thank God for the opportunity to coach at North Carolina State University."

Members of the school pep band wore T-shirts for the occasion that said "Jimmy V" on the front and "Don't Give Up" on the back. Other players from the Valvano era were on hand, as was Northwestern coach Bill Foster, Valvano's coach at Rutgers. And not until everyone else was introduced did Valvano's ABC broadcasting partner, Brent Musburger, pronounce the name of the architect of what he called "the greatest coaching job I ever saw."

Valvano, a highly sought and well-paid motivational speaker prior to his illness, didn't disappoint.

He retold old jokes, made boldly hopeful predictions for N.C. State championships in basketball and football. He offered a word of support for his successor, Les Robinson, struggling through a second straight losing season.

Most of all, Valvano, 46, shared with the assemblage his %J determination to fight for survival, calling on the same range of beliefs he had relied upon during his team's nine-game march to the title.

The '83 experience taught him many lessons, he said, especially about "dreaming and the importance of dreams." From that, he had extrapolated an approach toward the disease and debilitating course of treatment that made him walk stiff and bent to the microphone at midcourt: "Don't ever, ever, ever give up," he said to loud applause.

"Today I fight a different battle," Valvano said. "You see I have trouble walking, and I do. And I have trouble standing for a long period. Cancer has taken away a lot of my physical abilities.

"I can't run over and yell at John Moreau, the official. I can't do the back flips I like to do with our world-class cheerleaders. What cancer can't take is my mind, my heart and my soul. It can't touch those things."

Valvano paced gently to and fro throughout a speech that lasted approximately 11 minutes, seeming to pick up energy as he proceeded. Almost until the moment he was introduced, though, it hadn't been certain he would appear. Valvano had missed his broadcast assignments for the past two weeks, and ABC was prepared to use Terry Gannon, a player from the '83 team, as a last-minute replacement.

Instead, Valvano delivered his upbeat message, ending by leading the crowd in a quick version of the fight song. Then he was presented a crystal slipper representing the '83 team's Cinderella finish, and took his broadcast position for a game between N.C. State and Duke.

The seventh-ranked Blue Devils won, 91-82, but not before the Wolfpack put on an inspired performance. "He had me pumped up going into the game," said N.C. State's Mark Davis, who with his teammates listened to the former coach's address.

"There was a lot of electricity up there today," said Kevin Thompson, the Wolfpack center. Thompson, the only participant today who was recruited by Valvano, had a career-high 30 points.

That energized reaction to Valvano's appearance seemed universal. "Every time I'm around him, I'm elevated," said Gannon. "My spirit is elevated. He inspires me. He's that kind of person."

Other '83 squad members in attendance included 10-year NBA veteran Thurl Bailey, a member of the Minnesota Timberwolves, and Dereck Whittenburg. Sidney Lowe, the point guard on that team, is now the Timberwolves' coach and was unable to attend.

Also unable to attend were Cozell McQueen and Lorenzo Charles, whose dunk follow of a Whittenburg miss was the deciding basket. Both are playing in Europe.

Foster, who has known Valvano since he was an 18-year-old freshman, said he came away from the ceremony with goose bumps.

"You know what?" Foster said. "He makes you feel good about coaching."

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