TSN Archives: All Hail the Wolfpack Savior (March 21, 1983, issue)

This story by correspondent Al Thomy first appeared in The Sporting News on March 21, 1983, after the Wolfpack – described by an Atlanta newspaper as the “other Carolina team” – defeated Virginia in the finals of the ACC Tournament. Spoiler alert: even bigger things awaited NC State in the NCAA tournament.

ATLANTA – If a coach had the perfect verbal poise to be the coach at Oral Roberts, it’s Jim Valvano.

Throughout the season, he kept telling his North Carolina wolf pack that “something good is going to happen to us.” Well something good has happened. The Pack came off the tee with four straight wins, then went to 7-2 before playing Virginia in Game No. 10 at home.

“Coach V kept saying something good was going to happen to us,” said point guard Sidney Lowe, “and then Dereck Whittenburg (his longtime running mate) got injured in the second half in Virginia. I thought, ‘Well, is this good what’s going to happen to us?'”

Whittenburg, a young man for whom the three-point game was made, had scored 27 points and led State to a 16-point lead over the Cavaliers before breaking a bone in his right foot. Virginia and Ralph Sampson literally and figuratively capitalized on the break and rallied for an 88-80 win.

Something good?

The states team appeared to be entering an extended period of mourning when paramedics informed Valvano that Whittenburg, a senior, had played his last game. To fill the gap, Valvano went to his bench. He pushed freshman Ernie Myers into service at the pressure-loaded Atlantic Coast Conference, relieved with sophomore Terry Gannon, a designated zone-buster. The skills and enthusiasm of a freshman are fine, but no comparison to a higher level of management.

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Something good?

In their next game, the Pack stopped a young Georgia Tech team but were then blown out by North Carolina and Wake Forest and beaten by Memphis State in a close game played under normal NCAA rules instead of the ACC’s 30-second clock and played for three seconds. score game. At this point the score was 8-6 and the “good” was hard to find: the losing column rose to 10 and Valvano was practically reconciled to the NIT.

He even made statements like: “As a New Yorker, I’ve always had a special affection for the NIT.”

In game #25 something good finally started to happen. Whittenburg returned. If it wasn’t a medical miracle, it was a human miracle. He played well but tired in the game at Virginia.

Two games later, the Pack finished their regular season by defeating Wake Forest 130-89 and posting a 17-10 overall chart.

“To have a chance for the NCAAs,” said Valvano, “we have to win two games at the (ACC) tournament in Atlanta. In my opinion, three wins would bring us.”

giggle, giggle Oh, sure, three wins in a group that included defending champions North Carolina after the opening pairing with Wake Forest and then leading into the Finals against the great Virginia and Ralph Sampson, who had never played on an ACC championship team. Triple giggles. But like Oral Roberts, Jim Valvano is a man of vision.

“I have this vision,” he said, “where Dereck comes back and we get to the ACC Finals and then he scores the winning goal.”

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“More of a daydreamer than a visionary,” laughed the skeptics. State’s 71-70 decision over Wake Forest in the first round at The Omni caused few Rippies. The Deacons had been in disarray for several weeks and there were rumors that Carl Tacy was stepping down to return to his former job at Marshall.

As the pack stunned the Tar Heels, 91-84, in overtime, some began to suspect something was decreed and maybe the stars were right. Remember that line about seeing Whittenburg on the line? Well, he scored 11 of his 15 points in overtime as State overcame a six-point UNC lead, an almost unheard-of event. For the first time since 1975, State won twice directly from a team led by Dean Smith. Lowe, the point guard who learned to love goals when Whittenburg was out, had 26 points and underestimated Thurl Bailey’s 17.

“That sets things up for a walk in Virginia,” sneered one self-proclaimed expert.

As it turned out, his prediction was a bit weaker than Valvano’s vision.

Amazingly, after a 12-1 lead, the pack stayed close the entire time, upsetting the Cavs 81-78 as Bailey scored 24, Lowe 18 and Whittenburg 15. Gannon also scored on four of six three-point plays. For Virginia, Sampson had 24 and Othell Wilson had 18. And the nation’s No. 2 team ended four years of the Sampson era without an ACC championship and without a Sampson MVP award. Lowe understood that.

Nobody talked about the NIT anymore.

The first ACC tournament ever held south of North Carolina was significant.

While Valvano, who was 7-0 at the time against arch-rivals North Carolina, some state alumni lamented the new, long-term contract a few months ago, they now hailed him as the Wolfpack savior. For all his mid-season misery, he was 2-1 against a Dean Smith team.

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He’d also scored a recruiting coup in the Atlanta area and on national television with his theatrical sidelines and flip one-liners. And he’s pushed his program forward despite being on friendly terms with Smith, unlike before, when ex-state coach Norm Sloan and Smith weren’t exactly pen pals.

Nevertheless, Valvano was not fooling himself. Regarding the ACC Finals, he retained great respect for the Virginia roster.

“I’ve never been someone who thought a loss could be good for you,” he said. “But this talented team from Virginia can say, ‘Hey, enough of that,’ and get together and really go for it in the NCAAs.”

Something good? He laughed.

“But I could never be a manager at Oral Roberts,” he said. “They don’t dance. And I don’t know about her, but I think I’ll have a drink.

“It bothered me that an Atlanta newspaper had a headline calling us the ‘other Carolina team.’ Maybe they’ll call us NC State now.”

Or call them ACC champions or one of the NCAA 52-elect.

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