When most outsiders think of NC State basketball, one of several things usually comes to mind: Everett Case and Reynolds Coliseum, David Thompson and Jimmy V. However, NC State has accomplished more for itself, and for college basketball than most anyone remembers.
The Beginning: In 1911, NC State, then the North Carolina A&M Farmers, lost its first basketball game to a vastly experienced Wake Forest program, beginning the longest rivalry in school history. Five days later, February 21, 1911, the Farmers defeated Wake, marking the first school victory. Following the school's change to North Carolina State University in 1920, NC State became one of 14 charter members of the Southern Conference when the league was established in 1921. The program then changed its nickname to the Red Terrors prior to the 1923-24 season, in part because of the play of Rochelle "Red" Johnson, as well as the debut of a bright red set of road uniforms. In 1929, the Red Terrors won their first of seven Southern Conference Championships with a tournament victory in Atlanta. Three years later, Bud Rose became the school's first player to earn All-American distinction, blazing a trail for stars like Ronnie Shavlik and David Thompson.
Everett Case & The Old Barn: The 1930s was a modest decade for the Red Terrors, but the 1940s is the decade that NC State began to put its stamp on college basketball. In 1943, construction began on William Neal Reynolds Coliseum, which would become the most important college basketball arena in the southeastern U.S., from 1950-1970. Construction stalled during World War II, and a skeleton of the coliseum stood for four years until work resumed.
Then, in 1946, Everett Case was named head coach of the program, and his stint in Raleigh would forever change the face of college basketball. In his first season, the Wolfpack won the Southern Conference championship and celebrated by cutting down the nets. Soon thereafter, cutting down the nets became a popular trend following championship victories. In 1947, NC State again changed its nickname, this time to Wolfpack. Following Case's insistence, the blueprints for Reynolds Coliseum were changed in 1948 to increase seating to surpass that of Duke's Cameron Indoor Stadium, which was built in 1940. Reynolds opened December 2, 1949 as the largest college basketball facility in the Southeast, with a Wolfpack victory over Washington & Lee, 67-47. That same month, Reynolds hosted the inaugural Dixie Classic, which annually invited four of the nation's best programs to square off with The Big Four: Duke, UNC, Wake Forest and NC State. The Dixie Classic quickly became the preeminent regular-season basketball tournament, including a 1958 field that featured eight All-Americans. Case led the Wolfpack to six consecutive Southern Conference Tournament Titles from 1947-1952 and four ACC Tournament titles before retiring in 1964.
Following the 1952-1953 season, the ACC was formed by the Big Four, Clemson, Maryland and South Carolina. Virginia would become the eighth member one year later. Led by Ronnie Shavlik, the Wolfpack continued its conference dominance by winning the first three ACC Tournaments (which incidentally were held in Reynolds Coliseum), a feat unmatched until Duke's recent run. In 1955 the Pack tore through the regular season at a 28-4 clip, but were ineligible for postseason play because of NCAA sanctions. The Pack again was ineligible for postseason play in 1959 following a 22-4 record and No. 6 final ranking. Prior to Case's retirement, he added two assistants who would later become head coaches in the ACC: Vic Bubas, who scored the first basket in Reynolds Coliseum history, and Press Maravich, father of Pistol Pete. Press Maravich took over when health problems, namely cancer, forced to Case to retire early in the 1964-1965 season. Maravich led the Pack to the ACC Title that season, and Larry Worsely became the first player to win the Everett Case Award for being named the Outstanding Player in the conference tournament. Worsely is still the only player to be presented the trophy by its namesake. NC State players hoisted Case on their shoulders and he clipped the championship nets one final time. Maravich left for LSU in April of 1966. Bubas would become the head coach at Duke.
Norm Sloan, David Thompson & National Title I: Following Maravich's departure, former Wolfpack athlete Norm Sloan was tabbed as the program's head man. Sloan wasted little time continuing the Pack's trend of success, taking the squad to the ACC Tournament finals in 1968 and winning it in 1970. In its 1968 ACC Semifinal game against Duke, NC State held the ball for basically the entire game, and ended up winning 12-10. In 1970 and 1971, Sloan added the future players that would be the cornerstone for one of the most dominant college basketball teams of all-time: Tommy Burleson, David Thompson, Monty Towe and Tim Stoddard. In a glimpse into the future of the sport, David Thompson scored 33 points and grabbed 13 rebounds in an electrifying collegiate debut November 27, 1972. Led by the 6'4" sophomore, NC State defeated Maryland on January 14, 1973; the first nationally televised Super Bowl Sunday college basketball matchup, and later defeated the Terrapins in the ACC Tournament Championship game. Although the Pack finished the 1972-73 season 27-0, NCAA sanctions again forced the Pack to skip postseason play because when Thompson was being recruited, he played in a pickup game with Wolfpack Assistant Coach Eddie Biedenbach on his visit to Raleigh. Considering modern thinking, banning the program from postseason play seems a bit harsh, and may have limited the Pack from winning two consecutive national titles.
However, the Pack composed an equally dominating year in 1973-74, finishing 30-1; a season highlighted by an ACC Tournament crown in the greatest game in ACC history against Maryland; a double-overtime Final Four victory over UCLA, which had won the previous seven national titles; followed by a thrashing of Marquette in the National Championship game. Thompson's prowess at NC State was recognized immediately, and after a stellar career where he made his case for being the greatest college basketball player in history, his No. 44 jersey was retired during his last home game at Reynolds Coliseum March 1, 1975. In this game, Thompson dunked the ball and was whistled for a technical foul, as dunking was illegal at the time.
Thompson won every major National Player of the Year award in 1975, topping off an illustrious career that included three consecutive unanimous 1st Team All-American selections, three consecutive ACC Player of the Year Awards and two ACC Athlete of the Year Awards. Following the Pack's loss in the 1975 ACC Finals, the Pack rejected an NIT bid, as Thompson said, "The NIT is for losers." Thompson was also a two-time winner of both the Associated Press Player of the Year award and the Naismith Award.
The Forgotten Years: From 1975-1980, a great deal happened with the Wolfpack program, but rarely do you hear about them, even from Wolfpack fans. In 1976, the Pack went to the NIT semifinals. Two seasons later, Wolfpack fans got the first glimpse of Jimmy Valvano in Reynolds Coliseum, as the then-Iona coach brought his team to Raleigh. In the 1978 NIT, the Pack defeated South Carolina, Dick Vitale-led Detroit, and Georgetown on a desperation shot by Clyde "The Glide" Austin, en route to the NIT Championship Game, which the Pack lost to Texas. The following season, much was expected from the Pack, but the team never gelled. The 1979-1980 season featured the Pack's 1,000th victory, and Norm Sloan won his last game against bitter rival UNC at Reynolds Coliseum before returning to the University of Florida.
Jimmy V & National Title II: James Valvano was named the Pack's head coach March 27, 1980, and over the rest of his life, and even beyond, he changed the face of NC State basketball and Wolfpack fans themselves. The first two seasons under Valvano marked gradual improvement, and prior to the 1982-1983 season, analysts had high expectations for the Pack. Valvano's squad was performing well prior to Dereck Whittenburg's broken foot, which would sideline him well into the season. Following Whittenburg's return, the Pack, which needed to win the ACC Tournament to earn a birth to the NCAAs, defeated highly ranked UNC and UVA squads to squeak into the Big Dance. The Cardiac Pack, as the team would come to be known, squeezed out narrow victories over Pepperdine (2OT) and UNLV (71-70) before smashing Utah in the West Regional semifinals. Again the Pack broke UVA's heart with a 63-62 West Regional Final victory, before sliding past Georgia in the Final Four, setting up what looked to be a complete mismatch in the NCAA Final against a Houston team featuring Clyde Drexler and Akeem Olajuwon. Nonetheless, the Cardiac Pack lived up to its name with a 54-52 win on a last-second Dereck Whittenburg "pass" to Lorenzo Charles for the championship-winning dunk.
During Valvano's reign, the Pack would not reach the Final Four again, but there were periods of time where the program looked like the most impressive team in the country. In 1985 and 1986, the Pack reached the Elite Eight, followed by a miraculous ACC Tournament title in 1987. Junior guard Vinny Del Negro led the squad through an overtime victory over Duke, double overtime victory over Wake Forest and a defeat of UNC, which went through the 1987 ACC slate undefeated. In 1989, the Pack was the ACC's regular season champions. From Charles Shackleford to Chris Washburn to the adoption of the unitard as the program's uniform (it lasted for two games), there was never a dull moment with Jimmy V at the helm. And for Peter Golenbock and the NCAA, maybe it was too interesting.
Golenbock's book Personal Fouls was supposed to be a profile of NC State's program under Valvano. The book alleged various counts of grade-fixing, overlooked positive drug tests, illegal money for players, and plenty of other so-called evidences Golenbock labeled as a lack of institutional control. Not only were many of the accusations unfounded and downright false, the book contained numerous spelling and grammatical mistakes, underscoring Golenbock's credibility, or lack thereof. Nonetheless, the Raleigh News & Observer basically reprinted the most notorious portions of the book word-for-word. To this day, many Wolfpack fans hold their hometown newspaper in the lowest of regard. The NCAA investigated the program per Valvano's demand, but the only significant violation found was players selling their basketball shoes. While neither the book nor the investigation got Valvano fired, they did affect much of the external and internal perception of the program. Valvano was fired April 7, 1990, and former NC State basketball player Les Robinson was named head coach a few weeks later April 23.
Partly because of the 1983 season, but mostly because of Valvano's personality, NC State fans were unmistakably changed. Never before had a coach touched the hearts of his fans so much that many of his mistakes, which were too numerous to list, became someone else's fault. Mostly, though, Wolfpack fans were so hurt by the way he was ousted, and so moved by the way he died, that his imprint is all over every aspect of what many NC State fans clamor for.
Les Robinson To Herb Sendek: Rodney Monroe and Chris Corchiani joined the program in the fall of 1987, and would leave as the school's all-time leading scorer (Monroe) and the NCAA career assists record holder (Corchiani). Nicknamed Fire & Ice, the duo performed admirably for four years. Their senior season, 1990-1991, marked NC State's last appearance in the NCAA Tournament in the 20th Century. Even Tom Gugliotta could not carry the Pack back to the Big Dance in the early 1990s. Les Robinson would stay on as head coach through the 1995-96 season, and although he never won as much as his predecessors, Robinson's stint went a long way towards cleansing the image of the program to both insiders and outsiders. Among his efforts was the addition of Todd Fuller, who would go on be an Academic All-American and All-ACC player. Herb Sendek was named the 17th head coach in the program's history in April of 1996.
Sendek's first season in Raleigh included a dramatic run through the ACC Tournament from its #8 seeding. Although the Pack lost in the championship game, the play during the tournament gave many Wolfpack fans hope in coming seasons. Following the 1996-97 season, construction began on the RBC Center, called the Entertainment & Sports Arena until 2002. In the spring of 1999, NC State played its final games in Reynolds Coliseum, closing the book on 50 years of historically lopsided play. The Pack began play at the plush new facility in 1999, but did not return to the NCAAs until 2002, when All-ACC selection Anthony Grundy led the Pack back to the Big Dance. The Pack returned in 2003, and is steadily moving forward in hopes of reclaiming its place in college basketball's spotlight.
Although the Wolfpack has not recently dominated the sport, the program's true measure lies in its role in building big-time college basketball's foundation, tradition and spirit. From Bud Rose to Everett Case to Ronnie Shavlik to David Thompson to Jimmy V to Fire & Ice, NC State has produced its share of electricity. From Reynolds Coliseum to the RBC Center, the Pack has plunged into the annals of college basketball lore, fueling a revolution and forever changing the greatest sport in all the world.