Jimmy V Week

This was originally posted by LRM three years ago (Laugh. Think. Cry.), but seems fitting to post again during Jimmy V week, especially the for the younger fans that may not realize there was once a time when State basketball was anything but an afterthought.

V himself had said that team wasn’t very good.

After a 6-8 conference record, State was seeded sixth for the 1987 ACC Tournament in Landover. But somehow – not unlike a few years earlier on an even bigger stage – Jim Valvano’s Cardiac Pack had survived and advanced to the title game, where they would face top-seeded Carolina, who had steamrolled through the conference to an unblemished 14-0 record. Trailing the Tar Heels 67-66 with only 14 seconds remaining, Vinny Del Negro stepped to the free throw line in the Capital Centre and coolly drained two foul shots for the 68-67 victory.

I wasn’t yet eight years old that Sunday afternoon, but being a State fan had proven bountiful, I decided. In the days and weeks that followed, I relived that scenario countless times on my steep, dogleg-right driveway so typical of the North Carolina foothills, shooting free throws on a goal that measured about 12 feet on the low side while only around nine on the high side.

I’m much older now, and as Davidson tips off against West Virginia in the first game of the Jimmy V Classic at Madison Square Garden, I’m reticent of the fact that many of the current State students weren’t even alive that afternoon on March 8, 1987, when Del Negro sealed State’s tenth ACC title. At that time, we tied Carolina and bested Duke’s total by three. That title stands still as State’s last one, which is even more damnable considering Carolina has since added seven more conference titles, as well as two national titles [now three], while Duke has added nine more conference titles [now 12] and three national titles [now four]. Meanwhile, during the two decades since we last hung a banner, the N.C. State basketball program has stubbornly endured, insufferably, through the indignity of scandal, followed by complete irrelevance, and even still continues its struggle towards recovery.

The real shame of it all is that an entire generation of State fans knows of Jim Valvano only through his legacy. Laugh, think, cry.

It’s important that even the young generation of State fans understands why Jimmy V was such an endearing – and polarizing – personality for those of us that can never remember being anything but a State fan. But it’s not a romantic history; in fact, it’s quite tragic.

Jimmy V built his legend by winning the most remarkable national title and two ACC titles while at State, but it wasn’t enough to prevent his forced resignation from the team he’d once said he wanted to coach until he died – and tragically, he didn’t miss by much.

To be honest, I don’t completely understand it even now, but I no longer suffer the same naïveté as that kid winning championships in his driveway, so by no means would I defend V’s absolute innocence. After all, under his direction, the athletic department had demonstrated inadequate oversight and had lacked accountability – poor qualities, at best, for a leader. These mistakes weren’t – and aren’t – exclusive to Raleigh. In fact, it took a series of factors to even make it an irrecoverable issue.

Fueled by intense mistrust by the university’s academic community towards Valvano’s athletic department, an impossible power struggle had been borne. The consensus among the academics was that Valvano’s basketball program had become uncontrollable and the university would be far better off without it. To their defense, they had a valid point: State’s admissions process for athletes had indeed become comical, considering one of State’s primary recruits, Chris Washburn, had scored only a 470 on his SAT, while eight of Valvano’s recruits over the years had scored under 600.

This strife remained internal, however, until after a vile, poorly written book (which I refuse to even name here, in the fear it would generate curiosity), rife with inaccuracies and egregious, unfounded accusations of corruption within Valvano’s program triggered both the NCAA investigation and then the independent Poole Commission report that ultimately brought an end to State’s national prominence. The four-person Poole Commission investigated the book’s accusations but uncovered only minor infractions, and ultimately found that Valvano’s actions had “violated the spirit, but not the letter of the law.” However, with the lessons from the scandal at Southern Methodist still fresh, over the next six months a variety of investigations into Valvano were conducted, including one by the North Carolina Attorney General’s office.

Yet not one of these investigations unearthed a single academic or financial infraction within the program. Had anything truly damaging been uncovered, State would have undoubtedly faced far more intense sanctions, including a crippling TV ban. But the NCAA had been satisfied with the university’s internal corrective and punitive actions for the minor violations the Poole Commission had uncovered, which had included tighter restrictions over ticket and shoe distributions to players, limitations of off-campus recruiting visits, Valvano’s resignation as athletic director, and most crippling, a reduction in scholarships for three years. The NCAA also leveled the maximum two-year probation and barred State from participating in the 1990 NCAA Tournament (at 6-8 in the ACC, we wouldn’t have made it anyway).

At Carolina or Duke, that would have been the end of it. Not a single employee on Valvano’s staff had been found to have intentionally violated any rules or laws, but Valvano had committed the seemingly-treacherous act of failing to hold those in his charge accountable. He was viewed as a man who had lost institutional control, a most unrecoverable sin in NCAA terms. Valvano wasn’t immediately dismissed, but a vote of confidence by the chancellor was declined. This left an opening for the factor that ultimately brought N.C. State’s long reign of national prominence to an end – and not with a bang, but a whimper.

This isn’t a story of any ridiculous Carolina conspiracy or even typical media bias; it was far less impressive. It was nothing beyond irresponsible “journalism” at the area’s two largest news outlets, which had launched vicious attacks and spewed relentless vitriol upon Valvano using baseless, unmerited facts and personal bias to such an extent that it couldn’t have been anything other than opportunism at its absolute worst. Even State’s student newspaper joined the popular character assassination of Jim Valvano, who eventually resigned under intense scrutiny and pressure in April 1990.

I was 11 years old in April 1990 when the era of State basketball during which I’d grown up, the only one I knew, came to an end. Now what?

V returned to Reynolds one last time on February 21, 1993, for the 10-year commemoration of his Cardiac Pack’s 1983 championship, and by then he was dying of metastatic bone cancer. As I watched on TV, a lump moved into my stomach during halftime of that Duke game as he left us with that indelible motto to which every State fan can readily and intimately relate: Don’t give up, don’t ever give up.

Two weeks later at the ESPYs – he was so weak that night that his very close friends, Dick Vitale and Coach K, had to help him on the stairs – he repeated those magnificent words from his Reynolds speech, and they’ve been preserved for generations to come through replays during the annual Jimmy V Classic on ESPN. The singular part of his ESPY speech that best summed up why he was such a dynamic presence for State fans wasn’t his statement on mind, heart, and soul, but rather a few minutes before, when he’d gone over his allotted time for his speech: “They got that screen up there flashing 30 seconds, like I care about that screen. I got tumors all over my body and I’m worried about some guy in the back going ‘30 seconds?’”

Fifteen years later that still gets me, every time.

I was very young when his tenure at State came to an inappropriate and unceremonious end, but even then I was acutely aware of his legacy. I really wish State was the staple team of the Jimmy V Classic, but the truth is that the RBC Center will house Les Robinson Court before this university officially promotes Jimmy V. I guess you can see that I’m older and far more cynical now, but I’m still left searching for answers as to how a man who had once drawn so much ire, all that venom, from so many, could now be revered for offering such a redeeming and lasting message.

Why is it that even now, when I watch his ESPY speech each December – like I am now – I’m left nostalgic for an era of State basketball that I hardly remember, and even more ironic, an era that bears the ultimate responsibility for having created the darkest years of State’s rich basketball heritage?

Maybe I’m not the right one to adequately answer why V’s legacy still rings so proudly among us, especially for those of us keenly aware of the ramifications of his indiscriminate oversight while at State. Perhaps it’s quite simply that his message transcends the very essence, the indelible persona, of what it requires to be a State fan: hope.

For the last twenty years, hope has defined us.

After all, it’s all we’ve had.

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20 Responses to Jimmy V Week

  1. redwolf87 12/06/2011 at 10:24 PM #

    This is good.


  2. pack76 12/06/2011 at 10:41 PM #

    Thanks for posting this. Always good to remember the good ole days!

  3. coyotejoe 12/06/2011 at 11:05 PM #

    I was at that Duke game and still Laugh, Think, and Cry when I remember that day…damn near beat Duke that day with a woefully outmanned team.

    I also remember an interview when they asked V why he recruited Chris Washburn, and V said, “If I didn’t recruit him, he would be down the road kicking my ass.”

    ‘Nough said, in my book.

  4. mak4dpak 12/06/2011 at 11:22 PM #

    Jimmy V was a great coach, and I will always wonder if he would still be around, if not for the basketball scandal. The university was bound to make an example of him, though the UNXs of the world would have settled for a slap on the wrist. We seemed to have been cursed when Jimmy V was taken down, and I hope Gott can change that. Not that there should have been accountability on Coach V, but did we go to far?

  5. drgreenhouse 12/07/2011 at 12:02 AM #

    Excellent Post! Posts like this remind me how lucky we were to have Coach Valvano on the sidelines for a much-to-brief period of time. It also reminds me of how important Coach K & Dickie V. have been in promoting Jim Valvano’s legacy.

  6. mook21 12/07/2011 at 12:06 AM #

    I graduated in 1992, met Jimmy V while on campus as a freshman. I lived through the hell. I loved state way back to watching Hawkeye Whitney play Carolina. For what our school did to Jimmy V, I hate it. I have not been back but twice. I find myself not hating Duke because of how Coach K shows more respect for Coach V than anyone in State’s administration. I feel such a loss when the numbers of championships comes up. I swear I will not let State rip out my heart yet again. I hope my kids do not pull for State and experience the pain. Yet every time there is a glimmer of hope, I get excited. I felt so exhausted, so down, yet so hopeful after the Indiana loss, something I haven’t felt watching State b-ball in a long time. Yet I hope and pray that someday the school can acknowledge Coach V like ESPN does and appreciate him for the positives. I hope we can be great again under coach Gott. I hope I can take my boys to see a State game where the passion of the crowd is like it was back in Reynolds. Damn, I do feel such a sense of loss with the past 20 years.

  7. mook21 12/07/2011 at 12:08 AM #

    … But I still feel hope, which gets back to what Coach V taught us!

    Sorry for the novel!!

  8. dubcaps 12/07/2011 at 12:50 AM #

    for what it’s worth there is currently a project underway to honor case, sloan, and valvano


  9. Wufpacker 12/07/2011 at 12:50 AM #

    “This strife remained internal, however, until after a vile, poorly written book (which I refuse to even name here, in the fear it would generate curiosity), rife with inaccuracies and egregious, unfounded accusations….”

    OK, admit it…who else but myself is guilty of this? You’re flipping channels and pass by ESPNClassic. You catch a familiar face, but can’t place it as you click by. Before even fully realizing, you click back, only to realize too late that it’s the beloved Mr. Golenbock enjoying his 15 minutes of mass media fame after the publishing “the book”. Without the knee jerk reaction even being fully processed by your brain, the body reflexively acts. You simultaneously shout “F***ING HACK!”, and throw the nearest reasonably aerodynamic object at the screen (which sometimes is an open beverage).

    Anyway….maybe it’s just me. And I don’t profess JTV to have been an angel, either. Without revising/editing history, I have to admit that before the scandal happened I was concerned, not to mention very wary of the addition of AD to his duties/powers. I thought he was already spread too thin.

    I figured it would come to a head someday, but not like it did with the book (and the media frenzy it created, especially locally). It made him out to be little better than an organized crime figure, and he deserved better than that, angel or no.

  10. Wufpacker 12/07/2011 at 12:57 AM #

    Almost forgot…..

    It always makes me laugh when folks refer to us being cursed since the V years. I’m not trying to belittle those that use the term, I even use it myself from time to time.

    But the truth is it isn’t (wasn’t?) a curse, but rather a systematic and ongoing de-emphasis of the program. It didn’t happen by accident, nor will it recover by accident, though I’m hopeful that with DY around that the recovery is imminent. She doesn’t seem to cater to folks who aspire to mediocrity.

  11. Tau837 12/07/2011 at 1:37 AM #

    One of my personal memories of Coach V is from the season that Kansas won the national championship with Danny Manning. State played Kansas during Christmas break, and the university had foolishly assumed they could sell half of the student seats, so when students (including me) arrived, student seats on one entire side of the court were roped off. We grudgingly gathered in the end zone seats despite being at the game early enough to get the better seats.

    Coach V walked out well before the game, and a student approached him and explained the situation. Coach looked at the roped off section, then looked at us in the end zone, then simply pointed us to the roped off seats. We gladly charged the roped off section, and I ended up at midcourt, just a couple rows back. Great seats. University people ended up setting up folding chairs in the aisles and behind the benches and so on to accomodate all those who had bought the seats sold in the student section. I remember that Chucky Brown’s brother wasn’t too happy about it when he arrived…

    Of course I loved him as our coach, but that is my favorite memory, even though we lost that day.

  12. skitchwolf 12/07/2011 at 10:02 AM #

    I graduated from State in 1989 – the year of the infamous “call” against Chris Corchiani in the NCAA Tournament game against Georgetown. That year we seniors were fortunate enough to have Coach V as our speaker at the Senior Banquet. I’ll never forget his opening line: “Rick Hartzell – DEAD MAN!” (Hartzell was the referee who had made the simply awful call against Chris.) He then explained that he was Italian and “knew people” who could help with this. HILARIOUS! Of course, the place roared its approval and it was on from there. Oddly enough, I don’t remember much of anything else from his speech (shame on me!), but that first line was enough. The man was a treasure!

  13. IMFletcherWolf 12/07/2011 at 10:21 AM #

    I’m so thankful that I am old enough to remember many of the good years of Coach Valvano — I was 11 when we won our last ACC Championship in 1987. I was also fortunate to be in attendance in Reynolds for the Duke game when V spoke at halftime. It was a great speech and he had the sold out crowd in the palm of his hand. Great memories …

  14. Texpack 12/07/2011 at 10:35 AM #

    My kids are sophomores, one college and one high school, so the greatest moments of State Basketball they have witnessed were the Sidney Lowe and CC Harrison runs in the ACC Tournament and the one trip to the sweet 16. I do have a picture of me and the rest of the HOZE Squad with Coach V on the wall of the game room so they have had to listen to the stories their entire lives.

    You wonder if they absorb any of it until something like last week happens. My youngest had his next round of choir auditions in the State Tournament if you will. They ended around 11 pm and he calls me to tell me the results as he’s boarding the bus to come home. As soon as I answered he responded, “Survive and advance.” He then posted the laugh, think, cry quote on his Facebook before he crashed for the night. It at least let me know that he appreciates Jim Valvano.

  15. Ashman87 12/07/2011 at 5:49 PM #

    Excellent article. I do agree that N.C. State does need to do a better job of associating the school with Valvano. I’m hopeful that Debbie and Mark will do a better job of it than previous AD’s have. I also feel like this is important because while a lot of younger State fans know about the 83 run, most of them don’t know about the 87 run as well as the two ACC Regular Season titles V won to go with two more runs to the Elite eight and another run to the Sweet Sixteen. (P.S. Should have been three Elite Eight appearances after 83).

  16. ncsu1987 12/07/2011 at 5:50 PM #

    Thanks for reposting and thanks, LRM, for a beautifully written piece.

    I was a freshman in ’83, graduated first in ’87, then finished grad school in ’91, so I was there for the highs and the lows. If ever a coach and job were made for each other, this was it. V embraced everything about NC State basketball – the challenges, the tradition, the history, the high expectations, he took it all in stride and, for the most part, he mastered it. He would have stayed forever. Like all other coaches (and people) he wasn’t perfect. He made good decisions and bad ones. But he didn’t deserve what was done to him.

    I truly hope that someday our new AD is allowed to give V the recognition and acknowledgement he deserves. It’s shameful some of the things the University has done to distance itself from him. It’s been a long time. Before he passed, V acknowledged a lot of the things he did wrong, while lamenting that there was no time to do anything about it. Can the University do the same?

  17. TLeo 12/07/2011 at 7:05 PM #

    Great post and reminder for those who were not around back in those days. After the university screwed over V, I have to admit that I refused to watch any more State athletics and even “pulled” for the teams they played and was pleased to see the BBall team lose because I was so pissed off. V was no saint and made mistakes but none so bad that he deserved what the school admin, and media hacks brought about. I will always be convinced they helped bring about his early death because of all the stress and strain and it took me until a only a very few years to get over my anger and start pulling for State again.

  18. Hungwolf 12/08/2011 at 10:31 AM #

    I was at NCSU when V arrived on campus in his K car. We were horsing around in front of Tucker dorm. V stopped got out of his car and introduced himself. V was a very outgoing person and liked people. I was at the game where Lowe did a no look pass between his legs to a trailing Thurl Bailey who dunked the ball over Sam Perkins on the way to upset win over a Jordan UNX team. Never been to a game in any sport since where there was more electricity, excitement, and fans going wild as that game in Reynolds that day. We went on to win it all that year. Amazing the teams we beat that year. Houston with 2 future NBA allstars, Va with Sampson, Jordan Perkins UNX, Georgia with Wilkins. etc…

    I will defend V a bit. He recruited/landed players with low SAT scores but the rules where different then and Thompson at Georgetown and many other schools where doing the same. V had a very good track record of academics at previous coaching stops. V’s graduation rate for minority players was higher than the university’s at the time. And V really didn’t resign, he was told his contract would not be honored. V took the high road, choose not to sue the university in a case he most surely would have won. He tendered a resignation and moved on. Even in adversity he showed tremendous character and love for NCSU. God Bless him!

  19. wolfonthehill 12/08/2011 at 1:05 PM #

    I’ll always be glad that Par Shooter and I were in the South End Zone for that game & speech in 1993… unforgettable… especially when he said he “wanted to do this one last time”… and he then hummed the fight song… “na, na-na-na, na, na-na-na-na, na, na-na, na-na, na-na-na-na”… and the entire place thundered “GO STATE!!!!!”.

    I just got chills typing it…. and reliving it.

  20. ncsu1987 12/08/2011 at 1:46 PM #

    “I was at the game where Lowe did a no look pass between his legs to a trailing Thurl Bailey who dunked the ball over Sam Perkins on the way to upset win over a Jordan UNX team.”

    Feb 19, 1983. Small student section on the west side of Reynolds, standing up to see over the rows in front of me. Have to agree: without question the greatest sporting event I have ever witnessed. Everything came together perfectly: Dean’s T, Jordan fouling out, Thurl’s monster dunk off Sid’s unbelivable assist, and of course the actual win and aftermath. Reynolds was a tough place for visiting teams, and I was fortunate enough to witness a lot of games there. But I never again heard sheer crowd volume like I did from about the 2 minute mark on through the end of the game and afterward.

    You have to remember that they had owned us before that game, something like 9 consecutive games home and away – and back then, that was a big deal.

    Ten minutes after the game, no one was leaving. The pep band was playing the fight song, but you couldn’t hear them. The only reason you could tell was because you could see their instruments moving, and old Chancellor Poulton was standing at midcourt on the upper balcony, clapping his massive hands together in an absolutely vain attempt to stay on rhythm.

    Nothing has come close since. Maybe if I’d actually been there, later the same year, at the Pit in Albuquerque. Maybe.

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