In today’s News & Observer article on NC State’s loss yesterday on the road against No. 25 Virginia, new Wolfpack Coach Sidney Lowe said something very important.
The N&O struck a similar note to Wolfpack fans about the performance of Lowe’s severely undermanned and overlooked squad â€” that the team played surprisingly well enough to win, despite being so thin and missing injured senior point guard and the “glue” of the team, Engin Atsur:
Without Atsur, a senior who has a pulled left hamstring, the Pack’s chances of winning seemed just as gloomy. And, in fact, the Wolfpack did not win, as the 25th-ranked Cavaliers scored the last five points for a 67-62 victory in the first ACC game played in John Paul Jones Arena.
But the Pack did not walk away from its first loss of the season downcast. Disappointed, yes, but hardly downcast.
The N&O talked to Coach Lowe about it:
State’s Sidney Lowe, after his first loss as the Wolfpack’s coach, appeared anything but crushed.
“I’m extremely proud of our guys,” he said. “That was a tough environment to play in.
“We put ourselves in a position to win. That’s what you ask for on the road.”
A “position to win” â€” if that phrase is familiar, it’s because it was a signature expression of the late, great coach Jim Valvano. It reflected his philosophy of the game (and life, too). It was the “feet on the ground” aspect whenever Coach V would “reach for the stars” and speak of his dream of winning a national championship.
Putting yourself in a position to win meant coaching the fundamentals along with scouting the other team, great in-game coaching, excellent teamwork, etc. With three seconds to go in a tie game for the national championship, Coach V’s squad was in the position to win not only because they had the ball and Derek Whittenburg was firing up that 30-foot jumper, but also they were in the position to win because Coach V had drilled into a young sophomore power forward the importance of staying near the basket for rebounds. The superstar seven-foot center for Houston had drifted away; the heretofore unsung Lorenzo Charles was there all alone for the “stuff that dreams are made of.”
But even before that moment in the game, the Wolfpack was in a position to win because Coach V had realized what it would take to get there, and he said so before the game:
“We’ve got to control the game and put ourselves in position to win the game,” Jim Valvano said. “Going down the stretch, we want to have a chance to win the game.”
Seldom has a coach been more prophetic about the “tempo” of a game. As the final seconds flashed away tonight, North Carolina State won the title, 54-52, when the sophomore forward Lorenzo Charles soared up to grab Derek Whittenburg’s long one-hander that was short and to the right of the basket and jammed it down with only one second showing on the clock.
Not only had the Wolfpack been in position to win, but Jim Valvano had virtually predicted the score. “If the score is 100-to-something, we’re not going to win the game,” he said yesterday, “but if it’s in the 50’s…”
… Jim Valvano knew that for all their spectacular slam dunks, Houston had been less than spectacular from the foul line, shooting only 61 percent. “They’re not a particularly good foul-shooting team,” the Wolfpack coach said. “So we figured we’d try to make ’em beat us at the foul line if they could. As soon as Drexler made his two shots, I told my players not to foul him, so we fouled Young and Franklin, but not Drexler again. Not the guy who made ’em. Make sure it’s somebody else. Put the pressure on somebody else, an old Italian trick my father taught me in high school.”
I remember hearing V talking about it immediately after winning the title, being questioned by Brent Musberger while they’re watching the final 44 seconds of the game. “When you put yourself in the position to win, you have a shot at winning.”
A quick Google search found several interesting hits of “Jim Valvano” and “position to win.” Among them, I found a High Point businessman applying Valvano’s philosophy to his business. I also found survivors of Hurricane Isabel citing V as reason to hang tough in the face of a hurricane. I even found a speech greeting new members of an actuary society quoting him!
And I have frequently applied that principle to my own endeavors.
But it thrills me to hear another Wolfpack coach â€” one who knows what it means â€” applying that very same principle to the team in Red & White. I look forward to many years of watching Coach Lowe work to put his team in the position to win.