Wolfpack won national title 25 years ago
By Jim Litke
SAN ANTONIO ó The final buzzer was more a beginning than an end. Basketball games arenít supposed to get better once theyíre over. This one did.
iPeople still come up to me every day ó I mean every day ó to tell me where they were or how much we cost them,î Dereck Whittenburg said Thursday. iThe other day, I thought I was going to get through one without it. Then the guy at the rental counter here in town hands me the key and says, ëHey, arenít you the guy?í
iIt really humbles you,î he added, ito be a part of something like that.î
Today marks the 25th anniversary of North Carolina Stateís 54-52 win against Houston in the national championship game, what many consider the greatest upset in college basketball history. In truth, Villanovaís 66-64 win against Georgetown just two years later may have been more improbable still, since only one player off that Wildcats team went on to play in the pros and the 1983 Wolfpack team produced five. But nobody counts with their hearts.
It isnít hard to recall why N.C. State was such an overwhelming underdog. Houstonís iPhi Slamma Jammaî squad featured Clyde Drexler, whoís already in the Hall of Fame, Hakeem (then iAkeemî) Olajuwon, who will be voted in next week, and Michael Young, who joined those two as first-round picks in the NBA.
iIím sure lots of people figured we didnít even belong on the same floor,î said Lorenzo Charles, one of the stars of the 1983 team who played in the NBA. iBut a lot of them forgot how tough it was just surviving the ACC week in and week out. North Carolina had Michael Jordan and Sam Perkins. Maryland had Lenny Bias. Virginia had Ralph Sampson.
iSo we were ready to play in any kind of atmosphere,î he said, ior step on any stage.î
Two moments from the finish of the 1983 championship game provided its tableau. The first came when Lorenzo Charles leaped out from underneath the basket to grab Whittenburgís desperation heave and dunked it in a single motion.
iI was out of position,î Charles said, ibecause when youíre going for a rebound and putback, youíre supposed to be a step or two away to build up some steam. But it turned out to be the perfect place.
iI could see the ball was going to fall short, and my only concern was Hakeem. I was waiting for that big arm to swoop by and block my shot, and it never happened.î
Then the buzzer went off, and coach Jim Valvano ran onto the floor looking for someone to hug.
iEverybody remembers that now, but we had this thing that started in the ACC tournament where after every game, Iíd run over to the bench and hug coach, then pick him up,î recalled Whittenburg, who coaches Fordham and was in San Antonio for the National Association of Basketball Coaches Convention.
iSo Iím pretty sure he was looking for me. But I was running around like a crazy man myself, and everybody was hugging everybody else, so he just tried to kind of jump on the pile. It turned out to be one of the funniest things Iíd ever seen.î
Whittenburg paused, then continued:
iLet me tell you this. I miss that man every day.î
Most of college basketball does, too, though it wasnít always that way. A half-dozen years after Valvano won the title, he came under fire for a poor graduation rate and running what one book labeled ione of the dirtiest programs in America.î
An NCAA investigation cleared Valvano of wrongdoing but concluded players illegally sold sneakers and game tickets they received for free. Valvano was forced to resign as athletic director in October 1989.
Less than three years later, Valvano was diagnosed with bone cancer. Shortly before his death in March 1993, he spoke at an awards show and announced the creation of the iV Foundation,î dedicated to finding a cure for the disease that was ravaging his body.