A Season to Remember
Feb. 21, 2012
Raleigh, N.C. - All Jim Valvano said he needed for the 1988-89 basketball season was a few good men.
He proved it on a snowy afternoon in Atlanta, when ice and freezing rain stranded a portion of his team at the Raleigh-Durham International Airport on a day the Wolfpack was scheduled to play Georgia Tech in Atlanta. After two charter flight cancellations and some crafty travel agent work, Valvano found 14 seats on a mid-morning commercial flight for a 12:15 p.m. nationally televised game against the 13th-ranked Yellow Jackets.
Nine players, dressed in their uniforms and warm-ups with their ankles taped, boarded the flight, along with Valvano, a couple of assistants and a trainer. It put wheels down 25 minutes before the scheduled tip-off. Because of the circumstances, the ACC and television network allowed the game to start nearly 20 minutes after the scheduled tip-off.
It was the perfect Fire & Ice kind of day, and the Wolfpack pulled off a remarkable 71-69 upset of the Yellow Jackets, thanks to a pair of Rodney Monroe free throws in the waning seconds.
"The odds were stacked completely against him and there was no reason to think after all we had been through, not just that game, but that season, that we would be ready to play," said Chris Corchiani, then a sophomore point guard. "No one thought we could win, under those circumstances.
"But Coach V loved it. He kept saying, `We're just like the Marines all we need is a few good men.' And, to tell the truth, that's why we all had come to NC State to play for him. He thrived on those situations and he made us thrive on them too."
Few teams in ACC history endured more and still thrived the way the 1988-89 Wolfpack team did. It was a team that didn't have great expectations when the season started, but came within one ill-timed traveling call from the NCAA East Regional championship and the chance to return to the Final Four.
After winning 12 of its first 13 games, the Pack was ranked as high as No. 13 in the nation, though it was hardly the most talented team Valvano ever fielded.
"Our sum is better than its parts," he said.
One of those wins, over Temple in Reynolds Coliseum on Jan. 6, 1989, was the turning point of the season and the future of NC State basketball.
Valvano's team beat John Chaney's unranked Owls, 71-59, but the impressive nationally televised victory was overshadowed by two things: the debut of Nike's uniform of the future, the Unitard, and a front-page newspaper story about the upcoming release of a book called "Personal Fouls: The Broken Promises and Shattered Dreams of Big Money Basketball at Jim Valvano's North Carolina State.
Though the most outrageous allegations were eventually discredited, Valvano admitted he was in a deep funk, hardly the wise-cracking, ebullient personality NC State fans had known and loved for nine years. So he closed ranks, pulled his team together and concentrated on succeeding on the court.
"The players have been my support system," Valvano said. "When adversity hit, they were my comfort."
It wasn't always easy, even with his few good men. Valvano called on Corchiani to run the ultimate junk defense on center Tom Hammonds to beat the No. 19 Yellow Jackets in Reynolds Coliseum and pulled off the unlikely upset in Atlanta a month later. The Pack had a home-and-home splits with North Carolina and Duke, both of which were ranked in the top 15 all season long.
An 86-65 loss at Duke put a dent in its ACC title hopes, but a quadruple-overtime marathon win over Wake Forest, the longest game ever played between ACC teams, in the final contest in the old configuration of the Greensboro Coliseum left the Wolfpack by itself at the top of the ACC standings for the first time since 1974.
Though it was a bit undersized, Valvano's team was consistent throughout the season. It was the only squad in his 10-year tenure to be ranked in the top 20 all season long. Led by senior forward Chucky Brown, juniors Brian Howard and Avie Lester and the sophomore tandem of Corchiani and Monroe, the Pack surprised its deep and talented opposition. Its bench consisted of senior Kelsey Weems, junior Brian D'Amico, junior college transfer Mickey Hinnant, senior Kenny Poston and freshmen Tom Gugluotta, Jamie Knox, David Lee and Byron Tucker.
It was one of the most prolonged races in ACC history, decided on the last day of the regular-season. That year, the ACC had four ranked teams, sent six teams to the NCAA Tournament and advanced four to the Sweet 16.
It was a season of upsets and miracles, not the least of which was a desperation jumper by Monroe off an intentionally missed free throw that allowed the Wolfpack to force the first of four overtimes against the Demon Deacons.
The Pack also suffered at least one unlikely upset, losing 72-49 to last-place Maryland in the first round of the ACC Tournament in Atlanta. The win was so shocking, Terrapin coach Bob Wade collapsed in the lockerroom afterwards and had to be rushed to the hospital.
In the NCAA Tournament, Monroe had one of the best performances of his record-breaking career by scoring 40 points in a double-overtime victory against Iowa in Providence, R.I., a win that sent the Wolfpack to the Sweet 16 for the fourth time in the last seven years.
Facing top-seeded and second-ranked Georgetown, State was down by 16 points in the second half, but a tussle between junior center Avie Lester and Georgetown's Alonzo Mourning sparked a Wolfpack comeback with 12 unanswered points. Part of Monroe's 22 second-half points came on a three-point play that narrowed the margin to 46-42.
With three minutes to play, Mourning had four fouls and Corchiani had the ball. He drove from the wing inside and put a shot up over Mourning. The ball went into the basket, the whistle sounded and the 19,508 fans at Brendan Byrne Arena went silent as Corchiani prepared to go to the free-throw line for the tying point.
The and-one shot never happened. Veteran ACC official Rick Hartzell called Corchiani for traveling and waved off the basket. Georgetown scored on its next possession and the Wolfpack eventually lost 69-61. While CBS's Billy Packer said it was "the worst call in the history of the NCAA Tournament" and Hartzell later admitted he missed the call, Valvano and his players said the decision was "unfortunate" and accepted that their season of trial and triumph had ended.
"I've gotten more out of this team than any other that I have coached," Valvano said. "We were not the best team in the conference by a long shot, but for 14 games we were focused on one thing, and we accomplished that (by winning the ACC regular-season championship).
"If it's possible to have something good come out of this adversity, it's the closeness we felt as a team. I don't think I have ever been prouder of any team I ever coached."
By Tim Peeler, email@example.com.