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    NC State's 2012 Hall of Fame Class: Jim Valvano

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    RALEIGH, N.C. - When NC State hired Jim Valvano in 1980, the university got more than a fast-talking New York coach with a knack for winning basketball games.

    The Wolfpack landed a master motivator, an orator, a quick-quipping entertainer,  and an English major as well, one who spoke unabashedly about most any topic from diets to defense.

    Valvano was an effusive personality who brought pizzaz along with basketball smarts that  inspired players, won games and made Wolfpack fans laugh as well as cheer.

    Recently elected to NC State’s first Athletics Hall of Fame Class, Valvano  intrigued  in a variety of ways, such as explaining how eating popcorn could help lose weight “you burn more calories” devouring  it than you would consume.

    Valvano wowed Wolfpack loyalists in other ways, like winning two ACC Tournaments and orchestrating arguably the  biggest upset in college basketball history, when his ‘83 Cardiac Pack stunned Houston to claim the national championship.

    So popular was Valvano that he was later given the dual role of Coach and Athletics Director, a highly unusual move in that era at a major Division I  program.

    However, the joy ride turned turbulent in the late 1980s and ended prematurely in 1990 when he stepped down as head coach and AD.

    Undaunted, Valvano then became a hit as an ESPN analyst and host of “The Lighter Side of Sports” until cancer took his life at age 47.

    Images of the colorful coach, who died in 1993, haven’t dimmed by the passage of time. A few highlights:

    • The tape of “V”  madly running around  after the ’83 title game, looking for somebody to hug.

    • The memorable moment in Reynolds Coliseum, when crippled by disease, he spoke of his faith, family and teams in a heart-felt tone that drew cheers and tears from the audience.  

    • The unforgettable ESPY speech in ’93, when he announced the founding of the Jimmy V Foundation to support cancer research.


    Valvano could coach and he was at his best on game day.

    From his motivational spiels in the locker room to orchestrating on the court, he had a winning touch. He could feel the game, seemingly with a sixth sense, make defensive changes that stopped an opponent’s run or tweak his offense to tilt momentum in NC State’s favor.

    If there was one all-time big game to win, Valvano would have been among the coaches many no doubt would’ve wanted  on their bench.

    Along with the conventional man to man, zones and presses, V was a master of “junk” schemes like the box- and-one, triangle-and-two, and 1-3-and-chaser.

    Example: When a Loyola-Chicago player looked as if he would shoot the Pack out of Reynolds Coliseum one night, Valvano switched to his 1-3-and-chaser, with one defender guarding LC’s star man-to-man.

    The strategy silenced the Loyola’s hot shot and State went on to win convincingly.

    Then there was the day Valvano matched 6-foot All-America point guard Chris Corchiani against Georgia Tech’s 6-10 Tom Hammonds in what initially looked like a colossal mismatch.

    “I thought it was a little crazy,” Corchiani recalled. “Who would think of putting a point guard on a big guy?”

    Valvano’s instruction to  State’s all-time assist leader was to “Annoy the heck out” of Hammonds.

    Corchiani, who could annoy opponents at both ends of the floor, disrupted the Tech big man’s rhythm like an irrepressible pest in a Pack victory.

    “(Jim) was always thinking like a chess player,” said Valvano’s brother, Nick, noting that in devising game plans he envisioned how opponents would react to his counter moves.

    Unlike some of his peers, Valvano -- who played guard at Rutgers -- wasn’t a systems coach. He was more of the flexable type who might change schemes from year to year, or maybe game to game, depending on his team’s personnel or the opponent’s style.

    When facing Duke’s over-playing, denial man-to-man, his philosophy was spread the floor, drive, draw an extra defender  and dish to a teammate in the open space.

    “You can’t pass against Duke,” he said, noting how the Blue Devils clogged all passing lanes.

    His record against the Devils was  14-9.

    “He was so smart,” said Corchiani. “He was a communicator and motivator. I couldn’t wait to hear his pre-game speech -- and it was different every time.”

    While directing a game, Valvano could produce a sideline show as well.

    One assignment of team trainer Jim Rehbock was to keep him in the coach’s box, which sometimes meant tugging on his coat tail.

    So hyperactive was the Pack coach during one NCAA Tournament game that he split the seat of his pants, requiring him to wrap his jacket around his waist while prowling the sidelines.

    “I don’t see why they don’t wear warmup pants,” observed  Pam Valvano, Jim’s  wife and mother of their three daughters.

    Even in the tension of games, Valvano could inject levity. Nick Valvano still laughs when remembering a conversation his brother had with referee Hank Nichols.

    “Can I get a technical foul for thinking,” Valvano asked.

    “No,” Nichols said.

    “Then, I think you stink,” Valvano shot back, causing Nichols and those at the scorers table to burst into laughter.

    The gregarious Valvano enjoyed an audience,  fans,  players. His practices were open and everybody was welcome, including the media.

    At the end of a workout, he would occasionally beckon someone from the sideline to attempt five free throws. Three makes and the players didn’t have to run sprints. It was something different, which is the way Valvano was -- different.


    Nobody knew what the coach might say -- or do -- next.

    Never lost for words, he gave one of his quickest quips on a visit to the White House.

    There he met President Ronald Regan, who wasn’t sure how to pronounce the coach’s name.

    “Is it Val-Vane-0 or Val-Van-O?” Regan asked.

    “Is it Riggin or Reagan?” Valvano quipped.

    Then there was the night State was trying in vain to contain North Carolina’s Michael Jordan, which former Wolfpack sharp shooter and current national TV sportscaster Terry Gannon tells about in Bob Cairns’ book, “V & Me.”

    “Okay, who wants to take a shot at Jordan?,” Valvano asked.

    Gannon - who set State’s single-season 3-point shooting percentage record --said: “Coach, let me guard him.”

    To which Valvano retorted: “Gannon, this isn’t Vernon Jordan I’m talking about. It’s Michael!”

    Speaking of UNC, Valvano also promised to do something special when the Pack played at Carolina in what was supposed to be -- but wasn’t -- the final game at Carmichael Auditorium.

    So after the final buzzer sounded in a loss to the Tar Heels, Valvano grabbed the game ball and dribbled in for a layup. Imagine John Wooden or Dean Smith doing that! Nobody but V.

    Ever creative, the Pack coach also conceived the spectacular “Dream Room” in Case Athletics Center to showcase State’s basketball history and impress recruits.

    “He was a dreamer, a motivator, and a fighter,”  friend and Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski said in a 1993 statement. “He did those things until his last day.”


    It was during his waning days, when at his lowest depths physically, that Valvano perhaps ascended to his greatest heights.

    That’s when he conceived the Jimmy V Foundation, which has raised more than $120 million since 1993 and  distributed over $100  million in grants. That includes a $1 million donation to launch the Jimmy V Foundation Therapy Training Program at  NC State.

    So solid is the Foundation now that 100 percent of all donations and profits from fund-raising events go directly to cancer research.

    “Don’t give up, don’t ever give up.”

    Jim Valvano never did.

    By A.J. Carr,



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