1983 National Champions
Front row (L-R): Alvin Battle, Thurl Bailey, Sidney Lowe, Dereck Whittenburg, Quinton Leonard, Harold Thompson.
Center row (L-R): George McClain, Walt Densmore, Walter (Dinky) Proctor, Cozell McQueen, Lorenzo Charles, Mike Warren, Terry Gannon, Ernie Myers.
Back row (L-R): Craig Sink (manager), Gary Bryant (manager), Ed McLean (assistant coach), Ray Martin (assistant coach), Jim Valvano (head coach), Tom Abatemarco (assistant coach), Max Perry (graduate assistant), Steve Whitt (manager), Jim Rehbock (trainer).
NC State’s second national championship was as unexpected as its first was anticipated. The 1983 Wolfpack, head coach Jim Valvano’s third NC State team, was a veteran unit with a gifted backcourt in seniors Sidney Lowe and Dereck Whittenburg, and an All-America candidate at forward in senior Thurl Bailey. Although expectations were high that NC State could return to national prominence in 1983, few expected anyone from the ACC other than Virginia and North Carolina to contend for the national championship.
The Wolfpack, coming off a 22-10 season the year before, got off to a strong start, winning seven of its first nine games, heading into a January 12 game at Reynolds against Virginia, which had won five straight from the Wolfpack.
The season turned when Whittenburg, who had scored 27 first-half points and led the Pack to a 16-point lead late in the first half against the Cavaliers, broke his right foot when he landed wrong on the foot of a UVa player early in the second half. Not only did the Wolfpack let a big lead slip away and absorb its sixth consecutive loss to the Cavaliers, but team doctors informed Valvano after the game that Whittenburg was lost for the season.
Following Whittenburg’s injury, NC State lost three of its first four games. Then, the tide began to turn. The Wolfpack won eight of its next 10 and began to pull back together as a unit. At 16-8 with three regular-season games remaining, things were looking up again. Whittenburg, recovering faster than expected, was cleared to return to the lineup.
He reappeared against the Cavaliers in Charlottesville, and though the Wolfpack lost, the season began to turn again. The Pack finished the regular season 17-10 following a 130-89 win over Wake Forest in the final game.
Survive and Advance
Throughout the postseason, Valvano implored his team to stay close every game and put itself in a position to win at the end. “Survive and advance,” Valvano would say, and the Wolfpack took his words to heart with last-minute wins over Wake Forest, North Carolina and Virginia to capture the ACC Tournament title.
The Pack was sent to Corvallis, Ore., for the NCAA West Regionals and a first-round date against Pepperdine. NC State missed its first 12 shots from the field against the Waves, but recovered and managed to force a 47-47 tie at the end of regulation. After Pepperdine built a six-point cushion with less than a minute to play in the first overtime period, it appeared the Wolfpack’s season was slipping away.
Miraculously, the Wolfpack was able to cut the lead to two after Dane Suttle, an 84 percent free-throw shooter, missed the front ends of two one-and-ones. After Dereck Whittenburg missed a free throw, Cozell McQueen grabbed the rebound and threw in an incredible off-balance shot from eight feet to send the game into double overtime. NC State went on to a 69-67 victory in the second overtime, and the push toward Albuquerque had begun.
Sixth-ranked UNLV was up next, and after falling behind 52-40 with 11:40 to play, the Wolfpack went on a run. Bailey hit a jumper with 37 seconds left to cut the lead to 70-69, and after Vegas missed the front end of a one-and-one, he was able to hit a fadeaway bank shot with four seconds to play for a 71-70 win.
NC State cruised to a 75-56 win over Utah in the regional semifinal matchup, setting up another meeting with Virginia in the regional finals. Against the Wahoos, Whittenburg continued his sparkling long-range bombing, and the Pack stayed close throughout. Virginia owned a 62-61 lead, when Sampson fouled Lorenzo Charles with 23 seconds remaining. Charles made both free throws, and the Pack was headed to the Final Four.
The Final Four
Houston vs. Louisville was the headliner game in the first round of the Final Four, a game most people said would really decide the national championship. But while much of the basketball world awaited the Cougars and Cardinals, Jim Valvano and his Wolfpack came to Albuquerque and stole the show, on and off the court.
Valvano, glib and mercurial on his feet, immediately stole the media spotlight, taking the pressure off his team, which faced 18th-ranked Georgia in the other semifinal matchup. The Wolfpack smoked the Bulldogs, building an 18-point lead with less than five minutes to play before hanging on for a 67-60 win that sent NC State into its second national championship game in nine years.
When Houston destroyed Lousiville in the other semifinal game, the NC State-Houston game was viewed as a major mismatch by the national media, though the Wolfpack had won four games against top 10 teams (North Carolina, Virginia twice, and UNLV) in the month of March.
Houston hoped to control the game with its superior front line, led by All-Americans Hakeem Olajuwon and Clyde Drexler. The Wolfpack game plan was simple – control the tempo with its peerless guard play. Lowe played all 40 minutes, scored eight points, had eight assists, five steals and no turnovers. He dominated the game from the backcourt. Whittenburg played 39 outstanding minutes, hit six long-range bombs, scored 14 points and had five rebounds. Bailey and McQueen, meanwhile, helped tighten the defense on Olajuwon. Bailey delivered 15 points and five rebounds, and McQueen added four points and 12 rebounds.
The Pack forced the action in the first half and held a 33-25 lead at halftime, but Houston charged back after intermission and took 42-35 advantage following a 17-2 run. The Pack was once again searching for a miracle.
Turnovers and several missed free throws allowed the Wolfpack to tie the game at 52-52 with 1:59 to play, and after Houston missed the front end of a one-and-one with 1:05 to play, NC State worked the clock to the 44-second mark and called a timeout.
Valvano wanted to hold the ball until 10 seconds remained, and then have Lowe penetrate in hopes of creating a shot. Instead, State wound up with Whittenburg launching a wild shot from 30 feet. When the shot came up short, Charles was there to grab the rebound and slam it home as time expired to give the Wolfpack a 54-52 win and its second national championship.
For the second time in less than a decade, the state of North Carolina celebrated a Wolfpack national championship, and this time, the entire country was captivated, thanks to the charismatic Valvano and the manner in which his determined team of underdogs slayed one Goliath after another in the month of March.