The Wolfpacker

September 2018

The Wolfpacker: An Independent Magazine Covering NC State Sports

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Page 83 of 95

84 ■ THE WOLFPACKER BY TIM PEELER S am Esposito was long out of basketball coaching when Norm Sloan stormed off to Florida following the 1979-80 NC State men's basketball season. Esposito had given up his assistant coaching position on Sloan's staff — the job that brought him from East Chicago, Ind., to NC State to begin with — to concentrate on his position as the Wolfpack's head baseball coach. No one knew if Sloan's Wolfpack Rat Pack — which included Sloan, Esposito, Wolfpack Club executive director Charlie Bryant, as- sistant basketball coach and former NC State star Eddie Biedenbach, and others — would survive with a new guy in Sloan's office. Would he play liar's poker with them? Or smoke cigars? Would he hang out to tell sto- ries (some true, some stretched) as the group had always done with Sloan and his guys? They didn't need to worry. The new guy, Jim Valvano, could hold his own with the good old boys of Case Athletics Center's third floor. Not only did Valvano, a big-city Italian like Esposito, participate, he grew the inner circle to include wrestling coach Bob Guzzo, soccer coaches George Tarantini and Larry Gross, and some young-pup assistants and graduate student helpers who listened with wide eyes and virgin ears. Those guys were among the many who paid tribute to Esposito, who died at the age of 86 on July 9 at a retirement home in Ban- ner Elk, N.C. During an hours-long affair at Amedeo's Restaurant, they celebrated the lives of Esposito and his wife Noreen, who passed away on Jan. 2, 2018, at the age of 86. South Carolina athletics director Ray Tan- ner, Esposito's handpicked successor as head baseball coach of the Wolfpack in 1987, was there to pay tribute to his mentor. Current Wolfpack coach Elliott Avent, one of the younger sets of ears in the old days, orga- nized the event and speakers. Avent and Wolfpack basketball legend Tommy Burleson were frequent visitors to Esposito in his final years, when the coach no longer had the physical attributes that made him a Chicago high school legend. As a senior at Fenger High School, Esposito was named Chicago's athlete of the year in football, basketball and baseball, a rare ac- complishment for an athlete of any size. Esposito once scored 81 points in a high school game, which was certainly one of the reasons the 5-foot-9 point guard earned an athletic scholarship at Indiana. He played on the freshman team of all three sports his first year, but stuck to just varsity baseball and basketball his sophomore season. He was due to be the captain of the Hoo- siers basketball team his junior year, but he chose to accept an offer from the Chicago White Sox to play professional baseball in June 1952. Indiana won the NCAA title the next sea- son, denying Esposito a chance to cut down the nets as a player. Esposito, with great glee, earned that honor as an assistant coach for Sloan's Wolfpack in 1974, after the Pack beat UCLA and Marquette in the NCAA semi- ■ PACK PAST Legendary NC State Coach Sam Esposito Passes Away Esposito posted a 513-253-4 record as the Wolfpack's head baseball coach, won four ACC cham- pionships and in 1968 led NC State to its first College World Series appearance. PHOTO COURTESY NC STATE MEDIA RELATIONS

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