The Wolfpacker

Nov-Dec 2021

The Wolfpacker: An Independent Magazine Covering NC State Sports

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Page 47 of 51

48 ■ THE WOLFPACKER BY TIM PEELER I f needed, Justin Gainey is more than will- ing to play another 40 minutes. Sure, at age 44, the first-year assistant coach at Tennessee might get a little more winded than he did 25 years ago, but he's certainly happy to give it a try. Maybe you don't remember the remark- able record Gainey set at the end of his freshman season under first-year head coach Herb Sendek, when the Wolfpack advanced to the 1997 ACC championship game at the Greensboro Coliseum, not too far from Gainey's hometown of High Point or his high school alma mater, the Greens- boro Day School. Yet it's something that no one else has matched, much less exceeded, since that March weekend a quarter century ago: over the course of four days, Gainey played in all 160 minutes of NC State's four tourna- ment games, barely taking time to catch his breath during college basketball's most exciting conference tournament. Two of Gainey's teammates, C.C. Harrison (157) and Jeremy Hyatt (150), were close that same season, as were Duke's Luke Kennard (154 in 2017) and NC State's Brandon Costner (151 in 2007) earlier, but Gainey is still the only one to ever play every minute of every game through four rounds. The late North Carolina coach Dean Smith, whose team ultimately beat the Wolfpack in the title game, said he admired Gainey's courage for doing it. Sendek, with the multiple stops in his coaching journey in his rear-view mirror, described Gainey's play that weekend as "astonishing." "His performance in the ACC Tourna- ment was quite remarkable," noted Sendek, now the head coach at Santa Clara. "He played in every minute of every game. I don't know if he even had a turnover." To set the record straight, the steady Gainey did have seven miscues in four games there in his backyard coliseum, but none in the championship game, even while being guarded at times by mammoth 7-foot-2 Tar Heels center Serge Zwikker. But what a way to kick off a postseason college career. "Just playing in the ACC Tournament — which I had grown up watching when it was in Greensboro — was something that I had always dreamed of," Gainey said while reflecting back on the moment recently. "To be able to play and not come out for a single moment, in my hometown, I was in heaven. "Coach tried to ask me if I was tired, and I always said, 'No, I don't want to come out.'" It had taken Gainey a while to establish his footing in the Wolfpack's lineup. He was a solid high school player, helping Greensboro Day win back-to-back inde- pendent league state titles in his final two years. He was not, however, expected to be an immediate contributor among the five newcomers on Sendek's first team. After winning its first five games, the Pack lost 12 of its next 16 and was strug- gling near the bottom of the ACC standings. At one point, State lost nine out of 10 con- tests, with the only win being against No. 7 Clemson, then coached by Rick Barnes, who is now Gainey's boss at Tennessee and was Sendek's one-time boss at Providence. Heading into the second half of the ACC season, both Harrison and Damon Thornton suffered injuries that forced Sendek to often PACK PAST Wolfpack Iron Man Justin Gainey Brings Determined Approach To His Coaching Career Gainey was hired as an assistant at Tennessee in April, after a 15-year journey that included coaching and initially administrative jobs at NC State, Elon, Appalachian State, Marquette, Santa Clara and Arizona. PHOTO COURTESY TENNESSEE ATHLETICS/UTSPORTS.COM

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