The Wolfpacker

March-April 2022

The Wolfpacker: An Independent Magazine Covering NC State Sports

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Page 49 of 51

50 ■ THE WOLFPACKER BY TIM PEELER W hen the grandparents of the At- lantic Coast Conference gather around the campfire for comfort and memory sharing, they inevitably begin to tell ghost stories that strain credulity. How a full book of tickets to the in- augural ACC Tournament cost only $10, and not all of them were sold. How the three-day championship tournament was played on the campus of one of the league's eight schools, giv- ing that team an inherent home-court advantage for the first 13 years of the conference's rough-and-tumble ex- istence, right up until the event out- grew its Thanksgiving-eating pants and moved on to bigger venues. And most unbelievable of all that, by former Wolfpack head coach Everett Case's insistence, the only team that ad- vanced to the NCAA Tournament was determined by the pressure-packed three days that followed the regular season, not the three months of competition before. For that, ESPN Films' "The Tourna- ment: A History of ACC Men's Basket- ball" has done a brilliant job of stoking those dormant embers for those who have no memory of it, especially in showing how Case's program set the standard that first made the other origi- nal members of the league jealous, then made them act by hiring their own suc- cessful coaches and recruiting their own dominant players. "Every tournament is a banquet; ev- ery game a feast," said Case, the dou- ble-breasted-clad coach who learned his winning ways while coaching in the famed single-class Indiana high school basketball tournament and among mili- tary base teams during World War II. The tournament format was carried over from the old Southern Conference days, when Case won six consecutive titles from 1947-52 and taught his play- ers to cut down the nets, an old Indiana high school tradition. In those early ACC years, Case and the Wolfpack improved on it, bringing in elements of the coach's successful holiday event, the Dixie Classic, to gen- erate excitement for the game he de- voted his life to. Coaches weren't exactly stoked to fol- low Case's directive, mainly because the tournament was played for its first 13 years in Reynolds Coliseum, and Case and his lieutenants hired the officials they thought did well in the old Dixie Classic. Case always liked playing tourna- ments in friendly environments with the officials tucked away in his pocket. "It was all about the tournament for Everett," said former Wolfpack All- American guard Vic Molodet, who played in the first ACC Tournament in 1954 and was named the Most Valuable Player of the third annual event in 1956. "He took it seriously and was always preparing for it." The Pack won five of the first 13 ACC Tournaments, all played in Reynolds' thin blue air. It won five more in Char- lotte, Greensboro, Atlanta and Lando- ver, Md., under Press Maravich, Norm Sloan and Jim Valvano, all in similarly pressure-packed situations. What executive producer Jonathan Hock — who also produced the success- ful 30 for 30 "Survive and Advance" — has done through emotional interviews and long-forgotten archival footage is put Case's and NC State's influence in those earliest day into proper perspective. There are some factual quibbles that some might say diminish the 10-hour series, though only a handful of the most devout "tourno-philes" likely no- ticed them. The late Dick Tyler, a guard on Case's early 1950s rosters, would be shocked to know he was the hero of the first ACC Tournament. It was All-American Ron- nie Shavlik who provided the scoring and rebounding in overtime of the first championship game, with the fourth- seeded Wolfpack beating Wake Forest. Late UNC Consolidated University president Bill Friday would be disap- pointed to know that his attempt to de- emphasize the sport at NC State and UNC Chapel Hill in the aftermath of college basketball's 1960 gambling and point-shaving scandal was completely overlooked. Maryland coach Bud Millikan would be surprised to know his decision to bring in Billy Jones, the ACC's first Af- rican-American player, was not nearly the ground-breaking moment that it should be, at least not as much as the league's fourth Black player. NC State's Sloan would be the first to point out that his powerhouse teams of the early 1970s maybe didn't get as much credit as they deserved and that three-time ACC Player of the Year David Thompson was the most game-changing player to ever suit up for a league team. And yarn-spinner Valvano might even admit he gave too much motivational fodder to folks like Billy Packer when he played up his team's need to beat Virginia in the 1983 ACC Tournament final just to get into the NCAA Tournament, knowing full well that the overtime victory against defending ACC- and NCAA-champion North Carolina secured its spot in the 52-team tournament. No need to exag- gerate the greatest month-long run in the history of both tournaments. In the end, however, the 10-part se- ries does a great job in highlighting the ACC event's greatest moments, from a sick and dying Case cutting down the net in 1965 at Reynolds in his final visit to the tournament to Vinny Del Negro's free throw to seal the Wolfpack's most recent ACC title in 1987. The story it tells best is that the tour- nament and all that followed belonged to Case, and Case belonged to NC State. ■ Tim Peeler is a regular contributor to The Wolfpacker and can be reached at PACK PERSPECTIVE ESPN Documentary On ACC Tournament Gives Everett Case His Due The first 13 ACC Tournaments were played at Reynolds Coliseum, and Case guided the Wolfpack to championships in five of them. PHOTO COURTESY NC STATE

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