The Wolfpacker

January 2017

The Wolfpacker: An Independent Magazine Covering NC State Sports

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Page 61 of 103

62 ■ THE WOLFPACKER WHEREARETHEYNOW? BY TIM PEELER T his fall, Vann Williford walked through the new doors of Reyn- olds Coliseum, the refurbished old barn where men's basketball coach Norm Sloan's first recruit became a superstar, to show it off to his grandson. They were in town for a soccer tourna- ment for 10-year-old Lucas, who had never stepped foot in the place where his grandfa- ther had a remarkable transformation from small-college recruit to the best basketball player in the Atlantic Coast Conference. It was a Saturday afternoon hours before an NC State women's game, and Williford talked his way down to the court and asked if Lucas could take a few shots in the his- toric arena. Lucas took the first free throw, and it hit nothing but the bottom of the net. He made the next one, too. It made Wil- liford well up with more than a few tears. "I have so many great memories of Reyn- olds Coliseum, so many things that hap- pened there," he said. "To be able to share it with him was pretty overwhelming." Williford took Lucas to the basketball display case to show him the 1970 ACC championship team, of which Vann was the captain and star. He showed his grandson where he was listed among NC State's win- ners of the Everett Case Award as the Most Valuable Player of the ACC Tournament. Maybe Lucas is still too young to under- stand why his grandfather has been honored in such a way, but it won't be long before he and the next generation of the Wolfpack family will know the accomplishments of those who came before them. And then they'll be able to appreciate the showplace that Reynolds has become even more. Williford certainly does. He hopes that the renovated coliseum will help reinforce to current athletes, students and recent alumni all the great things NC State bas- ketball and athletics have accomplished through the years. It's all right there to be absorbed. "I would like to think that our current athletes have a great appreciation for those that went before them, but I'm not sure that is necessarily the case all the time," he said. "I think it's the responsibility of the univer- sity to educate its athletes, its students and its alumni. "What the athletics department and uni- versity have done at Reynolds certainly does that." He thought about that for much of the time he attended head coach Mark Gott- fried's annual player reunion in late Oc- tober. "We were sitting there with Lou Pucillo, Vic Molodet, Bucky Waters, a lot of the guys from the Everett Case years," Wil- liford said. "You want to sit the current players down and ask 'Do you know what these guys accomplished? Your goal should be to match or exceed what they have done.' "We have the opportunity to get back to where we were and getting back to there is what we all want. There are obviously so many challenges to get there, but hopefully it is something we can accomplish." More than most, Williford knows how hard it can be to reach basketball's greatest heights. Growing up in Fayetteville, N.C., the youngest child of a young widow, Willi- ford wasn't sure he would ever be able to go to college. Fortunately, he had learned the game of basketball from his older brother, and he honed his skills on the open courts of Fort Bragg, playing interracial pick-up games at a time when North Carolina high schools were still segregated. At 6-6, 180 pounds, he was still lanky and gangly when he helped Fayetteville High School win back-to-back North Caro- lina Class 4-A state championships, team- ing with future UNC standout Rusty Clark for the school's first state title then carrying the team on his own to the second after Clark had left for Chapel Hill. By the time his senior year was over, Wil- liford still wasn't really a Division I prospect, though his lifelong dream was to play at NC State. He had grown up watching Case's teams play in the Dixie Classic and win ACC championships. He grew up idolizing former Wolfpack All-Americans Ronnie Shavlik and Pucillo. But the Wolfpack was going to be set for further dominance under Case's replacement, head coach Press Maravich, when his son Pete finally became eligible under ACC ad- missions standards to enroll at NC State. So Williford accepted a scholarship offer from small-college power Pfeiffer and pre- pared to head off to the tiny town of Meisen- heimer in the North Carolina Piedmont. Things changed quickly in the spring of 1966. Pete Maravich did not get the standard- ized test scored he needed, Press Maravich took the head coaching job at LSU after just two years with the Wolfpack, and he and Pete took off for Baton Rouge, La. NC State alum Norm Sloan replaced Maravich as the Wolfpack's head coach. He needed to find a last-minute replacement to take Pete's now-available scholarship, since Maravich left just one player, Nelson Isley, in his final recruiting class. About the time Williford started to pack up for Pfeiffer, Sloan, on the recommendation of NC State booster William Bell, called and asked if the forward would consider coming to Raleigh. Williford was so willing, in fact, he had his mother drive him to nearby Pine- hurst where Sloan was playing golf during the Wolfpack Club Jamboree to sign a letter of intent. Williford struggled early in his career, but went back to Fayetteville after his freshman year, where he worked on his game daily, got stronger and learned to play in the rough-and- tumble ACC. When he returned to campus for the 1967- Vann Williford Men's Basketball (1967-70) Age: 68 Living: High Point, N.C. Occupation: Owner of Atlantic Coast Toyotalift Did you know? Williford was drafted in the third round of the 1970 NBA Draft by the Phoenix Suns, but he played instead in the ABA. ? WHERE ARE THEY NOW BIG PAYOFF Norm Sloan's First Recruit At NC State Ended Up Leading The Wolfpack To An ACC Title In his senior season, Williford won the Ever- ett Case Award as the MVP of the 1970 ACC Tournament after scoring 18 points to lead NC State to a 42-39, double-overtime champion- ship win over No. 3-ranked South Carolina. PHOTO COURTESY NC STATE MEDIA RELATIONS

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