Two Decades and Counting: Ch 5

Five

North Carolina State: Iowa Record (1–0)

A woman wearing a NC State sweatshirt leapt to her feet, and it caught Roy’s eye. The Wolfpack ran onto the floor confidently as their coach followed behind. He was Jimmy “V,” the legendary coach, who took the ’82–’83 team all the way to the NCAA finals and faced Houston. Roy remembered watching the game and the amazing dunk. Houston was heavily favored because of its center, Hakeem Olajuwon. With the score tied at 52, a rainbow shot from Dereck Whittenburg missed the mark, but Lorenzo Charles was right there and slammed it home. Jim Valvano’s Wolfpack won the national championship. The image of him running around the floor, showing the pure exuberance that only sports can provide, is one that will never be forgotten by anyone who has seen that final moment.

Roy grabbed a ball as it swished through the hoop and lightly jogged to fifteen feet from the rim. He needed to go through his routine but stopped and allowed himself one second of indulgence. He gave a look at the coach who was now part of basketball history. Jimmy “V” was worrying about Roy and his teammates. Alaska was a long ways from Iowa and a million miles from the couch where Roy sat in high school and watched the “Greatest Upset in NCAA History.” The snapshot he took in his mind would last forever. Playing college basketball is an honor, and the experience needs to be appreciated. Doing less would be disrespectful.

Roy fired up another shot. It missed. The indulgence was over. He grabbed another ball, popped his off hand against the leather, and the click in his head brought him into game focus. Nobody tracks warm-up shots, but Roy wanted to make them all. He hated to miss—ever.

The game started out just fine. B.J. Armstrong ran the point with precision, and 11 minutes in, they led 30–20. It didn’t last. Tom Davis said after the game, “We played a man (defense) early but we played it so lousy we went back to a zone.” While Iowa was trying to find the key to getting stops, the Wolfpack went on a 27–14 run to finish the half.

Down by 3, 47–44, the Hawks had to struggle to keep up. With 10 minutes remaining, Bennie Bolton, Charles Shackleford, and the rest of the Wolfpack had secured a comfortable 10-point margin. They continued to press, and with 4:45 remaining, Shackleford scored. N.C State 78–Iowa 64, and it looked bad to the fans back home.

Basketball is a game of two halves, both literally and figuratively. The man-to-man defense that didn’t work at first was now being played with heart and determination. A 9–0 run by the Hawkeyes had their faithful fans screaming. Hope was restored. The Iowa fans, both at the game and back home, had no idea what was coming next.

In a flurry, B.J. Armstrong hit a three-pointer, Kent Hill put it in off a rebound, Kevin Gamble drove to the basket to score, and Brad Lohaus converted on a turnover. Iowa led 82–80. The clock was running out, and N.C. State’s Shackelford tied it at 82.

Roy had played well, but the tough defense forced an error. Nobody plays flawlessly. The true measure is how one deals with mistakes. With just 39 seconds left, Roy traveled, turning over the ball. The clock read 22 seconds remaining when Kenny Drummond was sent to the line. He made them both, and N.C State led 84–82.

In North Carolina, they cheered. In Iowa, they prayed. With one second remaining, the Hawkeye’s prayers were answered as Chucky Brown made an unnecessary foul on B.J. Armstrong. He would go to the line, down by 2, needing to make them both. After 39 minutes and 59 seconds of playing their hearts out, nine guys would stand on the court watching as only one had the fate of the game in his hands.

He made them both.

Overtime, well, there would be overtime, if N.C State couldn’t score in the last one second. A pass to Kenny Drummond; he turned and fired. From thirty feet out, the ball hit the backboard and the rim. The buzzer sounded, and the score remained tied. He hadn’t missed by much. No time to dwell on what might have been as there were 5 more minutes to play.

The overtime was as exciting as the regulation play, and when the buzzer sounded, the Hawkeyes led 90–89 and had earned the right to play in the championship game. B.J. Armstrong led all scorers with 26 points, but it is the two free throws, which will remain in the minds of the fans for a long time to come, that were crucial for the win.

Roy had poured in 19 and shook Jimmy Valvano’s hand after the game. He would never forget that moment.

On March 3, 1993, Jimmy “V” gave a speech at the ESPY awards. He was being presented with the inaugural Arthur Ashe Courage and Humanitarian Award. During his speech, he announced the creation of the V Foundation, which would be dedicated to finding a cure for cancer. His speech and the motto that would drive the new foundation, “Don’t Give Up … Don’t Ever Give Up,” sent chills throughout the sports community and will always be remembered:

“To me, there are three things we all should do every day. We should do this every day of our lives. Number one is laugh. You should laugh every day. Number two is think. You should spend some time in thought. And number three is you should have your emotions moved to tears, which could be happiness or joy. But think about it. If you laugh, you think, and you cry, that’s a full day. That’s a heck of a day. You do that seven days a week, you’re going to have something special.”

On April 28, 1993, he lost his battle with cancer.