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News & Record (Greensboro, North Carolina)

 

The legacy of Jim Valvano lives on at N.C. State.

Valvano, the former State coach and athletics director, died of cancer more than 25 years ago, but in the minds of Wolfpack fans and basketball fans all over North Carolina, it all seems so poignant and so fresh.

The life and his death were a drama unlike anything anyone has ever seen. His rise and his fall were like a work of fiction, a fantastic tale of triumph and tribulation. He was and is the soul of N.C. State itself.

And now the arena where the history of college basketball was born and bred in this state will bear his name. Reynolds Coliseum will once again be rechristened.

Kay Yow Court at James T. Valvano Arena at William Neal Reynolds Coliseum will be dedicated in a ceremony Dec. 5. before State's annual Heritage Game against Western Carolina.

It's a long name and it comes with a gift of $5 million from "a group of generous supporters" as a part of a $35 million Reynolds renovation project within the school's $1.6 billion capital gains campaign, according to a news release.

"Coach Valvano captured the hearts of Wolfpack fans with his coaching success and dynamic personality," said Debbie Yow, State's AD and the sister of Hall of Fame women's basketball coach Kay Yow. "Thanks to a small group of N.C. State alums, we can further memorialize his contributions through this naming opportunity in his beloved Reynolds Coliseum."

It took all these years for State to come up with a fitting way to honor its fallen coach. It took all these years for State to come to grips with the entire story of Valvano. The final days of his career were soiled by allegations, some proven by an NCAA investigation, and some so galling in circumstance that they took down Valvano and cast State's basketball program into an era of darkness that it has really never fully recovered from.

The sadness of his final days on earth are what we try to hold on to now, his courage in the face of incurable cancer, his speeches delivered on the floor at Reynolds and on the stage of the ESPY awards reverberating through the years.

"Don't give up," he told us. "Don't ever give up."

The V Foundation, formed in honor of Valvano in 1993, has now awarded more than $200 million in cancer research grants.

He has become larger in death than he ever was in life, which is saying something because he was as big a personality this state has ever seen, part basketball coach and part salesman, part sports legend and part circus director.

Valvano streaked across this state like a burning comet, and he burned out completely before our very eyes.

It's hard to describe what it was like watching the 1983 NCAA Tournament with State already in a magical run from the regular season through the ACC Tournament that year. Taking a senior-laden team that included no stars but a roster filled with characters as interesting as their coach, Valvano taught his players how to cut down nets in practice then cried as he watched them cut down the nets in Albuquerque.

That team took this state and the entire sport of college basketball on a ride that still entertains all these years later. It was, in the eyes of many of us who made our careers out of watching sports, the most incredible sports story we ever witnessed.

And it made the fall from grace all the more precipitous.

A book cover from a flawed account of Valvano's program started an investigation that resulted in the NCAA, the UNC Board of Governors, the State Bureau of Investigation and the school itself poring over N.C. State players' grades and activities, revealing corruption from players selling tickets and shoes to players admitting to accepting cash, and in two dramatic allegations, of shaving points.

The charges landed State on probation and eventually cost Valvano his career. There are those who believe it cost him his life. The cancer came quickly and it spread ruthlessly, and it took Valvano, at 47, from us on April 28, 1993.

All these years later, it's his smile and his laugh, his soaring stories and his remarkable ability to amuse that we remember. It isn't the fall that we hold to in memory but the meteoric rise to prominence that made him a household name and put this state back on the college basketball map, where it remains to this day at the very top of the game.

His is a complicated tale. And there's no waxing over the details.

But we'll meet in the arena where it all went down in three weeks and celebrate. He was one of us, after all.

Jim Valvano took us all on a thrill ride no one here will ever forget.

Contact Ed Hardin at 336-373-7069, and follow @Ed_Hardin on Twitter.

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November 15, 2018
 
 
 

 

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