One of the first things people learn about me is that I proudly attended and graduated from North Carolina State University.
The “I graduated” part is important because I made it through one semester, which a lot of freshmen don’t. Then, I made it another semester. This college thing wasn’t too bad.
I became a sophomore, which meant I might as well work hard and advance to being a junior. Pretty much once you are a junior, you start to see the finish line and why the heck wouldn’t you go ahead and get your degree at that point?
By then, you’ve got time (years in fact), effort (you went to class, studied, wrote papers, took tests), financial investment (you paid tuition for years!) and emotion (you obviously like where you are because you decided to stay beyond that first semester).
Those things are all important but this blog is really about what happened 30 years ago when I was a freshman at N.C. State. On April 4, 1983, the Wolfpack beat a seemingly unbeatable, top-ranked Houston Cougars team dubbed “Phi Slama Jama,” which had future NBA stars like Hakeem Olajuwon and Clyde Drexler. They dunked the ball so much that a writer wrote that the team was a fraternity for people who dunked the ball with great regularity during games.
ESPN released a great documentary on the team in March called “Survive and Advance.” It’s about two hours long, but from what I’ve seen it’s a great tribute to the team and its late coach Jimmy Valvano.
I think part of the reason I feel so connected to that team is that all they wanted was a shot to be great. If they got the opportunity, they were going to show people how great they could be. The key is what you do with the blessings put in front of you. You can take them for granted or you can thank God for blessing you with a chance to be great.
Now, there will be times when you can’t see what you have in your favor and you might even think you can’t come out on top. That’s when you have to remember shining examples of people and teams like Jim Valvano and the “Cardiac Pack” in 1983. They had a dream and – against overwhelming odds – they survived and advanced … until they won the NCAA title.
You want to talk about overcoming obstacles?
N.C. State had to beat Wake Forest, North Carolina (led by Michael Jordan, Sam Perkins and Brad Daugherty) and Virginia (led by NCAA player of the year Ralph Sampson) in the ACC Tournament during a three-day span just to make the NCAA field.
Those guys had a dream and a vision and it started on the first day of practice that season when Coach V had the team practice cutting down the nets and celebrating like they had just won the NCAA. It’s something he did every season because he believed that you had to talk about it and practice it or it would never become a reality.
Are you talking about your goals and dreams with yourself, your family and the people you consider your team? A lot of people are afraid to do that. Why? Because once you start talking about it to others then you kind of have to commit to doing it! That’s too much for some people to handle.
In 1983, N.C. State faced some major obstacles. But, the Wolfpack was willing to go through temporary setbacks to enjoy the ultimate prize in their sport. Things looked bleak when Dereck Whittenburg broke his foot on Jan. 12 that year against Virginia. It was thought to be a career-ending break, but Whittenburg eventually came back. While he was out, the team struggled but continued to grow with players like Sidney Lowe, Terry Gannon, Thurl Bailey and Lorenzo Charles.
Just in time, the Wolfpack rattled off nine straight wins.
N.C. State 71, Wake Forest 70
N.C. State 91, North Carolina 84, OT
N.C. State 81, Virginia 78
ACC Champs … in the Big Dance.
N.C. State 69, Pepperdine 67, 2OT
N.C. State 71, UNLV 70
N.C. State 75, Utah 56 – that was the easiest win of the streak!
N.C. State 63, Virginia 62
N.C. State 67, Georgia 60
And in the championship on a last-second dunk from Charles off what Whittenburg said was a pass from 30 feet out …
N.C. State 54, Houston 52 …
The Wolfpack did what they had practiced to start the season.
What if they hadn’t believed? What if they folded or stopped playing hard? What if they hadn’t taken advantage of the opportunity they had once they got in the tournament?
We wouldn’t still be seeing highlights of Coach Valvano’s mad scramble to midcourt after the title game. Coach V was looking for Whittenburg, who he had hugged after the previous eight wins. You see it every March. It’s hard to believe it was 30 years ago, but it still connects with people. It’s one of those “where were you” moments for a lot of people.
That team and Coach V had a goal, a vision and a mission. They never stopped working for it and talking about it. They seized the opportunity to be great. As a freshman in Raleigh, N.C., I started dreaming big. I wanted to be great too.
I wanted to be the president of a company, make millions and help people reach their own goals and dreams. A lot of people laughed at me for thinking those things, but I didn’t waiver in my beliefs. All I wanted was a shot. I worked hard and now I’m living out my own goals and dreams. And I’m still working to do more, to be better and to keep aiming higher. It hasn’t been easy, but I chose to survive and advance just like the Wolfpack in 1983.