Pam Valvano Strasser said she was thrilled Wednesday before heading out to N.C. State’s basketball game at Reynolds Coliseum.
A daughter, Jamie Valvano, used her GPS and the location showed up as “James T. Valvano Arena at Reynolds Coliseum.”
It was the Wolfpack’s annual Heritage Game at Reynolds, but this had a different, special meaning to it. The coliseum, first opened in 1949, was being rechristened in honor of the late Jim Valvano, the Wolfpack coach who took his team on a magical ride to the 1983 NCAA championship.
“It’s unbelievable,” Strasser, Valvano’s widow, said from a courtside seat. “But like Jim would say, you have to dream. He had a dream and look what happened. I’m just amazed.”
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In 10 years at N.C. State, Valvano won 209 games, ACC championships in 1983 and 1987 and the ‘83 national title. But his forced departure from N.C. State in 1990, brought about by allegations of NCAA wrongdoing and academic improprieties within the program, made for a bitter exit.
Valvano never coached again. He died of cancer in 1993, at age 47, but before his death he helped create the V Foundation for Cancer Research. Based in the Triangle, the nonprofit organization has given out $225 million in cancer research grants.
Valvano’s legacy is not just as a basketball coach or a championship basketball coach, not the mercurial and ever entertaining Jimmy V, but as a man who valiantly fought cancer, whose foundation seeks way to not just fight the disease but perhaps one day defeat the disease.
That’s the James T. Valvano, the man in full, who was honored with the new naming, made possible by a $5 million donation from a group of Wolfpack supporters.
“A lot of people say time heals a lot of wounds and that certainly has been the case with Coach V,” former Wolfpack point guard Chris Corchiani said.
Several of Valvano’s players were at Wednesday’s pregame ceremony before the Pack defeated Western Carolina 100-67. Corchiani wore a red blazer, as Valvano often did. Dereck Whittenburg was there and towering Chuck Nevitt and others. Jim Rehbock, the former Wolfpack trainer whose task was keeping an excitable Valvano from drifting on to the court, was on hand.
Pack coach Kevin Keatts was the man in red this night, donning a red blazer and matching red pants. Even his loafers sported a red Wolfpack logo.
Highlights of the Valvano years were shown on the video board and Strasser beamed as she watched Lorenzo Charles’ winning dunk against Houston in the 1983 title game. There also was Valvano’s incredibly moving speech at the 10-year reunion of the ‘83 team at Reynolds, when he was dying, with just a few months to live, telling Wolfpackers “Nothing can happen if not first a dream” and “Don’t ever give up.”
One can only wonder what Jim Valvano, the son of Rocco and Angelina Valvano, would have thought of the chance of Reynolds one day being renamed and “Valvano” attached to it.
“Oh, he’d have said, ‘Yeah, probably,’” Strasser said, smiling.
But it is a long title: James T. Valvano Arena at Reynolds Coliseum. What would Coach V have said about that sucker?
“He’d probably have liked something like Coach V’s Place,” said Chucky Brown, who played for Valvano before a long NBA career.
“It’s a little formal but not too bad,” Corchiani said. “He’d have gone with ‘The V’ or “The Jimmy V.’”
Valvano’s first game at N.C. State and Reynolds was Nov. 29, 1980, when the Pack defeated UNC-Wilmington 83-59. His last game at Reynolds would come March 4, 1990, a 93-91 loss to Wake Forest in which Valvano and Corchiani walked off the court together at the end.
On March 9, 1990, Valvano and the Pack were beaten 76-67 by Georgia Tech in the first round of the ACC Tournament in Charlotte. On the opposing bench was Tech coach Bobby Cremins, an old friend.
“He was a great game coach, coaching by the seat of his pants, and I always love that I was able to coach against him,” Cremins said Wednesday. “And he wanted to coach again. He wanted to coach badly because of his father. He was upset about the way he left N.C. State, upset about that part of his legacy.
“He definitely wanted to coach again but, of course, he got sick. And his real legacy is in fighting cancer. And it’s a great legacy.”
And renaming Reynolds?
“Wonderful,” Cremins said. “Jimmy was special.”