College Sports

Caulton Tudor: In his own words

From staff reports

North Carolina basketball coach Dean Smith cuts the net as players and fans cheer after the Tar Heels defeated Georgetown for the NCAA championship in 1982.
North Carolina basketball coach Dean Smith cuts the net as players and fans cheer after the Tar Heels defeated Georgetown for the NCAA championship in 1982. AP

Caulton Tudor, a News & Observer sports columnist for 40 years, died Tuesday evening.

Here’s a look back at some of his work.

No one can take his place

Published in The News & Observer on Oct. 9, 1997

Dean Smith changed more than basketball. He changed lifestyles.

In his 36 seasons as head coach at North Carolina, Smith and his teams remodeled the entire concept of what it meant to be a fan.

Before the late 1960s, when the Tar Heels went to three straight NCAA Final Fours and turned March nights into emotional roller coasters, basketball fans essentially were the folks who bought tickets and went to games.

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Caulton Tudor, longtime News & Observer sports columnist, died Tuesday.

But as Smith’s teams, from 1966-67 through ’68-69, fought in vain to end UCLA’s vise grip on national championships, the interest base shifted. It expanded to the point that ACC basketball became as much of a television staple as sitcoms and Sunday night movies.

And as the ACC turned its product into a multimillion-dollar enterprise, the rest of the sport watched, took notes and learned. Other collegiate leagues and eventually the NBA soon learned that addicted fans need not be limited to those people in the seats.

And then, after the 1984 season, Smith sent to the world his famous pupil, Michael Jordan. The sport that Smith helped build into prime-time entertainment quickly became a booming international business.

Smith’s impact on basketball won’t dissolve with the announcement that he’ll no longer coach. To millions of fans, it will be impossible to imagine the game without him. To those people, the sport never will be the same, but neither will a cold winter night in front of the television.

And you know something? They’re right.

Basketball won’t be the same, and to some extent, neither will the lifestyles so many of us are used to. Smith was too much a part of it for it to ever be the same.

Think about that. Few people know him personally, but everyone calls him “Dean.” He is that much of an icon. There was something secure, something comforting, about looking at a Carolina basketball game and knowing Dean Smith was still there, still winning, still scheming, still competing. It made several generations of fans – North Carolina fans or enemies – feel safe in knowing some things need not change.

When Smith steps aside today, there’ll be lots of losers. UNC’s loss – not just in athletics – will be colossal. That’s because Smith, as much as he loves to win, made it a lifelong priority to stand for something more than victories and trophies. He was putting emphasis on citizenship, decency and academics decades before NCAA reform and civil rights became public issues.

The ACC loses because it instantly becomes weaker, far less visible and ultimately less important. College basketball loses. The coaching profession loses.

The games, of course, will go on. They just won’t be the same. Bill Guthridge will coach and probably will coach well. But a large part of the mystique that has been UNC basketball for more than 30 years is gone. It’ll never be duplicated – not by Guthridge or Phil Ford or Roy Williams or anyone else. From a regional standout, Dean Smith became the Babe Ruth of his domain. There’ll be successors, but no one will take his place.

I am reminded today of something the late Jim Valvano said the night his 1983 N.C. State team did the seemingly impossible in Albuquerque, N.M., and defeated Houston for the national championship.

“This’ll really be big news back home,” Valvano said. “Unless Dean Smith retires tomorrow, that is.”

Kay Yow’s spirit, fight live on

Published in The News & Observer on Oct. 4, 2012

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NC State women’s basketball coach Kay Yow speaks with her team during a second half timeout against Appalachian State in 2007. CHUCK LIDDY Staff photo by Chuck Liddy

Several days before Kay Yow coached her first game at N.C. State, she was asked if women’s basketball could someday match the popularity of men’s competition.

Yow said she couldn’t forecast the future.

“But,” she said, “I do know nothing can be accomplished if you just say something’s not meant to be and just quit.”

That was in 1975. The Wolfpack women’s basketball program was a year old.

Yow, who was hired after leading Elon to a 57-19 record during the four previous seasons, was 32.

Yow never quit.

She lost her first game at N.C. State to North Carolina but won 19 that season and kept winning the rest of her life.

Courtside, she won 737 times.

In the court of human admiration, she died an undefeated champion and continues to win more than three years after breast cancer took her life – but not the impact of her spirit – on Jan. 24, 2009, at the age of 66.

“People celebrate that spirit of her life now, but her life was such that she’ll be important to cancer research for a very long time,” said Nick Valvano, brother of former N.C. State men’s basketball coach Jim Valvano.

Like Yow, Jim Valvano was taken by cancer, and both will be inducted into the school’s first Hall of Fame class on Friday night.

N.C. State athletics director Debbie Yow, one of Kay’s two younger sisters, saw that unsinkable spirit during her last hospital visit with Kay.

“It was in mid-January, maybe 10 days before she died,” said Debbie Yow, who was then the athletics director at Maryland.

“I honestly didn’t sense any major change in her health at the time, but obviously she was very sick.

“State was getting ready to play on that Monday night at Carolina and she wanted to stay awake to watch on television. She said, ‘My team is playing at UNC and that’s important.’

“Well, State played very well for a long time, but Carolina made a comeback and tied the game, then won in overtime. Kay was very upset. I was upset. It was just very emotional. I got so caught up in the emotions that I said to her that Maryland was playing UNC on Jan. 25, and I promised her that Maryland would beat UNC for her.

“Now that was not really smart, because UNC was ranked something like second in the country. They were very good, one of the best teams in the country.

“So then I had to go back to College Park and tell our coach, Brenda Frese, that I’d promised my very sick sister a win over UNC. You can imagine the expression on Brenda’s face.”

On Jan. 25, one day after Kay Yow’s death, the Terps upset Carolina.

“Brenda called me and said, ‘This one’s for the Yows.’ 

Yow’s arrival at N.C. State, though hardly big news at the time, eventually was regarded as a landmark in the growth of women’s basketball.

She was among the first women’s coaches nationally to supervise a women’s program basically in the same manner that men’s programs operated.

Nick Valvano said that fact made a quick and lasting impression on his brother when Jim left Iona to take over the Wolfpack shortly after the end of the 1979-80 season.

“I remember Jim saying something like one of the first things he needed to accomplish was getting the State men’s team to win with the same consistency Kay had the women’s team winning,” Nick Valvano said.

That ’79-80 women’s team ended the season with a 28-8 record.

After going 19-7 in her first season, Yow’s following four teams finished 21-3, 29-5, 27-7 and 28-8.

“When the ’83 (men’s) team won the national championship, I know Kay was one of the first people to give him a call,” Valvano said. “They were big fans of each other. Jimmy definitely admired the way Kay prepared her teams and handled the games.”

Much like Everett Case had done in the men’s division, Yow’s success at N.C. State served as motivation for other area and ACC teams.

Eventually, North Carolina hired Sylvia Hatchell to build a national power and Duke emerged as an annual top-10 team a few years later.

After Hatchell’s ’93-94 Tar Heels team won the NCAA title on a dramatic shot by Charlotte Smith against Louisiana Tech, Yow praised her rival school’s success.

“This is a great accomplishment for Sylvia and her program, and it’ll be a great boost for interest in our sport, too,” Yow said.

When Yow was first diagnosed with cancer, she made the decision to become a public figure in a quest to raise funds for research.

“I think doing this could be sort of a small way for those of us with breast cancer to try to unify and support each other the way basketball teammates do,” Yow said.

“But from (a) selfish standpoint, I guess, I just know that trying to be some sort of spokesperson and being proactive will be positive mental therapy for me.”

As the years went along and Yow’s condition fluctuated, she became a beacon for cancer patients.

Upon her death, the Associated Press reported that Yow’s faith increased even as the disease progressed and she routinely talked about “patients with harder battles than I’m fighting.”

Dr. Mark Graham, who helped with Yow’s treatment, said during the funeral ceremony that the coach “understood that keeping going was inspirational to others.”

The school Yow loved will celebrate that spirit, that model of inspiration this weekend. And no doubt, there will be a few pink ribbons in the audience.

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