Valvano’s last year as coach included stop in Tucson to talk with NCAAby Javier Morales on Mar. 19, 2013, under Sports
While watching ESPN’s 30 for 30 “Survive and Advance” documentary on North Carolina State’s 1983 championship run, I thought back to the time I was fortunate to meet Jim Valvano, although it was under difficult circumstances.
During Valvano’s last season as North Carolina State’s head coach, he answered questions from NCAA investigators in Tucson as part of their probe of the Wolfpack program late in 1989.
I was assigned by The Arizona Daily Star to wait outside the NCAA’s meeting room at the Sheraton El Conquistador to get a comment from Valvano upon his exit from the room.
The NCAA infractions committee met for three days in Tucson in early November 1989 to discuss alleged violations of players selling tickets and shoes. It interviewed Valvano and former N.C. State interim chancellor Larry Monteith for almost three hours on the first day at the El Conquistador. Valvano was no longer the acting athletic director at the time, having resigned that post in October 1989 after the alleged NCAA violations became public.
Although the Wolfpack were in a serious situation only six years after it miraculously won the NCAA title in 1983, Valvano was in good spirits when he emerged from the meeting room. He did not shy away from a TV news camera and reporter. He did not hide from me and one other reporter. He was not consumed by the thought he should be with his team instead, preparing for another season.
I don’t remember Valvano’s exact words, and I could not find an archive of my story for The Arizona Daily Star. I can recall that Valvano was genuine. He laughed with us in the face of adversity. He talked to us reporters as if it was just another day.
About a month later, North Carolina State was placed on probation for two years with a one-year ban from the NCAA tournament because of improper benefits for players selling shoes and tickets. The NCAA ruled that North Carolina State exhibited a lack of institutional control but did not implicate Valvano directly with any of the violations.
Valvano’s 10-year coaching career with the Wolfpack was over at the end of that season as he negotiated a settlement with North Carolina State and resigned on April 7, 1990. He was forced to resign after information about the Wolfpack’s lack of academic progress became news. Valvano was known to recruit academic risks in attempt to improve their lives.
I wish I could have met Valvano under different circumstances, but it was a blessing to come across him in my life. Although he was at the most difficult time of his coaching career when I interviewed him at the El Conquistador, he faced the media without trepidation or hesitation.
His problems with the NCAA were miniscule compared to his battle with cancer less than three years later. His mannerisms never changed during that struggle.
Valvano was inspiring how he faced these challenges, with his chin up, his gusto the same as any of his fiery pre-game speeches and his caring for others as vibrant as ever.
North Carolina State made a miraculous run through the NCAA tournament in 1983, but it is not as much of a surprise knowing the captivating Valvano was behind it all.