If you have a question about NC State basketball history, Tim Peeler ’87 probably has your answer. A Technician alumnus and former newspaper reporter, Tim is managing editor of GoPack.com, NC State’s official athletics website, and has been called the university’s “unofficial sports historian.” In late October, UNC Press published his book, NC State Basketball: 100 Years of Innovation. It’s a comprehensive look at the first century of Wolfpack men’s basketball, and it’s full of great pictures and interesting stories.
We caught up with Tim recently for a Q&A about the first 100 years of NC State men’s basketball. Later this week, we’ll post a Q&A with Tim’s co-author Roger Winstead ’87, as well as additional photos. Tim and Roger are scheduled to do a talk and book signing on Thursday, Nov. 4, at 7 p.m. in the Assembly Room at D.H. Hill Library.
We all know names like Everett Case and David Thompson. Is there someone who was just as important to NC State basketball but who’s mostly forgotten?
One of the most important is basketball/football coach Gus Tebell. He was a former All-America basketball player at Wisconsin under Dr. Walter Meanwell and a contemporary of Case, who crossed paths with Tebell when he went to Wisconsin in the early 1920s to learn under Meanwell. Tebell was the co-head coach of a professional football team right after he left college. He then came to NC State in 1924 as an assistant football coach for Buck Shaw.
When Shaw left after the 1924 season, Tebell was named head football coach. He also replaced Harry Hartsell as head basketball coach. He was the head coach when Thompson Gym opened. Tebell played the Meanwell System — short, intricate passes and set plays that resulted in a lot of points. That, coupled with the fact that he introduced bright red uniforms and had a star player named Rochelle “Red” Johnson, led writers to call his team the “Red Terrors,” a name that stuck for more than three decades.
Tebell is the only coach in the history of the Southern Conference (and its offshoot, the ACC) to win conference titles in both football (1927) and basketball (1929). He left NC State to be the head basketball coach and a football assistant at Virginia. While serving as Virginia’s athletics director and president of the Southern Conference, Tebell invited Converse shoe salesman Chuck Taylor, a longtime friend, to speak at the inaugural meeting of the Raleigh Touchdown Club, which was held during the Southern Conference basketball tournament at the Raleigh Memorial Auditorium in early March. When Taylor was asked who should be NC State’s next coach, he recommended Case.
You’ve done a lot of digging in archives and in the basement of Reynolds Coliseum. What’s the most interesting or unusual artifact or piece of memorabilia you found?
There was a box of magazines — Scholastic Coach, Coaching News, a handful of other now-defunct coaching magazines — stored up there, many of which were addressed to Case’s office in Reynolds or his home in Cameron Village. There were also a handful of Southern Conference and ACC Tournament programs, dating back to the late 1930s. And finally, several diagrams of Case’s fastbreak and halfcourt plays.
Case, Sloan and Valvano all had distinct coaching styles. What were they like and why were they such good fits for NC State?
Case was a marketer but not exactly a great floor coach. That’s why he had Butter Anderson, Lee Terrill, Vic Bubas and a handful of other capable assistants through the years. Case was a visionary off the court. He knew Reynolds Coliseum was the best arena in the South and that he could host great events like the Dixie Classic, the ACC Tournament and the NCAA Regionals. He also knew he would always have the biggest homecourt advantage there.
Sloan hated being called “Stormin’ Norman,” but it might be the most appropriate nickname in school history. He was driven by his competitive nature and his passion. He did not like people who did not share that same passion, especially opposing coaches and sportswriters. (He admitted in later years that he probably a little hard on “the worm brigade,” his pet name for newspaper reporters.) Even though he fought with Case and quit basketball in a dispute over playing time, he loved the coach who recruited him to NC State and fought to keep his legacy alive. One of the classiest things ever done by any coach in NC State basketball history was, after the 1974 NCAA championship, Sloan had the team bus pull over at the cemetery on Glenwood Avenue where Case is buried to pay tribute to the coach who brought big-time basketball to North Carolina.
Valvano is remembered as a showman who made people laugh. But he doesn’t get enough credit for being a great game coach. He was so excited over plays that worked that he would grab a reporter’s notebook and diagram the play to show everyone in the locker room after the game. Many people remember only the play at the end of the 1983 championship game, but Valvano did a masterful job keeping his team “surviving and advancing” in the nine postseason games that led up to that point.
The common theme among the three of them is their shared passion for their profession. Case wanted to promote the game and see a basketball hoop in every driveway. Sloan wanted to beat Carolina, Maryland and everybody else. Valvano wanted to be the life of the party and found that the best way to do that was by winning and talking about it on television.
Other than the 1974 and 1983 teams, is there a team that stands out as one that Wolfpack fans should remember?
Case had several teams that could have won national championships. But because the NIT and the NCAA were competing for the best teams in the earliest days of their championships, no coach emphasized those tournaments more than their own conference tournaments. Case was more proud of winning nine conference titles in 10 years and a total of 11 conference titles during his tenure than he was of advancing to the national semifinals (or Final Four, as we would call it now) in 1950. Someone asked him if he ever got tired of winning conference titles. “No,” he said, channeling his inner Julius Hodge. “It’s just like eating. You don’t get tired of eating, do you?”
Case’s best team was in 1956, with senior All-Americans Ronnie Shavlik and Vic Molodet. They won 23 straight ACC games over two years and three consecutive ACC titles. They were poised to square off against top-ranked San Francisco and Bill Russell in the NCAA Tournament, but Shavlik was playing with a broken wrist he suffered in the regular-season finale. In the first round of the NCAA Tournament, the Wolfpack faced tiny Canisius of Buffalo, N.Y., and played the longest NCAA Tournament game in history, a four-overtime affair that was won on a last-second shot by a little-used Canisius reserve. “This is my greatest disappointment,” Case said afterwards.
This year’s recruiting class is highly ranked. Where would you place it among freshman classes from the past?
Here is my list of five great recruiting classes, based on what they accomplished during their college basketball careers and afterward. If C.J. Leslie, Lorenzo Brown and Ryan Harrow want to be remembered as one of the best recruiting classes in NC State history, they will have to meet these accomplishments.
1946-47 In the fall of 1946, Everett Case brought in a slew of new players that he recruited from Indiana high schools and the military teams he coached for and against during World War II. He also had open tryouts on campus. When the Red Terrors took the court, they had only one returning player from the previous team, junior Leo Katkaveck. The rest of the team was made of up freshmen who would go on to help the Wolfpack win four consecutive Southern Conference championships: Dick Dickey, Pete Negley, Jack McComas, Charlie Stine, Warren Cartier, Bob Hahn and Eddie Bartels. Dickey established the school record for scoring and was a four-time first team all-conference selection.
1971-72 In the fall of 1971, seven newcomers arrived in Raleigh, led by heralded leaper David Thompson from Shelby. The other players in the class had some talent too, with Tim Stoddard, Craig Kuzsmaul, Mark Moeller, John McNeely, Mike Dempsey and Monte Towe. McNeely and Dempsey eventually went elsewhere, but the rest of the class joined 7-foot-3 center Tommy Burleson the next season and began one of the greatest runs in ACC history, winning back-to-back ACC championships and the 1974 NCAA title, ending UCLA’s dominance of college basketball and compiling a two-year record of 57-1.
1981-82 When Jim Valvano replaced Norm Sloan as head coach in 1980, he wanted to make a real splash with his first recruiting class, so he delayed signing anyone after he was hired in late March 1980. The only freshman on his first team was Harold Thompson, who had been recruited by Sloan before the veteran Wolfpack coach departed for Florida. Valvano wanted to bring in a class that would help the Wolfpack win another national title, so he signed, in this order, center Cozell McQueen, All-America forward Mike Warren, All-America forward Walter “Dinky” Proctor, two-sport player Terry Gannon and a player known as “the sleeper of the East,” Lorenzo Charles. By their second year, that group of sophomores blended well with a trio of seniors named Lowe, Whittenburg and Bailey and went on the NCAA Tournament’s greatest postseason run.
1984-85 In 1984, Valvano brought in a five-player class that was ranked as one of the nation’s top recruiting classes. Led by All-America center Chris Washburn, considered to be the top player in the country, the class featured guard Quentin Jackson and forward John Thompson, and a couple of throw-ins named Nate McMillan and Vinny Del Negro. McMillan was a product of Raleigh’s Enloe High School who had always wanted to play at NC State and had spent two years at Chown College. Del Negro was a skinny guy from Springfield, Mass. Washburn was a troubled star during his Wolfpack career but became a first-round draft pick. McMillan, after leading the team to back-to-back Elite Eight appearances, moved on to a successful NBA playing career. Del Negro and Jackson helped the Wolfpack win the 1987 ACC Championship. Del Negro also had a long professional playing career. And both McMillan and Del Negro have been head coaches for two NBA franchises.
2001-02 Heading into this sixth season at NC State, head coach Herb Sendek needed a recruiting class that would help him get over the loss of Parade All-America Damien Wilkins, who had played two years for the Wolfpack, declared for the NBA and ended up transferring to Georgia. That bitter memory quickly faded with the arrival of Julius Hodge, Ilian Evtimov, Josh Powell, Jordan Collins and Levi Watkins. They helped the Wolfpack end its 11-year absence from the NCAA Tournament and begin a run of five consecutive appearances in the Big Dance.
Who was the most colorful personality in NC State basketball history?
Valvano, hands down. The guy could have done standup for a living. Dick Vitale once told me that part of UCLA’s offer to Valvano in 1986 was his own sitcom. I bet it would have been a huge hit. Valvano was funny after wins and after losses. Sometimes, he just couldn’t help himself. If you want to see the pure definition of comic discomfort, watch the YouTube clip of Valvano on David Letterman. Valvano made Letterman squirm because they both thought they were the funniest person on the set; but Letterman realized after just a few minutes that he couldn’t keep up with Valvano.
Case was a character, as well. He truly lived and breathed basketball and frequently had players, opposing coaches, officials and newspaper reporters at his home in Cameron Village after games for all-night basketball clinics and a little Early Times whiskey. He had a swimming pool in his back yard, but it was drained. One day he slipped and fell into it and hurt his knee. He implored his friend sportswriter Dick Herbert not to write about the incident.
“People will think I’d been drinking,” Case said.
“But Ev, you were drinking,” said Herbert, who usually poured Case’s many drinks.
“I know, but I don’t want people to think that,” Case said.
How important was Reynolds Coliseum to North Carolina and to college basketball?
If it weren’t for the skeleton of Reynolds Coliseum, Case would have never come to NC State. School officials told him it was “nearly done” when they interviewed him in an Atlanta hotel, even though the girders that were put up in 1942 so the government wouldn’t requisition the steel for military uses had been untouched for many years. Case’s success got the ball rolling on finishing the arena. But many people forget that it was almost immediately a boondoggle, because no one knew how expensive it would be to operate. That’s why E.Z. Betts was hired to run the place, to bring in national acts like the Ice Capades, the Harlem Globetrotters and concerts of every kind for the Friends of the College series. Reynolds has been home of political speeches by every President, (sitting, campaigning or retired) since John Kennedy. Because it’s still in use today by women’s basketball, softball, gymnastics, volleyball, wrestling and other sports, plus all the ROTC programs, I’d say Reynolds was one of the greatest investments of $2 million ever made at NC State.
Who are your five favorite NC State players?
David Thompson My first three athletic heroes were Larry Brown of the Washington Redskins, David Thompson and Secretariat. I was 7 years old the first time I saw David play on the C.D. Chesley’s game of the week. I grew up about 20 miles from Boiling Springs, where David is from and heard that his coach at Crest High School was named Ed Peeler. He’s not related to me, that I know of, but as a kid it created a connection that I never forgot. And, like everybody else, I knew David was unlike anyone who had ever played the game.
Tommy Burleson I loved watching him play when I was a kid, and I think his accomplishments are underappreciated because he played with Thompson. But he made a big sacrifice in his own game, losing some of his points and rebounding to accommodate Thompson’s arrival. His presence in the middle was important to the 57-1 record the team compiled in his junior and senior seasons. The first time I ever met Tommy was when he was racing speed boats after his NBA career was over. He raced at Lake Wheeler in 1986, and I was assigned to cover the event as an intern at The Raleigh Times. Watching him bend his legs like a fold-up ruler to get into his boat was a sight to behold. Tommy is a great story teller, and I could listen to him for hours. Ever since I moved back to Raleigh, we go buy our Christmas tree from Tommy at his lot in Cary. It’s now a holiday tradition to watch him pick up a 10-foot tree and lower it to the top of the family SUV.
Panogiotis Fasoulas He only played one season, 1985-86, on a team that had two other favorites, Vinny Del Negro and Nate McMillan. Valvano “discovered” Fasoulas when the team did a exhibition tour of Greece and somehow squeezed out a year of eligibility through the NCAA. He’s the only player I ever covered who enjoyed a cigarette with his postgame interviews. He was about 7-foot-2, had really long, stringy hair and played the entire season with his name misspelled on his jersey. When I was sports editor of Technician, we used to run a box of Fasoulas’ stats, wondering if he would ever get an assist. I’m not sure he ever did. He went back to Greece to play professional basketball and is now mayor of Piraeus, the country’s third-largest city.
Chucky Brown Valvano’s team in 1989 was very talented, with Rodney Monroe, Chris Corchiani and Brian Howard. I covered that team when I was a reporter for The Salisbury Post. Brown, because of his carefree nature and the unusual tilt to his baseball hats and stocking caps and the way he loped down the floor, was one of my favorite players to be around and to talk to. He still is. I often run into him at the gym we belong to in Cary.
Julius Hodge He was a sportswriter’s dream, a hard-working, talented player who loved to talk. He always made for good copy, but I also admired him because he fulfilled the promise he made to his mother, that he would graduate from college before turning pro. And if every alumnus was as enthusiastic and vocal in their positive support of their alma mater as Hodge, NC State would be the most popular school in the country.
(Photographs courtesy of Special Collections, NCSU Libraries; book cover art courtesy of Roger Winstead ’87)