ACC Legend honors go to UNC's O'Koren, Duke's Langdon, NC State's Whittenburg

acarter@newsobserver.comFebruary 1, 2013 

Mike O’Koren had spent years as an NBA broadcaster and coach but memories of his college years flooded back when Roy Williams, the North Carolina coach, called him recently.

Williams contacted O’Koren to represent the Tar Heels as an “ACC Legend” at the conference tournament in March. N.C. State bestowed the same honor on Dereck Whittenburg, who perhaps released the most famous air ball in college basketball history, and Duke selected Trajan Langdon as its legend.

“I think about my first year at North Carolina and we won the ACC championship, the regular season and the tournament,” said O’Koren, who played at UNC from 1976 through 1980. “And then went onto the Final Four and the final game, and lost out to a very good Marquette team back in 1977. And then, I think about my teammates, especially guys that we went four years together now …

“Just a lot of good names and good people.”

Phil Ford was the UNC player who received the most attention during the late 1970s, but O’Koren earned his place as one of the most versatile players in school history. He remains the only UNC player who finished his career with at least 1,500 points, 800 rebounds and 300 assists.

Duke’s Trajan Langdon, who for his ability as a perimeter shooter earned the nickname “Alaskan Assassin,” learned a month ago that he was the Blue Devils’ representative in the ACC Legends class.

From 1994-1999, Langdon was a four-year starter for Duke (he redshirted during the 1995-96 season) and left the school as the record-holder for career 3-pointers with 342. Langdon made 42.6 percent of his 3-point attempts, and he has developed a friendship with the player who later broke his record, J.J. Redick.

Langdon runs into Redick from time to time in his current job, pro scout for the San Antonio Spurs.

Duke’s 80-73 win over North Carolina in 1997, Langdon’s sophomore season, is his favorite ACC memory. That win snapped a seven game losing streak against the Tar Heels.

“I don’t think there’s anything that makes you more proud that you went to it or brings more excitement than the UNC games that I played in,” Langdon said, “Especially that one we were able to win my sophomore year.”

Langdon was also a part of Duke’s 37-2 team that advanced to the Final Four. After losing 77-75 to Cincinnati in the Great Alaska Shootout on Nov. 28, the team didn’t lose again until March 29, 77-74 to Connecticut in the Final Four. Today, the Anchorage native still answers to his old college nickname.

“I get it more often now than when I was playing,” he said. “It’s pretty funny and pretty crazy.”

N.C. State’s Whittenburg, who didn’t return a phone call seeking comment about his inclusion in the Legends class, made a lot of shots during his four years at N.C. State, but he’s best remembered for one that he missed. With the seconds ticking away in the 1983 NCAA tournament championship game between N.C. State and Houston, Whittenburg shot a long 3-pointer that fell short of the rim.

Lorenzo Charles caught it and scored the game-winning points on a dunk that seems to be replayed on a loop every March. Whittenburg returned late in the 1982-83 season after suffering a broken foot. He and Sidney Lowe formed one of the best backcourts in school history.

Among those joining Langdon, O’Koren and Whittenburg and this year’s ACC Legends class are Gene Corrigan, the former ACC commissioner; Mark Price, the former Georgia Tech guard and Gary Williams, who played at Maryland in the 1960s and coached the Terps to a national championship in 2002.

The class also includes a group of players from Boston College, Miami and Virginia Tech who never played in the ACC. For those with history in the league, like O’Koren, the honor might mean even more.

O’Koren, a three-time All-American who spent six years in the NBA, said he was “thrilled” to be a part of the ACC Legends class, and that he thinks often about his college days – and particularly the lessons he learned from Dean Smith.

“Those types of lessons or learning experiences will continue in me throughout my life, and hopefully I can share some of those experiences with my daughter, and help her,” O’Koren said. “That’s priceless, what coach Smith taught us.”

Staff writer Laura Keeley contributed to this report.

Carter: 919-929-8944 Twitter: @_andrewcarter

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