At the end of my 44 years of covering ACC basketball, I find it somewhat amusing that some of the moments I remember most were not in the ACC or NCAA Tournaments.
Allow me to share three:
Feb. 10, 1991: The first time I saw Shaquille ONeal, then a sophomore at LSU, in person. The Tigers were in Durham for a Sunday afternoon made-for-TV game against No. 1 Duke.
The guy was so huge that he defied the roster listing of 7-feet, 250 pounds.
The Cameron Crazies gave ONeal a working over Shaqs Got a Big Old Butt, Oh Yeah! Shaqs Got a Big Old Butt! but those chants were nothing compared to what ONeal got from Christian Laettner.
Duke had the better team, better coach, more incentive and were expected to win, but the game was surprisingly one-sided.
LSU, ranked 19th, was an eight-point underdog but lost 88-70 in part because Laettner was a possessed man as usual 24 points, 11 rebounds, two steals, three blocked shots and an assist to guard Bill McCaffrey when Laettner whipped a no-look pass over his left shoulder and just under ONeals chin on a backdoor cut, making the LSU defense look paralyzed.
Winded and frustrated, ONeal finished with 15 points and 10 rebounds.
Duke was the best team in the country and proved it later by stopping Nevada-Las Vegas and Kansas in the Indianapolis Final Four.
April 14, 2003: The day we knew for sure that North Carolina would again become a national power.
At the Final Four about two weeks earlier in New Orleans, Roy Williams was so wired that he seemed to generate an electric force field surrounding his body on and off the court.
Speculation was so rampant that he would jilt Kansas and take the Tar Heel coaching opening that it all but overshadowed a Final Four that also included Dwyane Wade, Carmelo Anthony, Rick Barnes and Jim Boeheim.
After an 81-78 loss to Syracuse in the title game, Williams was distraught to the point of near helplessness. I dont recall having ever seen much an emotional coach after a win or a loss.
A few days later, Williams left behind the Kansas program he still loves and on April 14 was officially introduced as Matt Dohertys successor at Carolina.
The lasting memory: Roy was smiling again.
Dec. 5, 1980: Jim Valvanos first game against an ACC opponent.
Wake Forest shot about 75 percent over the first 10 or 12 minutes of the second half, and must have blocked three of N.C. States first six or seven shots after intermission. Almost every Deacon in uniform scored and the opening game of the last Big Four Tournament in Greensboro ended in an 87-57 loss for Valvano. The Pack had whipped UNC-Wilmington and Davidson for a 2-0 start.
Ever unflappable, Valvano was standing alone in a hallway near the postgame media interview and smiling as I approached.
Do me a favor, make me feel better. Tell me Wake Forest is the best damn team in this league. Just please tell me that. I dont care if its the biggest (expletive) lie in the history of basketball, just tell me, he said
I couldnt help but laugh, which in turn made V laugh, which probably didnt go over very well with any N.C. State officials who might have been in the area.
A second or two passed, we stopped laughing and he looked me obviously still waiting for a reply.
Youre right Coach, I said. I doubt if Wake loses a game all this season or next.
A night later, Thurl Bailey and Art Jones combined for 36 points and the Wolfpack defeated Duke and Mike Krzyzewski 74-60 for Valvanos first win over an ACC foe.