Burleson, Sloan to enter NC State Hall of Fame

calexander@newsobserver.comNovember 21, 2013 

N.C. State center Tommy Burleson wears the net from the 1974 ACC championship game.


Tommy Burleson is quick to say he couldn't have had a better basketball coach at N.C. State than Norman Sloan.

"He was very essential in my development," Burleson said. "He was a disciplinarian. He knew how to teach the fundamentals. He knew how to take talent and put the pieces together. He knew how to keep us focused as a team.

"He was a national championship coach."

Sloan was that. His 1974 Wolfpack team, with the 7-foot-2 Burleson at center, won N.C. State its first national title.

David Thompson, a junior in '74 and the national player of the year, was the Pack's high-flying, flamboyant star. But Sloan was the man in charge, the man on the bench. Burleson, a senior in '74, was as emotional and fiery as Thompson was icy cool and smooth.

"Coach Sloan and Tommy were both very intense, and they fed off each other," said Monte Towe, the point guard for the '74 champs. "They helped each other reach greater heights."

Sloan and Burleson also will be joining the N.C. State Athletic Hall of Fame together – Sloan posthumously. They are a part of the second class of inductees to join the hall and will be honored Friday night in ceremonies at Reynolds Coliseum.

Also in the class are former football coach Earle Edwards, quarterback Philip Rivers and wide receiver Torry Holt; basketball All-America Ronnie Shavlik; pitcher Mike Caldwell, women's basketball star Andrea Stinson; track and cross country record-setter Betty Springs Geiger; NCAA heavyweight wrestling champion Sylvester Terkay, and NCAA champion and Olympian swimmer Steve Gregg.

"It's very humbling to be in such a great class," Burleson said.

Burleson also recalls being humbled by Sloan a time or two. Early in his junior season, he was summoned into Sloan's office after a big Pack victory.

"I had 36 points and thought he was going to congratulate me," Burleson said. "He said, 'I can't have you shooting so much.' He said I took 26 shots and David had 25. He said, 'You were our go-to guy last year but now David is our go-to guy.'

"I was sort of disgruntled. I had been All-ACC the year before. And then he said, 'I also want you to touch the ball three times before shooting.'"

Burleson again was a bit baffled but said he would soon come to see the wisdom in his coach's words. Touching the ball more forced the defense to move. It allowed him more one-on-one shots.

"The defense got tired of dropping back and going out," Burleson said. "I was over 7 feet and had better court vision. Coach Sloan was right."

Sloan, Burleson built a champion

Sloan came to N.C. State as part of Everett Case's "Hoosier Hotshots" in the 1940s as Case turned basketball into a fast-paced, fullcourt sport in the showcase that was Reynolds Coliseum. Named head coach in 1966, he guided the Pack until 1980, when he left for Florida, but not before bringing in Sidney Lowe, Thurl Bailey and Dereck Whittenburg, who would be the core of the Pack's 1983 national champions.

Sloan went head-to-head with North Carolina's Dean Smith for Burleson, who said he was urged by another prep star, Tom McMillen, to join him at UNC. But Burleson said he had made a pact with Thompson, who was a year younger, to play together at N.C. State.

Burleson, from Avery County, and Thompson, a star at Shelby Crest High, went to N.C. State. McMillen wound up at Maryland, playing for coach Lefty Driesell and dueling the Pack in some high-pressure games.

The biggest was the 1974 ACC tournament championship game in Greensboro. The Pack survived 103-100 in overtime as Burleson played the game of his life, scoring 38 points.

Bigger games were to come. The Pack returned to the Greensboro Coliseum two weeks later to knock off seven-time NCAA champion UCLA -- the famed "Walton Gang" -- and then Marquette for the NCAA title.

"I always thought Norman was an underrated coach," Driesell said. "He never had McDonald's All-Americas, but he knew how to coach and get the most out of his players."

Or as Burleson put it, Sloan was like the "jockey who rode Secretariat."

"I always thought Coach Sloan and Tommy were both underrated on the national level," said Towe, an assistant under Sloan at NCSU and Florida. "Tommy is one of the best players in ACC history. Coach Sloan won a national title and also had an undefeated season."

The Pack went 27-0 in 1972-73, winning the ACC title but not being allowed to play in the NCAA tournament because of NCAA probation.

Burleson was named All-America, a three-time All-ACC selection and twice was given the Everett Case Award as the ACC tournament MVP in '73 and '74. He also was a member of the U.S. Olympic team in 1972 that was beaten by Russia in the controversial gold-medal game in the Munich Summer Games.

A year later, Burleson and Thompson played for the U.S. in the World University Games in Moscow. Sloan was an assistant coach as the Americans took the gold.

"We beat that Russian team that beat us the prior year in he Olympics," Burleson said. "We all had great time together."

Together again

Sloan died Dec. 9, 2003, at age 77. After leaving Florida, he and wife Joan decided to make their home in Avery County, not far from Burleson and his family.

"When I played I think I pushed his buttons a little at times," Burleson said, laughing. "I'd like to take an outside jumper or pass behind my back, display all my skills, and that would get on his nerves. But when he became a resident of Avery County, we'd watch basketball, had a lot of nice talks. He and I shared a lot of good times."

They'd talk about 1999, when the N.C. State men's basketball program was about to make the move from Reynolds Coliseum to its new home, now called PNC Arena. In what was called the "last game at Reynolds," Sloan was given the honor after the Florida State game of making the "last shot at Reynolds."

It was only a layup but Sloan was admittedly nervous, saying the pressure was on.

"He said, 'If I miss it, Tommy, you tip it in and we'll just say we planned it that way,'" Burleson said.

Sloan made the shot. Burleson was there, the big man in rebounding position. It ended just right in Reynolds.

"I think it's fitting they go into the Hall of Fame together," Towe said. "Both went to N.C. State to play basketball and help make it something special. Both loved N.C. State and represented it so well."

Alexander: 919-829-8945

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