They were champions without the rings, but that will soon change.
N.C. State won the 1970 ACC basketball championship, upsetting South Carolina, giving Norman Sloan his first ACC title as the Wolfpack coach.
“Back in those days, no one got rings,” said Vann Williford, a senior and All-ACC forward on the 1969-70 team. “Trophies, but not rings.”
But thanks to the efforts of Williford, he and the other team members – players, coaches, trainer, managers – will have rings. N.C. State has agreed to buy and award the rings, preferably at halftime of a basketball game, but no date has been set.
Williford attended the gala for the renovated Reynolds Coliseum in September and said he was struck by one of the new display cases that had rings honoring some of the Pack’s past basketball champions, including 1970.
In 1970, South Carolina was 14-0 in the ACC in the regular season. The Gamecocks, coached by Frank McGuire, had All-America guard John Roche and a team that included several native New Yorkers, including guard Bobby Cremins.
The ACC tournament was in Charlotte and an NCAA regional was set for Columbia, S.C., the next week. The third-ranked Gamecocks seemingly had a clear path to the Final Four and a shot at a national championship.
And then the Pack ruined all that. N.C. State won 42-39 in double overtime in the title game, taking a late lead when guard Ed Leftwich stole the ball from Cremins for a breakaway layup.
Only the ACC champion advanced to the NCAA Tournament. As a regional host South Carolina was not allowed to play in the NIT. The Gamecocks’ season was over, and a year later USC departed the ACC.
The Wolfpack was not warmly welcomed in Columbia the next week. N.C. State was beaten by St. Bonaventure, led by All-American center Bob Lanier, before topping Niagara in the regional’s consolation game and ending the career of another All-American, Calvin Murphy, to finish with a 23-7 record.
Williford, 68, said he has stayed in contact with a few of his former teammates through the years, but that securing the championship rings has enabled him to touch base with others.
“Everybody was ecstatic about this,” Williford said. “It will be great when we can get everyone back together.”
Some of the rings will be presented posthumously. Sloan died in 2003. Dan Wells, the sixth man on the 1970 team, died in 2010. Longtime Wolfpack trainer Harold Keating died in 2005, according to NCSU records, and former manager Eddie Wright in 2015.
Josh Dalton, director of analytics and internal operations for N.C. State athletics, said the 16 rings cost $200 apiece.
“When I got a call from Vann I couldn’t be more surprised,” said Paul Coder, a sophomore center on the ’70 champs who lives in California. “I think that is very thoughtful and classy of the N.C. State people to remember the members of our team.
“That 1969-70 team was picked for either fourth or fifth in the conference in preseason polls. We really were a cohesive unit and each player brought a strength that enhanced each other. In other words, the sum was greater than the individual parts.”
Williford, a 6-foot-6 forward from Fayetteville who was slender but quick, was named first-team All-ACC in 1969 and ’70, and was the MVP of the 1970 tournament.
“We all bleed N.C. State red and we were ACC champions,” Williford said. “I’m happy we’re being recognized this way.”