Normally, Pam Valvano Strasser will visit Oakwood Cemetery in Raleigh on Jim Valvano’s birthday.
She has a better way to remember her late husband on Friday. She is in New York at the ACC tournament where the conference will honor Valvano, the coach of N.C. State’s 1983 national championship team, as a part of its annual “ACC Legends Class.”
“I’d rather do this,” Strasser said. “When I heard about this award from the ACC and realized the date, I couldn’t believe it.”
The charismatic coach, famous for the odds his ’83 team overcame and his inspirational fight with cancer, would have been 71 on Friday.
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Valvano died of bone cancer in 1993, 10 years after his famous sprint across the court of The Pit in Albuquerque looking for someone to hug after the Wolfpack’s epic upset of Houston in the title game. This time of year always stirs happy memories for Strasser and her three daughters.
That the ACC will honor Valvano in his hometown makes it all the better.
“It means a lot being back in New York,” Strasser said. “I can’t help but be very proud and I know he would have been, too.”
Valvano grew up in Queens and coached at Iona before taking the N.C. State job in 1980. He went 209-114 in 10 seasons and led the Wolfpack to the NCAA tournament eight times and won the ACC title in 1983 and ’87.
Strasser said Valvano would have enjoyed the chance to coach in the ACC tournament in New York.
“To tell you the truth, he would have liked coaching in it anywhere, as long as he won,” Strasser said.
Strasser and her daughter, LeeAnn, who lives in Brooklyn, were scheduled to receive the award from the ACC on Friday on Valvano’s behalf.
The ACC annually remembers a player or coach from each school on the Friday of the ACC tournament as a league legend. North Carolina’s Antawn Jamison and Duke’s Shelden Williams were also to be honored on Friday.
Valvano’s inclusion continues a recent wave of celebrations for N.C. State’s ’83 team. The 2013 ESPN “30 for 30” documentary “Survive and Advance” spurred a new round of appreciation for Valvano’s special team. They even finally got the chance to visit the White House last spring.
Friday’s honor was another nice way to remember Valvano, said Ernie Myers, a freshman on the ’83 team who was in Brooklyn for the tournament.
“Coach V is a legend anyway but it’s awesome to be recognized by the ACC,” Myers said. “It would have meant so much to him to win that award here.”
Joe Giglio: 919-829-8938, @jwgiglio