It was at Iona, his second head-coaching stop, that Jim Valvano first butted heads with Mike Krzyzewski, then a rookie head coach at Army. Valvano's work there opened the door for him at N.C. State when popular choice Morgan Wootten turned the job down.
Duke's first-round opponent may be a bit of an unknown to modern-day ACC fans, but the connection, via Valvano, is strong. Even if we think of Valvano through the lens of N.C. State and ESPN and the V Foundation, it really started at Iona, where he made his name and reputation.
"They were the talk of the town, once they got it done," said Krzyzewski, 2-3 against Valvano before they both jumped to the ACC.
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As he told his team, those memories were fresh for Krzyzewski when he saw Iona pop up in the draw. The Duke players may have had some idea of who Valvano was, but they learned about Krzyzewski's friendship with him, about his death from cancer in 1993, and how all of that connected to their opponent Thursday.
"He told us they had a couple battles back in the day when he was at Army," said Duke freshman Gary Trent Jr. "I didn't even know."
Iona had basketball tradition when Valvano arrived from Bucknell, but it was a regional program, playing other small Catholic schools around New York. Valvano promised more: a national schedule and 9 p.m. marquee games at Madison Square Garden, which in the days before ESPN were the biggest stage there was.
Over a five-year span, Valvano built Iona into a powerhouse, going from 11 wins in 1976 to 29 wins, a No. 19 ranking and the second round of the NCAA tournament in 1980. (He was already altering the course of North Carolina basketball history: Iona's first-round loss to Penn in 1979 paved the way for Black Sunday.) He stole superstar center Jeff Ruland out from under Kentucky and North Carolina and recruited two New York Mr. Basketballs off Long Island.
His biggest win was in the middle of his final season, over Darrell Griffith's Louisville team, the eventual national champions, at Madison Square Garden. His players carried Valvano off the court.
"He brought us out of the darkness," said Vin Beni, an Iona grad and long-time supporter. "Everything he said he would do, he did."
Long after he left, Iona figured prominently in one of Valvano's favorite apocryphal anecdotes.
"Iona College," Valvano would announce when he arrived at a hotel.
"You're too young to own a college," was the alleged reply.
As was the case with the Wolfpack, Valvano's legacy was a mixed one. Ruland was later found to have signed with an agent during Valvano's last season at Iona, leading the NCAA to vacate the tournament win. A decade later, Ruland said Valvano paid him as well.
Under different circumstances, Iona would have been a charter member of the Big East, but Valvano's recruiting success on Long Island ruffled the feathers of the powerful St. John's coach Louie Carnesecca, who considered that his own fiefdom. Carnesecca encouraged the founding members to look to a different metro-area Catholic school. Seton Hall got the call instead, and the rest is history.
All of that meant Valvano's split from Iona, at the time, had a tinge of bitterness to it. But enough time has passed now that there's a good chance both Valvano and Ruland will be among the next figures the program honors, whenever that may be.
Iona has done fine at the MAAC level, winning a conference-record 10 regular-season titles, and one former coach, Jerry Welsh, is a physical-education instructor at Duke. (Grayson Allen has taken his class.) This is the third straight NCAA tournament berth for the Gaels under Tim Cluess, who in eight seasons at Iona has left a legacy of his own, including an at-large berth in the 2012 NCAA tournament that seems improbable now.
But Valvano left a mark, and that remains true even today. Iona may be a small part of a legacy that includes an NCAA championship, his subsequent fall from grace and his emergence as a leading figure in the fight against cancer, even posthumously, but it remains an important part.
For Cluess, who lost two brothers to cancer, it's an especially personal link to his long-ago predecessor.
"We all know him from N.C. State and everything that happened to him and his passing, and the V Foundation is phenomenal for so many people," Cluess said. "Having a family that has taken a lot of blows from cancer, it's one of the best things around that they do that and help so many people. We try to keep up that legacy. When I got there, that was one of the things I wanted to do, was keep the legacy of those coaches and successful programs before us."
Through his connections to both Iona and Krzyzewski, Valvano's presence looms over this game. Twenty-five years after his death, his fingerprints are still on college basketball, and not merely through the V Foundation, but even in this random NCAA tournament game, between a program and a friend who were both changed by Valvano, each in their own way.
Sports columnist Luke DeCock: 919-829-8947, email@example.com, @LukeDeCock