President Obama greeted some championship basketball players Monday at the White House. That it was 33 years after N.C. State’s miracle national championship mattered not, except for the absence of the head coach, Jim Valvano, who died of cancer more than 20 years ago.
Players reckoned Valvano would have loved meeting the president and Vice President Joe Biden in the East Room and would have added some quips to the occasion. Assistant Coach Ed McLean also has died, along with players Quinton Leonard and Lorenzo Charles, who sank the winning basket in the 1983 game.
Dereck Whittenburg, who fired a shot at the basket that Charles grabbed and put through the hoop, said he could imagine Valvano saying, “Prez, glad you got us here. Why did it take so long?” The team didn’t make the trip in 1983 because of budget concerns.
Indeed, Valvano will be remembered as the coach who inspired an underdog team that seemed touched by fate as it moved through the NCAA tournament. In the championship game, Valvano came up with a strategy to hold down the score while forcing University of Houston players to shoot foul shots, too many of which they missed. It became a game for the ages.
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Years later, “Jimmy V” courageously battled cancer, and a foundation was formed in his name. Today, more than 20 years after his death, he remains an iconic figure on the N.C. State campus. And the team, now older and grayer as its players move through middle age, also holds a warm memory for all of the Wolfpack Nation. On Monday, the commander in chief of a larger nation made good on a custom of welcoming champions to his house.