Spotlight lured local talent beyond the comforts of home

Corchiani grew up awed by ACC brand of play.

Published January 25, 2007

As a youngster growing up in South Florida, Chris Corchiani was different from most of his peers.

He wanted to play basketball in the ACC.

“The ACC was always on TV, so I knew that was a brand of basketball that was going to be showcased and was always one of the top conferences in the country,” he said. “I wanted to play for a program of that level.”

When he was a  senior at Hialeah Miami Lakes in 1986-87, he couldn’t find a comparable substitute closer to home. The Florida Gators would make their first NCAA Tournament in March of ’87 under Norm Sloan, Florida State had a new coach, Pat Kennedy, and was looking to regain its form, and Miami, which dropped the sport in 1972, had only reinstated it in 1985.

“Kids in high schools probably couldn’t have named two out of the three coaches at the major (Florida) schools,” Corchiani said.

Although he visited Gainesville and had the Gators as one of his final five choices, he had his long-coveted shot at a destination farther up the road, smack in the middle of Tobacco Road, and took it.

Corchiani went on to enjoy a record-setting career as a playmaking guard at North Carolina State, joining a small but distinguished group of Floridians to make it big in the ACC, including Frank Johnson (Lake Weir High/Wake Forest), Tom Hammonds (Crestview/Georgia Tech) and Vince Carter (Daytona Beach Mainland/North Carolina).

The state’s impact on the league has grown dramatically since Corchiani’s collegiate days.

FSU joined the league for the 1991-92 school year and then, in a football-driven expansion, Miami (along with Virginia Tech and then Boston College) came on board in 2004-05. And just six weeks from now, the ACC’s marquee event, the men’s basketball tournament, will come to Florida for the first time and play out March 8-11 at the St. Pete Times Forum in Tampa.

“That’s a tremendous credit to all the Florida programs,” Hammonds said. “The ACC is the best league in the country talent-wise.”

In that spirit, the Times figured it was only appropriate to recognize some of the state’s finest players who made their names on that stage.

 So, here’s our, and we do mean our, All-ACC team and some honorable mentions:

All-Florida ACC team

Vince Carter
ACC school: North Carolina (1995-98)
Position: Guard/forward
Ht./Wt.: 6-6; 220
High school: Daytona Beach Mainland
Age: 30
Notable: Carter was Mr. Basketball in Florida in 1995. … In three seasons at UNC, he averaged 12.3 points and 4.5 rebounds, was a first-team All-ACC pick and second team AP All-American in 1998. The Tar Heels reached the Final Four in 1997 and 1998. … First-round NBA draft pick in 1998 by Golden State (fifth overall). … A member of the 2000 U.S. Olympic team. … Has been a standout in the NBA, currently with the New Jersey Nets.

Chris Corchiani
ACC school: North Carolina State (1987-91)
Position: Point guard
Ht./Wt.: 6-0; 185
High school: Hialeah Miami Lakes
Age: 38
Notable: Formed one of the nation’s top backcourts, “Fire and Ice,” with shooting star Rodney Monroe. In four seasons at State, averaged 11.5 points, 8.4 assists and 2.6 steals. … Second in ACC history in assists (1,038), first in assists per game and third in steals. … Second-round NBA draft pick by Orlando (36th overall) in 1991. … Spent three seasons in the NBA (1992-94) and eight overseas. … N.C. State has retired his jersey. … Owns a mortgage company in Raleigh.

Frank Johnson
ACC school: Wake Forest (1976-81)
Position: Guard
Ht./Wt.: 6-2; 185
High school: Lake Weir
Age: 48
Notable: First team All-ACC in 1981, averaged 16.2 points and 6.3 assists. … Had 204 career steals, 25th in ACC history. … First-round NBA draft pick in 1981 by Washington (11th overall). … Made the NBA all-rookie team and in 1983, averaged 12.5 points and a career-best 8.1 assists. Spent 10 seasons in the NBA and was known as “Fourth-Quarter Frank” for late-game play. … Helped Phoenix reach the 1993 NBA Finals. … Assistant coach in Phoenix for six years and then coach for parts of three seasons (2001-03).

Tom Hammonds
ACC school: Georgia Tech (1985-89)
Position: Forward
Ht./Wt.: 6-9; 217
High school: Crestview
Age: 39
Notable: A two-time first-team All-ACC pick, averaged 16.9 points and 7.2 rebounds in his career. … Yellow Jackets reached the NCAA Tournament all four of his seasons. … Finished with 2,081 points (25th in league history) and 4,387 minutes (14th). … Third-team All-American. … First-round NBA draft pick in 1989 by Washington (ninth overall). … Played in league for 13 seasons, averaging 5.3 points and 3.3 rebounds. … Member of Georgia Tech’s athletic Hall of Fame. … Owns a professional drag racing team.

Steve Blake
ACC school: Maryland (1999-2003)
Position: Point guard
Ht./Wt.: 6-3; 172
High schools: Miami Killian, Miami Senior (graduated from Oak Hill in Virginia)
Age: 26
Notable: Consummate floor leader from Day 1 in College Park. … Averaged 8.3 points and 7.0 assists for his career. … Led the ACC in assists in 2001-03 and is fourth all-time (972). … Terrapins reached the  Final Four in 2001 and won the championship in 2002. … Second-round NBA draft pick in 2003 by Washington (38th overall). … Now starting for Denver alongside Allen Iverson and Carmelo Anthony.

Honorable mentions

Doug Edwards, forward (Miami Senior/FSU). Averaged 17.7 points and 9.2 rebounds in his two years in the ACC (1991-93); FSU finished second in league each season; it hasn’t finished better than fifth since. First-round NBA draft pick in 1993 by Atlanta.
Kenny Green, forward (Eustis/Wake Forest). Averaged 14.9 points, 6.6 rebounds (1982-85). Two-time second-team All-ACC pick. First-round NBA draft pick in 1985 by Washington. Matt Geiger, center (Countryside/Georgia Tech). Averaged 11.7 points, 6.9 rebounds, 1.5 blocks in two seasons (1990-92) after transferring from Auburn. Second-round NBA draft pick in 1992 by Miami. Played 10 seasons, averaged 9.2 points, 5.7 rebounds. Alvin Jones, center (Lakeland Kathleen/Georgia Tech). Fourth all-time in ACC in blocks (425) behind Tim Duncan, Ralph Sampson and Tree Rollins. Led ACC in rebounding as a senior and 17th all-time (1,075). Second-round NBA draft pick in 2002 by Philadelphia.
Tim Pickett, guard (Daytona Beach Mainland/FSU). Averaged 16.7 points, 5.1 rebounds, 2.6 steals in two seasons (2002-04). First-team All-ACC as a senior, joining Bob Sura (1994) as only Seminoles so honored. Second-round NBA draft pick by New Orleans.