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For their own good
Fifty years ago, they were screwed-up kids sent to the Florida School for Boys to be straightened out. But now they are screwed-up men, scarred by the whippings they endured. Read the story and see a video and portrait gallery.
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Coach's spirit set new standard
N.C. State's Everett Case helped mold the conference's tournament.
By BRIAN LANDMAN
Published February 24, 2007
One by one, the North Carolina State players scaled the ladder, scissors in hand, to clip a piece of the net as reward for the ACC tournament title in 1965.
One by one, they snipped the nylon strands.
Until they reached the last one, which traditionally was supposed to be for their coach. That's when they rushed to press row and their wheelchair-bound former coach, the legendary Everett Case, who had resigned after two games that season as cancer drained his life.
They hoisted a frail but jubilant Case toward that one final strand and let him complete the ritual he started at the school.
"There wasn't a dry eye in the place," longtime N.C. State athletic department official Frank Weedon said.
"It was very, very fitting," said then-Duke coach Vic Bubas, who had played and worked for Case and lost that conference finale and the berth in the NCAA Tournament that went with it to his mentor's club.
He knew, of course, that Case was dying.
He knew Case not only meant that much to N.C. State, but to the ACC and its development into a premier conference with a marquee postseason event - one that is coming March 8-11 to the St. Pete Times Forum in Tampa - and to all of college basketball. It was Case who was instrumental in persuading the league to award its only NCAA berth to the tournament winner rather than the regular-season champ.
Before coming to Raleigh in 1946, Case, then 46, had earned a place in high school lore in hoops-crazed Indiana. He won four state championships at Frankfurt High.
He immediately showed he could win at the college level, leading N.C. State to the Southern Conference tournament championship that season. After the finale, he and his players did what was commonplace after winning a prep title in Indiana:
They cut down the nets.
And State fans got used to seeing that.
Case won six straight league tournament titles and, when eight teams branched off to form the ACC in the spring of 1953, he and State won the first three and four of the first six.
"Everett Case was a great tournament coach," said Lou Pucillo, a standout at N.C. State from 1955-59. "He had all the players sign a pledge that for the three days of the tournament, we wouldn't smoke or drink beer, we'd go to bed at 10 o'clock; we would dedicate ourselves just to the tournament."
"It was serious," said Les Robinson, who played for Case in the early 1960s and later became the coach and athletic director at his alma mater. "I didn't smoke, but I had a cold one every now and then. ... But tournament week, everything stopped. It was your life."
No one could argue with the results, and that prompted other schools to find themselves a coach to rival Case. North Carolina got Frank McGuire. Wake Forest hired Bones McKinney. Duke brought in Bubas.
The Big Four was born in earnest.
Basketball in the southeast was redefined.
"All the other schools started to get stronger because of Everett," said Charlie Bryant, a former N.C. State assistant who worked for Case for one season and then along with designated heir Press Maravich took over in 1964. "It was either catch up or get eaten up."
'Eat, drink, sleep basketball'
Case's motto was "eat, drink, sleep basketball." He sure did. He had no hobbies and never married. Upon his death at age 65, he left part of his estate to 57 former players.
"He was absolutely and completely wrapped up in it," said Bryant, who was one of the last people to visit him in April 1966 and spent those precious hours talking basketball. He loved it."
Case was a fiery competitor. After a disappointing loss to Duke on a shot by Lefty Driesell, Case booted a chair a couple rows into the stands behind his bench. He chomped on gum continuously. His language would at times be salty, but if he really wanted a player to know he was unhappy, he'd yell that "Ol' Joe Hayes (a ghost) would get their a--."
"He was a character, but he was a great coach," said Driesell, whose first plane ride was on a recruiting trip to State.
But Case possessed more than unique motivational skills, an eye for talent and a keen basketball IQ. He had an aptitude for business and an instinct for promotion a la P.T. Barnum.
Spotlights illuminated his players during pregame introductions. He had an organist play and pep bands there. He even had noise meters installed in the Reynolds Coliseum.
"You'd just get chill bumps being involved with it," Bryant said.
Others would follow the lead, recognizing that Case made basketball an event and he promoted the heck out of it. (He also created the Dixie Classic in 1949, an eight-team Christmas tournament that featured State, UNC, Duke, Wake Forest and four nationally prominent teams that was killed by a point-shaving scandal in 1961 with Case calling in the FBI.)
Case not only sold his brethren on the winner-take-all stakes of the ACC tournament, he sold fans on it as something they couldn't afford to miss. There hasn't been a public sale of tickets for the ACC's signature event since 1966.
"He was way ahead of his time in so many ways," said Robinson, now the Citadel's athletic director. "Every time he saw me up until he died, Frank McGuire would tell me that Everett Case was the father of ACC basketball. That should never be forgotten."
When/where: March 8-11; St. Pete Times Forum, Tampa
Tickets: No public sale. There hasn't been since 1966. But organizers have set up a redistribution system for tickets fans don't expect to use on March 8. The tickets will cost $77.75 per session. A prioritized lottery system will be used to select winners from a list of prequalified buyers. To enter the lottery, go to www.acctampabay.com. For information, call the Times Forum's Premium Services Department at (813) 301-6800 or e-mail the Times Forum box office at firstname.lastname@example.org.