By BRUCE LOWITT
© St. Petersburg Times, published October 28, 1999
Jim Valvano is running wild, not knowing which way to turn next, looking for somebody to hug.
More than Dereck Whittenburg taking a 35-foot desperation shot, more than Lorenzo Charles catching it just short of the basket and dunking it in the final second, the pictures of the out-of-control Valvano best capture the moment -- and the enormity -- of North Carolina State's upset of No. 1-ranked Houston for the 1983 NCAA basketball championship.
The day before, Valvano assessed his team's chances. "If the score is 100-to-something, we're not going to win the game," he said. "But if it's in the 50s . . ."
The final score: 54-52.
"It's a dream," Valvano said afterward. "That's what I told the players at halftime, that they were 20 minutes away from a dream. I had the dream for 16 years as a coach, and they had it all their years in college."
N.C. State wasn't supposed to get as far as the April 4, 1983, championship game at The Pit, New Mexico's 18,000-seat arena in Albuquerque. Truth be told, N.C. State wasn't even expected to be in the tournament. But it won the Atlantic Coast Conference tournament and joined the 52-team field with a mediocre 20-10 record.
The Cougars led 42-35 with nine minutes remaining. Then Houston coach Guy Lewis slowed things down. With three minutes to go, Valvano's dream was fading. The Cougars, who had named themselves the Phi Slama Jama fraternity to punctuate their propensity for dunking, still led 52-46.
But Whittenburg made a pair of 15-foot jump shots to cut the Houston lead to two. And after Akeem Olajuwon, the Cougars' 7-foot sophomore center, missed a jumper, Whittenburg nailed a 24-footer to tie the score. "They're not a particularly good foul-shooting team" Valvano said, "so we figured we'd try to make 'em beat us at the foul line."
With Houston in possession, Valvano shouted, "Foul him! Foul him!" With 1:05 left, Whittenburg fouled Alvin Franklin, who missed the one-and-one.
"The whole thing came down to what everybody had been predicting all year," Lewis said, "that we'd miss a couple of free throws at the end of the game and it would cost us -- and that's exactly what happened."
N.C. State called timeout with 44 seconds remaining to set up the final shot. Whittenburg or Terry Gannon would take it while Charles and Thurl Bailey crashed the boards. Meanwhile, Lewis was telling Olajuwon not to leave that basket. "I told him to stay there, no matter what."
With about 10 seconds to go, Whittenburg momentarily lost the ball. When he regained possession he tried to see how much time remained. "I was looking up for a clock," he said. "I couldn't find it. So the only thing I thought about was taking a shot at the basket.
"I didn't realize how far out I was, or where I was. I just wanted to get it to the basket. I was looking for it to go in."
Charles was under the basket. Olajuwon had drifted into the lane.
"I knew when Whit let the shot go that it was short," Charles said. "I didn't know where Akeem was, just that he was behind me. I knew I was the closest to the basketball. I just went up and dunked it."
Said Valvano: "You need luck in a national tournament, being in the right place at the right time. ... Fortunately, we got the Hail Mary shot to the right spot."
-- Information from the New York Times was used in this report.