Derrick Whittenberg threw up the greatest airball in history. Lorenzo Charles jumped over an off-guard Hakeem (then Akeem) Olajuwon and dropped in maybe the most historic bucket in NCAA history.
Those were the greatest days in the respective basketball histories of the University of Houston and North Carolina State. The Cougars were the original and much more high-flying, more talented, more captivating Fab Five.
They were dubbed Phi Slama Jama and they were remarkable: Hakeem the Dream. Clyde the Glyde. Benny Anders. Michael Young, the Silent Assasin, Mr. Mean Larry Micheaux. There also were Greg “Cadillac” Anderson, Dave Rose, Reid Gettys and Alvin Franklin. They were unbeatable … until the underdog, disciplined, touched-by-something-special Wolfpack did exactly that.
The Wolfpack were their own unique story, coming out from under the shadows of North Carolina and Duke and doing something that would be fateful for their young coach, Jim Valvano. They never gave up. Never, ever gave up.
Who knew that the unforgettable moment we all remember from 1983 didn’t signal the beginning of a couple of dynasties, but the end.
Two programs with great histories have never been the same since. The Coogs went to the Final Four one more time and lost to Georgetown, in 1984.
Stunningly, they haven’t won an NCAA Tournament game since. Not since 1984.
N.C. State has gone to the Big Dance just six times over the past 20-years.
There truly should be no reason these two programs have become basketball wastelands. From the brink of becoming superpowers, they have become the basketball equivalents of Third World countries.
UH facilities are despicable mess. Cronyism and a, “that’s the way we’ve always done it” mentality has the program in a shambles. Since the legendary Guy V. Lewis’ left, the assortment of unsuccesful coaches has ranged from the unprepared (Alvin Brooks), to the symbolic (Clyde Drexler), overmatched (Ray McCallum) and quick-fix artist (Tom Penders).
Last year, the Coogs couldn’t draw any semblance of a proven coach when Penders left. They settled on James Dickey, who hadn’t been a head coach since 2001, when he was last seen driving the Texas Tech program into obscurity.
This week, N.C. State finally got someone to coach its team, after at least four coaches, including Shaka Smart, turned them down. It’s Mark Gottfried, who hasn’t been a head coach since leaving Alabama at mid-season after reported run-ins with his athletic director and best player.
It’s amazing that two of the most fertile basketball grounds, along Tobacco Road and Greater Houston, have potential flagship programs sinking so low.
The reason? Neither has managed to match leadership with vision. Both appear to have settled — N.C. State, collectively talking as if they belong with Duke and Carolina, but doing nothing to raise the funds, the brand or the facilities to a level that could compete.
And UH has lacked either the right visionary athletic director, or opportunity to raise funds for facilities. This was a retirment job for Dave Maggard. Current A.D. Mack Rhoades is a master fundraiser, but the dam already has broken. This is a total rehab that must be done to the program — particularly its reputation among top-tier recruits and with facilities. An affiliation with perceived second-tier Conference-USA was a death knell as well.
Greater Houston basketball has produced the likes of T.J Ford, Daniel Gibson, Emeka Okafor, Rashard Lewis, Stephen Jackson, Kendrick Perkins and DeAndre Jordan. They all should have looked hard, if not signed, with UH. None did.
If 1983 truly had been what it should have been — a building block, instead of the top of the mountain — every coach might be wanting to coach at UH and N.C. State today. Instead, they are drawing only the desperate retreads, or those looking for a second chance.
You could see the possibilities in 1983. But no one had the vision.