Vinny is at the line now, and he prepares for the first free throw in his usual rigorous way, waiting patiently at the top of the key until the official flips him the ball. You never go to Mass before putting the sauce on simmer, and you never step up to the line before getting the ball from the ref.
Vinny's first free throw doesn't swish through—and that will become a source of some mock-perfectionist irritation to him. "It kind of snuck in," he says. "It wasn't clean." Nevertheless, the game is tied 67-67.
Growing up, Vinny turned his bedroom into a shrine to his dad's old school—especially to Kyle Macy, Kentucky's All-America guard of the late 1970s. He wrote his essays at Holy Name about Kyle Macy, even wiped his hands on his socks before shooting free throws, just like Kyle Macy. "He could tell you where Kyle Macy had a birth mole," Peg says.
One fall day in 1979, Macy and the Wildcats came to Springfield to play in the Hall of Fame Tip-Off Classic, and Vin arranged with his old teammate, roommate and airport chauffeur, Dick Parsons, then an assistant to Kentucky coach Joe B. Hall, to meet the team for dinner. For Vin it would be a bittersweet moment, the first time he had seen Parsons since that night in February 1961. For Vinny, who fairly begged his father to take him along, it was the night he would meet Macy and hear Hall say, "Vince, we've got to get your boy down to our camp."
And so the following summer Vinny, then 14, flew to Lexington with Frankie Manzi, another boy from the neighborhood. Vinny was voted best offensive player in his age group at the Wildcat Basketball Camp and made his way into Hall's mind as a potential KU legacy.
But Kentucky's pursuit of Vinny three years later was really just a dalliance. "My father wanted me to go to Kentucky," Vinny says, "but he didn't want me to, if you know what I'm saying." The family liked Leonard Hamilton, Hall's top assistant, who told them frankly that a dazzling guard from Ohio, Gary Grant, was Hall's choice for the last scholarship Kentucky had in 1984. Hamilton was certain Grant was going to Michigan—which he did—and tried to persuade his boss to take a chance on Vinny. But Hall held the spot for Grant. When Kentucky made no commitment to Vinny during his visit that March, he came home disappointed.
"You really don't want me to go there, do you?" he said to his mom.
She didn't. "My husband got lost there," Peg says. The men in her home had conspired to send her only son away once over her objections. It wouldn't happen that way again if she could help it.
Vinny goes through his Kyle Macy socks routine before stepping to the line for his second shot. This one rips through the net perfectly. Carolina's last two field goal attempts fall harmlessly away, and Vinny and Valvano run to each other for the embrace they had rehearsed years before on the Del Negros' living room couch. N.C. State is the unlikeliest of ACC champions, 68-67. Vinny, who scored 42 points in the tournament, is as unlikely an MVP. "The end, babe," Valvano will say. "Fade, and let's get out of here. This is the All-Cliché Experience."
One of the regrettable by-products of the spectacularization of the NCAA tournament is how that grand event now eclipses the many conference tourneys in early March, those little passion plays that give college basketball's Wolf-packs a momentary run, and its Vinny Del Negros a stage. Then, barely savored, they are pushed from the mind by the big show.