Case was suave and sophisticated. He bought his clothes in Chicago, had them tailored in New York and vacationed in Las Vegas. He owned a lucrative restaurant chain and scored heavily in the stock market. But he quickly became a folk hero among the dirt farmers of eastern North Carolina because he recruited exciting players, coached a fast-break style and competed and won against the best teams in America.
Case had a strategist's mind and a promoter's heart. He originated tournaments—the Dixie Classic with the "Big Four" colleges in the state playing against four outsiders. He forced the construction of enormous Reynolds Coliseum to be completed. He treated the rival teams in nearby Chapel Hill and Durham like junkyard hounds.
In his first 10-year period at State, Case won six Southern Conference tournaments, three ACC tournaments and six Dixie Classics. During that time his teams never won fewer than 24 games in a season and several times the Wolfpack was ranked No. 1 in the country.
Unmarried, unfettered by hobbies or responsibility, Case lived a golden time in Raleigh. He entertained coaches and writers into the wee hours at his large house in Cameron Village. He employed houseboys and had five apartment-style units installed for visiting friends. He initiated parties, was known to take a cocktail now and then and enjoyed full celebrity status.
Then, in 1960, it was over. On a December night, as Case watched nervously from the bench, his Wolfpack mysteriously blew a 26-point lead against Georgia Tech and barely escaped defeat. No State team had ever collapsed like that before. Case smelled a rat, and he was right. When the scandals hit, they broke him. He was never the same, and in 1966, mercifully, he died, leaving most of an estate of half a million dollars to be divided among his players. The trusted ones. He asked to be buried on a hill overlooking Route 70 where his team would always pass to play Duke. "I want to be where I can wave goodby," he said.
What Case had established was enthusiasm and a fanatical interest in college basketball. He forced the Big Four campuses to match him. After State had defeated Carolina 15 straight times, the Chapel Hill school brought Frank McGuire down from St. John's in 1952. McGuire immediately established his underground railroad from New York, and his Gotham street kids beat Case's Hoosier farm boys the first time the teams met. It took McGuire only five more years, in fact, to groom his team to go all the way to the national championship.
In 1957 the Tar Heels were led by Lennie Rosenbluth, whom Case had run off from a tryout camp a few years earlier. They also had a Kearns, a Cunningham, a Quigg and a Brennan, and by their defeat of Kansas and Wilt Chamberlain in Kansas City they threw the college game into a melting pot. "I never thought I'd see the day when the state of North Carolina sat up all night to watch four Micks and a Jew chase a black man across the stockyards," one man said.
That year Carolina completed what still may be the most memorable season a college team ever had. The Tar Heels won 24 games away from home. They won four overtime games. They won 13 games by fewer than 10 points. They finished the year by defeating Michigan State in the NCAA semifinals in three overtimes and Kansas in the finals in another three. Governor Luther Hodges sat on the bench; his constituents watched on TV at home in ecstasy.
When the team returned to North Carolina hours later 10,000 people were there, and the Raleigh-Durham airport just about collapsed. Now McGuire was king of the state. Though both sides deny it, this meteoric rush undoubtedly fostered the feuds, fights, name-calling and antagonistic resentments that have marked the Carolina-State series to this day and created bitter battlegrounds all through the ACC.
N.C. State was on probation and Carolina was soon to arrive there as Case and McGuire fought for power. On occasion the two coaches would meet for Sunday chats, but this relationship was mostly for show. The acting president of the state university system once had to call them together and reprimand them "for trying to tear the system apart."