Back home, the UNCC campus was rolled all over again. The excitement spread wider. Before the NIT bid, Stan Kaplan, owner of radio station WAYS, had been asked to help raise money so the 49ers could visit Australia next August for a basketball tour. Now, he got on the phone and raised it all, $10,000, in six hours. And Loonis McGlohon, the WBTV musical director, whipped up a school fight song called This Is the Day. It begins:
This is the day we shoot for victory,
This is the day we win the game,
Charlotte is home for UNCC,
You're gonna know the name.
The song was sung at the monthly meeting of the Charlotte Chamber of Commerce. Copies were run off for the pep band to play during the upcoming semifinal game. The trouble was, the pep band had bused to New York for the first game and then, out of money, had returned to Charlotte. But the town was jumping now, and an appeal went out for funds. Lunchtime gin-rummy players at the Charlotte City Club gave $30. An auto dealer came up with $100. A self-described "starving student" contributed $1. A quick $5,000 was raised, and the pep band headed back for the Big Apple tooting This Is the Day.
It was the day, indeed. Regardless of how UNCC would make out in the tournament, the semifinal game was it. The opponent would be neighboring North Carolina State, the big prestigious basketball school, the 1974 NCAA champion.
But before this test on the court, the UNCC players had to contend with classroom tests. This is UNCC's exam time. Never fear, said Chancellor Dean W. Colvard. He had textbooks and take-home exams flown to Manhattan for the team; take the exams after the tournament, he told Coach Rose. Just stay up there and play.
And play they did. With 30 seconds left against the Wolfpack, the pretournament favorites, a Watkins jumper put the 49ers in front 80-79. There they stayed, miraculously surviving a State jumper and three taps that danced off the rim in the closing seconds.
While Charlotte rocked some more, Rose and his wife Eleanor celebrated their 17th wedding anniversary at a New York restaurant, arriving at 1:30 a.m. "They gave us a cake and champagne, and they played the Anniversary Waltz" said Eleanor. "All of us have fallen in love with New York," said Rose, which made UNCC even more unusual. "The Garden fans seem to be pulling for us, and I'm sure their cheers have helped."
Stacks of telegrams began to pour in from well-wishers, the hotel room phone jangled incessantly, a parade of people trooped in and out. "Identity," said Lee Rose, spreading his arms wide. "This tournament has established us as a team of prominence."
A team of prominence is one thing, but a championship team is another, and on Sunday UNCC was pitted in the finals against Kentucky, which had gone all the way to the NCAA finals just a year before.
The Charlotte News asked two psychologists, "Is UNCC a team of destiny?" UNCC, replied one, is "having this marvelous feeling that they're being known.... It ought to pull them through."