The sincerity of Valvano's commitment to his athletes became an issue this fall even before Bookgate broke. In November, Valvano told N.C. State's faculty senate that the graduation rate among his players was 86%. When the senate asked for more specific data, it turned out that, of the 42 players Valvano has recruited for State since his arrival in Raleigh in 1980, only 11 have been awarded degrees. Twelve of the 42 are still undergraduates at State (one, Byron Tucker, dropped off the team earlier this year), and four are currently enrolled at other schools. In short, 11 of a possible 25 players—44%—have graduated.
"The graduation rate for the student body [at N.C. State] after five years is 55 percent," Valvano says. "Considering that we are taking many athletes who have much lower board scores and grades than the rest of the student body, we aren't doing that badly."
But surely it doesn't speak well for Valvano that since the beginning of his reign at N.C. State, 14 players have left the school before completing their eligibility. By comparison, the total number of eligible players leaving the other four ACC schools whose coaches have served for eight years is 19.
Preoccupied over the past two weeks with defending his program, Valvano has lost his sense of humor. Yet his team has been playing superbly, and arrived at Chapel Hill with a 12-1 record. Few—including Valvano—gave State much of a chance to contend in the ACC this year. But with Brown, a 6'8" senior, inside, and superb sophomore guards Chris Corchiani and Rodney Monroe outside, the Wolfpack is quick, talented and, right now, playing for a cause.
"It upsets us to hear all these things being said about Coach Valvano," Corchiani said. "It isn't something we've talked about, but there's just a feeling that we want to go out and really perform for him."
While trying to concentrate on ways to stop the Tar Heels' J.R. Reid, Kevin Madden and Scott Williams, Valvano received a call from NBC on Thursday, informing him that the network had taped an interview with Simonds. Would he care to respond? No thank you, said Valvano.
By Saturday he had changed his mind. When NBC showed Valvano the edited tape of its interview with Simonds, he answered, at length, and now NBC had a problem. In order to present both Simonds and Valvano at halftime, and still honor commercial commitments, the network would need four extra minutes. So the coaches were asked if they minded extending halftime.
"I really don't like the idea of changing the rules of the game," Tar Heel coach Dean Smith said. "But if it will help Jimmy, O.K."
So the intermission lasted 19 minutes instead of 15. Perhaps the extra four minutes cooled off the Wolfpack, because after leading 46-45 at the break. State missed seven of its first nine second-half shots and dropped behind 60-51. But Monroe finally nailed a three-pointer, then made a steal and hit a jumper to cut the lead to 60-58. Still, though it was to pull within two points three more times, the Wolfpack could not regain the lead. With six seconds left and the Tar Heels ahead 84-81, State wanted to foul quickly. But before it could, Carolina's Scott Williams, after taking an inbounds pass, turned and threw a pass right to a startled Chucky Brown.
"He looked at me, then threw the pass." Brown said. "I could see his eyes go wide when he threw it, like he couldn't believe what he had done. I was pretty shocked myself."