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Jim Valvano had a Haggard look. He had just watched Chucky Brown's three-point shot bounce off the rim, allowing North Carolina to hang on for an 84-81 victory over his North Carolina State Wolfpack last Saturday afternoon in the Dean Smith Center.
"This was just like all the games we play over here," said Valvano, who lost for the ninth straight time at Chapel Hill. "We played hard, they played hard. They built leads, we came back. They won, we lost."
But Valvano's pained expression was not merely a consequence of the frustrating loss to the Tar Heels. For two weeks Valvano had been at the center of a storm that threatened to uproot the N.C. State basketball program. "This has been the worst experience of my entire life," he said. "My only consolation is that my father's not here to see it."
Valvano's troubles began on Friday, Jan. 6. That evening he received a call from The News and Observer of Raleigh, asking him to comment on a story scheduled for the next morning's paper. The newspaper informed Valvano that it had obtained the dust jacket of an upcoming book entitled Personal Fouls—The Broken Promises and Shattered Dreams of Big Money Basketball at Jim Valvano's North Carolina State.
The jacket copy—which the publisher, Simon & Schuster, subsequently said was not final—stated that the Wolfpack program was riddled with corruption, that large sums of money had been given to players, that positive drug tests had been covered up and that, to keep the players eligible, grades had been altered. The book, which is scheduled for publication next month by Pocket Books, a division of Simon & Schuster, was written by Peter Golenbock, who had previously coauthored best-selling autobiographies of former New York Yankees Sparky Lyle and Graig Nettles.
Six days later The News and Observer reported that Golenbock's major source was a former N.C. State basketball student manager, John A. Simonds Jr. (Two writers, including the author of this story, had been contacted by a representative of Simonds offering information on the N.C. State program.) Valvano had dismissed Simonds after the 1986-87 season, blaming him for the decision by guard/forward Walker Lambiotte, then a sophomore, to transfer to Northwestern. Valvano and his assistants believed that Simonds had repeated to Lambiotte their often unflattering appraisals of his ability.
Simonds left N.C. State in December 1987 and is now attending Florida State. In an interview aired by NBC during halftime of the North Carolina-N.C. State game. Simonds confirmed that he had provided Golenbock with information, but said that "several other players and faculty members" were also sources. Simonds also claimed that, while at N.C. State, he had been "offered cars, cash, apartments and money," though he did not explain why a student manager would reap those rewards. Simonds told NBC that after his role in the book was revealed, he received a phone call from someone who said, "You have a fat mouth, and fat mouths can be closed permanently."
While Valvano and school officials were denying each of the dust-jacket allegations, the North Carolina media followed up with fresh attacks on the Wolfpack program. First, a former head of the N.C. State phys-ed department, Richard Lauffer, told a Greenville, N.C., television station. WNCT, that during the 1985-86 season he had discovered that failing grades received by sophomore center Chris Washburn, who is now with the Atlanta Hawks, had been improperly changed to passing marks. Lauffer, who is now retired, said that when he approached chancellor Bruce R. Poulton about the grade changes. Poulton told him that it didn't matter because Washburn was going to turn pro at the end of the season. Poulton has denied the charge, and an internal investigation by the university has found no evidence of wrongdoing.
Then on the morning of the North Carolina game, The Charlotte Observer reported that former Wolfpack players Charles Shackleford and Teviin Binns, who had lost their eligibility in the fall of 1986 because of poor grades, suddenly had their eligibility restored after they signed contracts in which they pledged to work hard and keep a "positive mental attitude." In return, the documents, also reportedly signed by Poulton and Valvano, obligated the university to provide Shackleford and Binns with tutors.
Valvano defends the contracts. "What we were saying to these kids was, 'We're making a commitment to you, and we expect you to make a commitment in return,' " he says. That leaves unanswered the question of why the two players hadn't routinely received such a commitment—and whether N.C. State wasn't bending its own rules in restoring their eligibility.