He returned with the same clothes he wore two years ago, and he’s added nothing to his dance routine, but down deep in his gut, Jim Valvano can tell the “feeling” just isn’t there.
Valvano is back in the city where his 1983 North Carolina State basketball team won the national title--this time at the start of the road to the Final Four.
North Carolina State, 20-9 and with a share of the Atlantic Coast Conference regular season title, today will open the first round Far West Regional in Albuquerque against unheralded but quick Nevada Reno, 21-9, champions of the Big Sky Conference.
Texas El Paso, 21-9, will take on Tulsa, 23-6, in the second game while Virginia Commonwealth, 25-5, battles Marshall, 21-12, and Alabama, 21-9, meets Arizona, 21-9, in the tournament that has no predominant favorite.
Valvano, whose one-liners and courtside flair made him an instant hit with the fans and media two years ago, returned to Albuquerque in typical Valvano fashion.
He got down on his knees and kissed the ground after his team’s plane landed Wednesday night.
“Hello, Albuquerque, I’m home,” said Valvano. “To come back so soon to a place where such a beautiful thing happened to you is a feeling you can’t describe.”
What Valvano can describe is his concern that this year’s team isn’t on the same roll as the Wolfpack group that upset Houston in the finals two years ago.
“That was a hell of a basketball team,” said Valvano Thursday. “When we came here I felt we were a hot team, a team that was on a roll. I don’t have the same feeling about this team.”
Center Cozell McQueen and forward Lorenzo Charles, whose last second stuff beat Houston, are the only starters left from the 1983 club. The Wolfpack finished the season ranked No. 16 nationally and beat five nationally ranked teams in February before losing to North Carolina in the semifinals of the ACC Tournament.
Valvano also is concerned he may not have junior forward Nate McMillan at full speed. McMillan turned an ankle stepping off a curb earlier in the week and did not practice until Thursday.
Nevada Reno, a definite darkhorse in the NCAA field, relies on its quickness and the scoring of guard Curtis High and forward Dwyane Randall.
“Their quickness worries me,” said Valvano. “They are a lot like Wake Forest and they beat us by four touchdowns. We would prefer to play a team with a bigger frontline.”
Not wanting to leave anything to chance, Valvano said he planned to wear “the same two suits” he wore in 1983. Valvano, who also finished second in a dance contest at a local night spot during his previous trip to Albuquerque, said he’d have a tough time duplicating that feat.
“The place has changed and has gone to the young,” he said. “The scouting report says I couldn’t finish second again.”
Albuquerque’s mile-high altitude could be a factor with such sea-level-oriented teams as Virginia Commonwealth, Marshall and Alabama.
Marshall’s freshman center Tom Curry, who suffers from a blockage in both nostrils, had to cut short his practice Wednesday.