There are very few Division I basketball programs in the country that are as up-and-down as NC State University’s. Your typical UNC fan would boo-hoo about a one-point loss to Duke and say that they have it worse, and a Kentucky fan would try to trump you by pointing out that they had an undefeated season and lost in the Final Four to Wisconsin last year. As a lifelong NC State fan, I can promise fans of both schools that they don’t know how good they have it. The UNCs and the Kentuckys of the world will never be swept under the rug or put down as much as the NC States will.
In the past, NC State has had very good basketball teams. The 1950s were some of the best seasons that we’ve ever had thanks to Coach Everett Case. Unfortunately, his reign at State was ended when recruiting violations were unearthed. The death of the Dixie Classic was a result of this as well. The ‘70s brought in Norm Sloan and an upswing in State’s playing. These were the years of David Thompson, considered to be one of the best college basketball players that the country has ever seen. State won its first NCAA Tournament in 1974, and it’s very likely that the Pack would’ve won in 1973 if a certain coach from a certain blue school had not decided to mention a pickup basketball game between David Thompson and an assistant coach during his recruitment to the NCAA (it’s unconfirmed that Dean Smith reported this, but everyone knows that it was he). The 1972-1973 season was the first time that a team went undefeated and did not win the national championship. In 1983, the Cinderella team was led by Jim Valvano to another championship. Since then, however, it’s been mediocre for the majority of the years.
In my lifetime, State has had very good players. Julius Hodge, J.J. Hickson, T.J. Warren, Trevor Lacey, and Cat Barber all are players that I have had the pleasure of watching. Somehow, though, we can never quite get the excellent players to be at school at the same time. Take this season. If no one had transferred or entered the NBA draft, the Wolfpack would have Trevor Lacey, Rodney Purvis, T.J. Warren, Kyle Washington, Trevor Lacey, Abdul-Malik Abu, and Cat Barber. No team in the ACC could compare. Unfortunately, this is not the case, and State has only won four conference games this year. I am no stranger to difficult seasons, but this has been one of the worst I can remember.
What makes a season like this so hard for the Wolfpack faithful are the seasons prior. We have been to four straight NCAA tournaments. We have been to the Sweet Sixteen twice in those four years. Last year we trounced number one-seeded Villanova. We’ve had the aforementioned good players, and next year we will have Dennis Smith Jr. joining the squad. So why is it that State often leaves us believing that we are in a bad dream for an entire season?
It’s a question that I’ll spend my whole life trying to answer. My family has referred to it as “NC State disease” for as long as I can remember. Every game this season has been stress-inducing. I worry more about State’s basketball games than I do anything else (I apologize to my teachers for this, but unfortunately it’s true). It’s made even more difficult because NC State’s basketball program is what I love the most in life. I’ve cried over losses before (the final game that would ever be played in the old Reynolds Coliseum was a one-point loss to Wofford), and I’m not afraid to admit it. Being born into it is both a blessing and a curse. It builds up my character and loyalty, but I’m worried all the time.
The fans from the neighboring schools make it worse. I watch us lose a game by just a few points, and then I’ll see a fan from Duke or UNC tweet about how their basketball teams will cause them to have an early death. Every time I see one of these, I’ll read it aloud to my family and we’ll all laugh over it. You have it good. Don’t complain about your historic coaches or how upset you are that you dropped to something like number fifteen in the polls. The last time that State was ranked was in 2013, and our last coach to make history in any significant way was Jimmy V. in the 80s. I promise that you will be fine, and your team will make the NCAA tournament as they always do.
I will wear my red and white with pride. You’ll never hear me compliment rival UNC (please don’t even try to deny that we’re rivals. I’ve seen how upset you get when you lose to us) and you’ll never hear me say that I wish my family had gone somewhere else. Loving the school has taught me to believe and it has given me memories that I will hold on to forever. It is a difficult thing to love, but you can’t have the Wolfpack without the wolves.