Jim Valvano: Career retrospective

Posted 12 days ago  |  By Shiloh Carder

It’s hard to believe that it has been more than 25 years since the world lost Jim Valvano to cancer. “Jimmy V” was one of sports’ true characters. He was a darn good coach who won one of the most memorable championship games in any sport and would ultimately carry the burden for a disease even after his death.

Valvano lived life to the fullest. He would coach in the same basketball triangle as legendary North Carolina head coach Dean Smith and upstart Duke head coach Mike Krzyzewski, but he was charismatic enough to separate himself from the two, yet win plenty of games as their equal. There aren’t many people you will meet in your life like Coach Valvano. The ESPYs speech has taken on a life of its own and has carried on the life and cause of Jimmy V. Here is a retrospective on the impact Valvano had on the world. 

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Playing career at Rutgers

Playing career at Rutgers
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Jim Valvano played point guard for Rutgers University from 1964 to 1967. He shared a backcourt with Bob Lloyd, who would become an All-American in 1967. The Scarlet Knights finished in third place in the NIT that season. Valvano averaged 15.2 points per game in 74 games at Rutgers.

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Becoming a college head coach

Becoming a college head coach
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In 1969, Valvano became head coach of Johns Hopkins for a season before leaving for an assistant job at Connecticut. But his only year at Johns Hopkins was the school’s first winning season in 24 seasons. Two years later, he would leave UConn to become the head coach at Bucknell for three years and then Iona. His pre-NC State coaching record was 138-97.

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Taking Iona to the NCAA Tournament

Taking Iona to the NCAA Tournament
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Iona made its first NCAA Tournament in 1979, Valvano’s third year at the helm. The Gaels went 23-6 and would lose their first round game against Penn, 73-69. Iona would have a better season in 1980, going 29-5 and beating Holy Cross in the NCAA Tournament before losing to Georgetown in the second round. That win over Holy Cross is still the Gaels only NCAA Tournament win in 13 tries. The 1979-1980 season would be his last in New Rochelle, New York as he would then take the NC State job.

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NC State head coach

NC State head coach
Ronald C. Modra/Sports Imagery/Getty Images

When Norm Sloan left North Carolina State for the Florida job after the 1979-1980 season, Valvano took the gig. That began a 10-year run that netted 209 wins, seven NCAA Tournament appearances, two ACC regular-season titles and two ACC Tournament championships. The relevance of the Wolfpack mixed with the successes of North Carolina and Duke made the Triangle a hoops haven. 

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1983 ACC Championship

1983 ACC Championship
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The Wolfpack’s run to the 1983 ACC Tournament Championship is one of the most impressive feats in ACC history. NC State was a No. 4 seed in the ACC and was not a safe bet to make the upcoming NCAA Tournament. The Wolfpack squeaked by Wake Forest, 71-70, in the first round. They would take on Michael Jordan, Sam Perkins and the rival North Carolina Tar Heels in the semifinals and would beat the eighth-ranked Heels in overtime, 91-84. In the title game, NC State would topple Ralph Sampson and fourth-ranked Virginia, 81-78. Three tough wins against some of the nation’s best teams would guarantee the Pack a spot in the tournament.

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