RALEIGH — The old place on Dunn Avenue looked brand new again.
Spotlessly clean. Brightly lit. And packed to the rafters Wednesday night with red-clad fans, their screams echoing off the steel I-beams of the ceiling, loud enough to leave a ringing in the ears hours after the final horn.
On this night, they came to Reynolds Coliseum to see the present, dream of the future, but mainly to cheer the past.
They came for Jimmy V.
N.C. State officially dedicated James T. Valvano Arena at William Neal Reynolds Coliseum in a brief ceremony 20 minutes before the Wolfpack tipped off against Western Carolina in its annual Heritage Game.
“It’s a unique night,” N.C. State athletics director Debbie Yow said. “There’s no other way to describe it. And it’s uniquely wonderful to finally be able to honor Coach Valvano with this naming opportunity at Reynolds Coliseum.”
It’s a mouthful. Especially when you throw in Kay Yow Court at the beginning of the long formal name for the building that dates to 1949.
But the Valvano Arena label is a long time coming. Donors raised $5 million to put the coach’s name on the area, part of a $35 million renovation project at Reynolds Coliseum.
“For at least a year-and-a-half, maybe two years, it’s been in the works,” Yow said. “And it’s all due to the generosity of a handful of donors who remember him well and appreciate everything he did for us.”
All these years later, Valvano casts a long shadow here at State.
The Wolfpack is on its fifth head coach since Valvano’s forced resignation in 1990 amid an NCAA investigation and subsequent postseason ban for players selling their shoes and complimentary game tickets for spending money.
But that’s not what the fans think of first when they remember Valvano. They remember the charismatic story-teller who led the Pack to seven NCAA Tournaments in his 10 seasons. They remember Valvano running onto the court, looking for someone to hug after Sidney Lowe’s long jump shot came up short only for the ball to be caught and laid in by teammate Dereck Whittenburg at the buzzer for the winning points of the 1983 NCAA championship.
They remember the four Sweet Sixteens and two Elite Eights. They remember the 1983 and 1987 ACC titles and the 121-37 home record at Reynolds.
And above all, they remember the dignity and courage Valvano showed during his public battle with the cancer that took his life on April 28, 1993. Jim Valvano was 47 years old.
“I think you have to boil his legacy down to his own words,” Yow said, “words he said so often: ‘Don’t give up. Don’t ever give up.’ That’s what everybody always remembers about him.”
In the 25 years since then, the Jimmy V Foundation has raised more than $220 million for cancer research and treatment.
And, fairly or not, every coach since Valvano’s death has been measured against his legend by the State fans.
Pack coach Kevin Keatts, fresh off the 100th victory of his career, dressed for the game in red-and-black loafers, red slacks and red suit jacket over a white shirt.
But on this night, the fans came to cheer Valvano’s widow, Pam Strasser, and the couple’s grown daughters, Nicole Valano Donohue and Jamie Valvano, who gathered on the court at 7:02 p.m. for a few minutes along with boosters, administrators and a handful of former players.
“The family was touched to realize that a group of people cared that much about Jim’s legacy to make this a reality,” Yow said. “That part has been very special for me, watching Pam and her daughters interact with those donors who made this happen.”
They came to the new old building on Dunn Street on the first Wednesday of December, filling the place to the rafters.
They came for Jimmy V.