Bobby Jones shoots over a leaping David Thompson during the early 1970s, when the UNC-N.C. State basketball rivalry was at one of its peaks. The two teams could play Sunday for the first time ever in the NCAA tournament. (Photo courtesy of UNC sports information)
I wrote a long story today about the Carolina-State basketball rivalry, which once was the pre-eminent hoops rivalry in North Carolina. Although it has been usurped by UNC-Duke over the past three decades, all eyes will be on both programs if they can advance tonight in the NCAA Sweet 16. Then they would play each other for a spot in the Final Four Sunday afternoon.
The story had to be cut in The Charlotte Observer due to lack of space (although the extended version was published in full in the print edition The [Raleigh] News & Observer) and is also online here.
Here are a couple of outtakes that I thought you might enjoy from the story that didn’t make it into The Observer’s print edition:
ROSENBLUTH AND CORCHIANI Lennie Rosenbluth – the eventual national player of the year over Wilt Chamberlain in 1957 with a career scoring average of 26.9 – almost went to N.C. State. Everett Case had offered the New York high school player a scholarship, Rosenbluth said, and then had Rosenbluth down to Raleigh in 1952 to visit the campus. While there, Case asked Rosenbluth to work out with some other players. Rosenbluth – out of shape and wearing unfamiliar basketball shoes that blistered his feet – was “terrible,” he said. He hadn’t been prepared for what turned out to be a tryout. Case told Rosenbluth at the end of the visit he couldn’t give him a scholarship after all. Frank McGuire happily did so instead. “But maybe if I had gone to State I would have never played much,” Rosenbluth said. “So it all came out fine.” The programs interweave in many ways. Many years later, Rosenbluth would coach a young point guard in the Miami area that Rosenbluth thought would be a great fit at North Carolina. “But once he met Jim Valvano, it was over,” Rosenbluth said. “Valvano was a lot like McGuire – similar personalities, great salesmen – and so even though I didn’t like his decision, I could understand why.” That point guard was Chris Corchiani.
BURLESON AND THE FREE THROWS Burleson – who also was recruited hard by UNC but picked the Wolfpack – felt the same way. He still remembers a State-Carolina game in Reynolds in 1972 when he noticed a few State fans waving behind the glass while UNC’s George Karl attempted two free throws. Burleson was on the bench, having fouled out. But he rose up and waved his arms wildly, trying to incite the fans. “That was the night that the distraction of fans waving behind the boards really began,” Burleson said. “I helped get that going.” Karl missed both free throws and N.C. State eventually won. As Burleson remembers it now, UNC coach Dean Smith called Burleson’s act “the worst sportsmanship in the world.”
ONE ADDITIONAL NOTE: (This didn’t make it into either newspaper, but I thought it was interesting): Burleson was always listed at 7-foot-4 at N.C. State. But he said that was a marketing gimmick and that he wasn’t that tall – he was never measured even once while in Raleigh, he said. His actual height, Burleson said, was 7-foot-2, and he wishes that he had been listed that way for his whole career in Raleigh. Burleson said the first time he ever jumped center in the NBA against Lew Alcindor (before he changed his name to Kareem Abdul-Jabbar), Alcindor looked him dead in the eye and said, "You're not 7-4."
"You're right, Lew," Burleson replied. "I'm not. I never was."