Saturday, December 29, 2018

"I See Red Faces"

Front row, from left to right: Rodney Monroe, Brian Howard, Kenny Poston, Vinny Del Negro, Quentin Jackson, Kelsey Weems, Chris Corchiani, Sean Green. Standing, from left to right: Team Trainer Jim Rehbock, Assistant Coach Ray Martin, Head Coach Jim Valvano, Avie Lester, Brian D'Amico, Charles Shackleford, Byron Tucker, Chucky Brown, Assistant Coach Dick Stewart, Assistant Coach Clay Moser, Assistant Coach Stan Lewter, Manager Toby Brannan.

© Tim Peeler, 2018

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Jim Valvano was mad, and he let his players know it.

The 1987-88 version of the Wolfpack had just sleepwalked through a 95-76 loss in a one-day layover in California, giving up a triple-double to UC-Santa Barbara future NBA star Brian Shaw (22 points, 20 rebounds and 10 assists).

“It was a real beat-down, and V was pissed,” said Chucky Brown, who was in his junior season. “We just wanted to get to Hawaii and eat some pineapple.”

When the team got to Honolulu on Christmas Eve for the 24th-annual Rainbow Classic, the coach set some pretty stringent ground rules for the Pack’s five-day stay on the island.

“Stay off the goddamned beach,” he said. “The last thing I need is for you all to get sunburned.”
Brown, the late Charles Shackleford, Brian Howard, Avie Lester and the other black members of the team laughed to themselves. Then they looked over at freshman Chris Corchiani, senior Vinny Del Negro and junior Brian D’Amico, the team’s only white players.

“He’s talking to y’all, not to us,” Brown said. “How’s he going to know if we get sunburned?”

“And another thing,” Valvano told them, “Under no circumstances will you take a moped tour around the island. Those things are dangerous.”

So of course, in the free time before the opening game, the players all got sunburned when they took a moped ride on the beach. This was not a team that was bounded by many rules, and those they had were seldom obeyed.

Valvano may have been grouchy with his players, but he was the highlight of the pretournament banquet, in which he blew through his allotted three minutes and talked for more than 15.

He took great pleasure in introducing Atushi Fujita, chairman of Tokyo’s annual Phenix Ball tournament, who was looking for teams to participate the following year.

“Stand up, Mr. Fujita,” Valvano said. “Mr. Fujita, folks, doesn’t speak English. He thinks I’m Dean Smith, and he’s going to invite me to Japan. Please don’t tell him the truth. From now on, I’ve told all my player to answer to the name J.R. [Reid.]”

The Pack’s first game didn’t take much of the surliness out of the coach with his players. The Wolfpack won handily, 86-55, over Creighton, but Shackleford was held out of the starting lineup for the first time in his three-year career for disciplinary reasons. It’s hard to remember three decades later, but it was either for being late for a team meeting or for taking all of Corchiani’s meal money in a late-night, dealt-from-the-bottom poker game.

“I couldn’t figure out why I kept losing,” Corchiani said.

While it was a nice, if uninspired, bounce back from the UCSB loss, Valvano knew what his team had been up to.

“I see a lot of red faces,” he said. “A lot of red faces. What did I tell you about going to the beach?”

The next day, the Wolfpack played poorly in the first half of its semifinal game against Louisville, though it only trailed 40-36 at the half. Shackleford was mostly the target of Valvano’s passionate, profanity-laced halftime lecture. He stormed out the door on a high note, hoping his duly-motivated team would follow.

But they all sat still.

Valvano was gone just long enough for team doctor Jim Manly – a somewhat frail, elderly local physician who had been traveling with the team since the days of Everett Case – to move behind one of the swinging doors.

Valvano thought of one more thing he needed to say, did a 180-degree pivot in the hallway of Blaisdell Arena and burst back through the doors like a busy Italian restaurant waiter on a Saturday night.

Manly went flying across the room. He somehow landed near the shower, something the players saw but Valvano didn’t acknowledge in their presence.

While their coach continued his tirade about their performance against the No. 20 Cardinals, the players were trying their best not to snicker. The more he railed, the more they [unsuccessfully] attempted to hold it in. The angrier he got, the funnier the situation was.

When the red-faced Valvano finally finished, he noticed team trainer Jim Rehbock and orthopedist Don Reibel treating their fellow staff member in the shower.

“What the hell is wrong with Doc Manly?” the coach asked.

The balloon of team tension popped, the Wolfpack went out and blitzed Denny Crum’s Cardinals in the first seven minutes of the second half, outscoring Louisville 18-10. Brown had 10 of his game- and career-high 25 points during that stretch.

The Pack put the game away with eight unanswered points in the final minutes on two baskets by Shackleford, one by Brown and a baseline jumper by Del Negro to complete the 80-75 victory.

Valvano was a tad bit looser in the post-game lockerroom.

“The second half, that’s the way we have to play,” he said. “That’s what I want to see every minute you play. I tell you what, if I have to knock the shit out of Doc Manly at halftime of every game to get you play that way, then goddamn it, that’s what I’ll do.”

Later that season, Shackleford and Brown
helped the Wolfpack beat Louisville
again, 101-89, in Reynolds Coliseum.
The next day, Shackleford dominated Arizona State, scoring 25 points. Brown added 18 in an easy 83-71 win. Shackleford, inspired by Valvano’s speech and Corchiani’s meal money, earned the event’s Most Outstanding Player award, joining players like Elvin Hayes, Pete Maravich, Phil Ford and Chris Webber.

The players and managers figured that the moped ban was good only during the tournament, and since they had won it, they could do whatever they wanted. So eight or nine of them celebrated their Rainbow title by making one more motorized loop around the island.

They were racing back and forth, having a grand old time, when Corchiani took the lead, followed closely by sophomore reserve center Lester. To assert his dominance, Corchiani swerved in front of his teammate, catching his back wheel with Lester’s front wheel.

Lester’s moped toppled over and he bounced off the pavement multiple times before skidding to a stop, right in front of one of the island's only payphones. His teammates called an ambulance to take Lester to the hospital, though no one dared tell Valvano. The coach learned of the accident when Lester, looking like an extra from a Boris Karloff mummy movie, showed up at the team’s evening meal at Tony Roma’s Steakhouse.

“Jesus Christ, what happened?” Valvano said, as the players began to see a red face.

“Moped accident,” Lester said.

“Jesus Christ,” Valvano said.

The coach had the reddest face imaginable.

“You could’ve fried an egg on his forehead,” Brown said. “We were just sitting there trying not to laugh.”

Glaring at Corchiani, Lester was almost as angry as his coach. He had been looking forward to trying upscale restaurant's world-famous baby back ribs, but the moped accident cheese-grated most of the fingertips off both hands. He couldn’t eat anything without the aid of a knife and fork, completely missing the point of the finger-licking experience.

“I don’t think he’s ever really forgiven me,” Corchiani said.

Incredibly, the adventure didn’t end when the team left O’ahu. Shackleford celebrated his Rainbow Classic MVP performance by falling asleep with his head in his left hand on the team’s nine-hour flight home from Hawaii, bruising several nerves in his elbow and leaving the left side of his body numb. Shackleford saw limited action and Lester didn't play at all in the Pack’s first game of 1988, a 95-72 whipping of Cornell, in which Del Negro carried the team with 27 points.

“We have the only program in the country where one center can score 58 points and have 35 rebounds in Hawaii, then get hurt on the plane ride home,” Valvano said. “And another center who can knock himself out on a moped.”

Both players were treated throughout their injuries by a clear-headed, but sore-ribbed Dr. Manly.

Contact Tim Peeler at


1 comment:

  1. Nice to hear a story with Dr. Jim Manly in it. My mom worked as his nurse for a long, long time. She loved the Wolfpack as much as he did - and, of course, my dad, my brother, and me all went to State - and I work there too!