North Carolina State Coach Jim Valvano has taken a lot of heat for a lot of reasons.
He has been criticized for having too many outside financial interests; for recruiting academically deficient players (he hardly is unique in that regard) and for becoming too big for his job as the fame and glory washed over him after the Wolfpack's national championship in 1983.
Some or all of this may be true. But Saturday, with one tiny gesture, Valvano showed again why he is so good for college basketball. While everyone connected with North Carolina was trying to act as if the last game in storied Carmichael Auditorium was just another game, Valvano, the visiting coach, made the last moment memorable -- and fun.
As the game ended with North Carolina a 90-79 winner, Valvano shook hands with Dean Smith, then asked permission to shoot a basketball. Permission granted, he gracefully banked a layup, then turned around and said: "I made the last basket in Carmichael."
It was no big deal, but it was nice, something to remember the last game by. That it was Valvano who had to provide it simply is evidence of this: the game needs more guys who don't take things too seriously.
Valvano works hard, coaches well and, when the game is over, he has a beer and a few laughs. He finds fun in basketball.
Just how good is Maryland's Len Bias? Saturday night, five Duke players took turns guarding him. The Blue Devils double- and triple-teamed him when they could. They held him to a mere 28 points.
Tom Newell, player personnel director of the Indiana Pacers, who almost certainly will be one of the seven NBA lottery teams next June, says this of Bias: "He has everything you look for in a small forward. He's quick, he's strong, he's a great leaper and he has an excellent jump shot that can't be blocked. He is going to be a great NBA player."
For now, Bias may be the best player in college, one who is going to have to deal with double- and triple-teaming the rest of the season.
On the subject of excellent players, one who is virtually unknown is Ricky Berry of San Jose State. A 6-foot-8 sophomore, he is the son of Spartans Coach Bob Berry, and has the gangliness and range of George Gervin. He often plays point guard, and Saturday had 32 points in a loss to Nevada-Las Vegas.
Rick Pitino found out quickly how tough life can be in the Big East. In his first league game as Providence coach, he watched his Friars play magnificently in almost upsetting St. John's. Providence led by two with three seconds to go, but St. John's Walter Berry was fouled and made two free throws with one second left to send the game into overtime. The Redmen won, 95-90. Thirty-six hours later, Providence had to play at Georgetown, which was coming off a loss. That is no fun. The Friars were roasted, 110-79.
Iowa Coach George Raveling, whose team pulled one of the week's few upsets by beating Illinois, 60-59, on Saturday, wears a running suit on the bench during games. This may be a trend. And why not? Georgetown Coach John Thompson, who still wears the traditional suit, almost has maintained that to get dressed up to sit among a bunch of sweaty athletes is silly. Makes sense . . .
Why do officials have so much trouble knowing when the clock has run out? Saturday, in Texas Tech's 69-68 overtime victory over Houston, Tony Benford's winning shot clearly came after the buzzer, if you watch TV replays. Less important, but just as ridiculous was the basket scored at the end of the first half by Kentucky's Kenny Walker at Vanderbilt. With one second left, the ball was inbounded to Walker. He caught it in the air, came down, went up again and shot -- and the basket was ruled good.
Quote of the week: Boston College Coach Gary Williams, noting that Syracuse (10-0) has yet to play a game out of the Carrier Dome: "To them, playing away means warming up at the basket farther away from their bench before the game starts."
It was not a good week for upsets. The Top 20 was 33-4, and two of the losses were to other ranked teams. That included Michigan's victory over Indiana, although the Hoosiers shot 67 percent. Can't feel too bad about that but The Upset Pick is 3-4. This week, a comeback as George Mason strikes a blow for local basketball by beating Atlantic 10 champion West Virginia.