My first NC State sporting event as an active fan was the 1992 Peach Bowl against East Carolina. There's no need to rehash the maddening events of that day, a day, where State fan's hopes, including my then 7 year-old heart, were crushed. So began my life as a supporter of NC State athletics.
The last decade of NC State athletics has been a roller-coaster ride giving us exhilarating peaks and far too many valleys. I couldn't have picked a worse time to start following NC State basketball. State had just been slapped with heavy sanctions by the UNC board of Governors that included, recruiting restrictions and a set of the highest academic requirements in the ACC.
My first NC State basketball memory was actually a happy one. I watched as "Googs" dropped 36 points on UNC-Ch leading the Pack to a 99-88 upset. Then another great victory over the hated Tarheels in the Smith Center, completing the season sweep of UNC-Ch. Unfortunately, those joyous occasions were the only bright spots in a dark, losing season.
Little did I know that season was to be the start of a "nuclear winter" of sorts for the NC State basketball program.
The next year brought about the tragic suicide of Anthony Robinson, more losing, and two brutal beatings at the hands of UNC-Ch. That year my dislike for UNC-Ch began to grow as I watched Dean Smith's UNC-Ch team continue to pound an out-manned State team mercilessly. A beating complete with the Carolina bench cheerleaders playing a token minute or two at the end of the butchering to make the humiliation complete. State finished with a horrendous 2-14 record in the ACC and a 21-point loss to fellow 2-14 play-in game participant, Maryland.
The following year brought a bit of early season optimism. A freshman named Chuck Kornegay seemed to be making a significant impact in the middle for the Wolfpack. The excitement was defused when the revised academic standards imposed by the UNC board of Governors reared its ugly head. Kornegay was ruled ineligible to participate in the second semester - the exciting freshman transferred to Villanova. The Pack staggered to another last place finish.
During this dark era fans at Reynolds Coliseum watched programs such as Campbell, UNC-Wilmington, and Florida Atlantic beat the Pack on it's hallowed home floor.
Disrespect for the NCSU program was at an all-time high. I attended NCSU basketball camps during this era. Many campers wore UNC-Ch t-shirts and disrespected NCSU; often calling State a "loser school" and a "cow college" the sad thing is few said anything in response to these young heels.
Following the 94-95 season a group of campers who stayed after the 3pm dismissal to play pick-up games and shoot around were invited to go down into the NC State locker-room. The State staff set-up the pull down big screen TV and played the upset of #1 UNC-Ch for the campers to see. As the game played on campers who were fans of UNC-Ch began cheering for the heels when they made a basket. To me that was the ultimate disrespect, a room where players such as: Thompson, Burleson, Towe, Whittenburg, Lowe, Monroe, and Corchiani had prepared for games was now being occupied by vocal supporters of UNC-Ch. Can one imagine Dean Smith or the staff of Carolina basketball school letting such conduct go on in their locker-room?
The last two years of Les Robinson's tenure were particularly gut wrenching. There were flashes of great promise: wins over high-ranked UNC-CH teams and competitive games with national powers, Kansas and UCLA. NCSU lost 14 games by five points or less in Robinson's final two years. One of the most heartbreaking of games occurred in 1996 against Duke. NCSU led 70-68 with just seconds remaining when Duke guard, Chris Collins, put up a three point shot that bounced on the rim for what seemed to be a lifetime before falling through and giving Duke a one point lead. State guard Curtis Marshall pushed the ball up the floor and got off a runner that hit the glass and stayed on the rim until time expired. State forward Jeremy Hyatt was actually in position for a tip in, but it was too late.
Coach Robinson resigned after the 1996 season and Herb Sendek was hired. Sendek promised in his press conference that he would work as hard as he could, day and night, to restore NC State basketball to it's previous lofty position as a college basketball heavyweight.
Tomorrow, catch Part 2 of "Decade of Darkness".