Rising Sun

When Vinny Del Negro played for NC State back in the Jim Valvano era, he was a fan favorite to say the least.

As a senior for the Wolfpack, he earned first-team All-ACC honors after averaging nearly 16 points, four assists and five rebounds per game. Then, it was off to the NBA and Sacramento made him a second-round pick in 1988. He spent two years with the Kings before playing two seasons in Italy. Del Negro then returned to the Association and played for the Spurs, Bucks, Warriors and Suns before finally hanging his sneakers up in 2002. Since then, he has done some broadcasting for the Spurs and Suns, scouted for Phoenix and last year, was named the Sun's new Director of Player Personnel.

Pack Pride recently caught up with Vinny from the Grand Canyon State and here is that conversation.

Not surprisingly, Del Negro has nothing but great things to say about his time in Raleigh.

"It was a different time at NC State (back then) but it was very exciting," he said. "Coach Valvano was a huge factor in me going there. Once I was able to go there and was able to be around the fans and administration, I fell in love with the place. I spent four great years there and it was a big change for me coming from the Northeast. It was a great change being around the people I was and having the things available to me academically and being part of the ACC and the fan support that we had. We had great teams and I was very lucky to be in that environment.

"One of the best things about NC State was meeting my wife there. From the experience standpoint, that was the most important thing that happened to me there outside of basketball."

Del Negro admits that when people recognize him that even to this day, they still want to talk about him playing under Valvano.

"It was a very unique experience," he said. "It was great going through that experience with someone who had the knowledge and notoriety of Coach Valvano. I used to go in and speak with him routinely in his office about not only basketball, but other things in life. He'd tell me what I needed to do to become a better player and what I needed to work on. I was real fortunate from that aspect. Having an Italian background helped because I understood where he was coming from, his personality and I grew up in that environment."

"People have stories and feelings about him," Del Negro added. "I was able to get recruited by him and also to play for him for four years. Just being around him at practice, in games, in the locker room, on buses, on planes gave me a lot of stories. Being able to go through that was a different thing. I was lucky to have played 14 years in professional basketball. When people talk to me at restaurants or at the airport, inevitably, his name comes up and people want to know what he was like.

"It's interesting that after all these years that his name is still at the forefront and that's great to see. That just shows you the impact that he had on people in such a short period of time. A person like Coach Valvano continues to impact people through his foundation, the funds they raise for cancer research and the impact he had on peoples' lives while he was still with us. I always find it interesting that people always want to know about him."

To this day, Vinny admits that he didn't know what to expect heading into the 1988 NBA Draft.

"It was a little bit of a surprise (to go to Sacramento)," he admitted. "I knew I would get drafted. Coach Valvano brought in a few different agents and guided me through that experience. I really wasn't sure about Sacramento. I went to the pre-draft camps, had played in the ACC and got exposure from that. Then, Sacramento called my name and that was the start of it. It just went from there. You never know what team is going to pick you or where you're going to go in the draft. It was a lot different back then, especially compared to how it is now. You're a kid and going through it and want some guidance. I was able to get that, so it was good."

He spent just two seasons with the Kings before deciding to play in Italy.

"I have an Italian passport so that made things different," Del Negro recalled. "Back then, if you played three straight years over there, you became an Italian player. You could only have two foreign players on each team. I never really ended up using that because I came back after my second year. At NC State after my senior year, a team from Italy came over, watched me play and wanted me to play over there. I took a trip over there and since I knew I was going to be drafted, knew that Italy wasn't for me but told them I appreciated the opportunity."

"The GM from that team moved to another Italian team with a bigger budget," he added. "After two years in Sacramento, my contract was up and Benetton made me a huge offer. At that time, Sacramento's organization wasn't in the best state of mind. I figured that if I went to Italy and continued to develop that I could come back to the NBA as a free agent in a few years and select the team that would best fit me in the NBA. I really enjoyed Sacramento and the fans, but the organization wasn't as stable as it is now. It was a much different situation back then. I played a couple of years over there (in Italy) and won a championship in my second year."

In 1993, he returned stateside and signed with the San Antonio Spurs.

"I got to play with David Robinson, Sean Elliott and Avery Johnson, all excellent players and great guys," he said. "We had a lot of success there for a lot of years."

After five seasons in the Alamo City, Del Negro played in Milwaukee, Golden State and Phoenix before retiring in 2002.

"When I retired, ESPN approached me and I started doing a show for them called NBA Matchup and some work on NBA Tonight," Del Negro remembered. "I also did some work for ESPN Radio at the all-star game and some different things. I did some TV for the Spurs and Suns and then did a few years of radio with the Suns."

But it was Phoenix who gave him his first opportunity to work in the front office.

"After doing radio for the Suns, I started scouting for them," he recalled. "Last year, after the draft, the owner and coach of the Suns approached me and told me they wanted me to get more involved. I said yes. I am now the Director of Player Personnel. I do the majority of college scouting and also scout in Europe and the D-League. I'm involved in the day-to-day process of things and work with a great staff here. It's been enjoyable. I've learned a lot and continue to learn and look forward to the challenge."

Del Negro says that the average NBA fan has no idea of what it takes to run a team behind the scenes.

"A lot more goes into running a team than people realize," he said. "It's more of a grind than people realize. We have a great team, city, arena and fan support. We expect big things out of this team. There are just so many positives there. My job is to go out and look for things to make our team better, whether it's through the draft or by making deals. It's a big process but I really enjoy it so far. I look forward to continually getting better at it."

Even though he has a very hectic schedule in Phoenix, Vinny still finds time to keep up how this year's NC State team is doing under Sidney Lowe and has even made it to a few of their games so far this season.

"I go back in the summer for Coach Valvano's golf tournament and to see the (coaching) staff," he said. "I went to a game against Michigan earlier this season. I was in Atlanta two weeks ago when they played Georgia Tech and saw them play again there. I keep tabs. Having Sidney involved brings a different aspect to the program.

"I have a lot of respect for Coach (Herb) Sendek, who is out here at Arizona State. I've seen him a few times. He did a nice job. It's nice to see Sidney back at NC State. They have to continue recruiting well. The facilities are great and they have had some big wins this year. Sidney will continue making the phone calls, visiting homes and doing what it takes to have a good program. The league is tough even if you have the best players. This year's team isn't that deep but he has done a tremendous job considering the players that he has. Hopefully, they will continue going in the right direction as far as recruiting and getting the right players there who want a good education and to be successful in life."

In just his first season with the NBA's Phoenix Suns as their Director of Player Personnel, former NC State guard Vinny Del Negro could be looking at winning an NBA championship. The run-and-gun Suns are considered one of the two best teams in the Western Conference along with Dallas and thus, one of the favorites to win the title. That championship would be Del Negro's first in the NBA.

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