Jimmyv Scaled

THE CENTER OF THE COLLEGE BASKETBALL UNIVERSE (or RALEIGH, N.C.) — It’s 1 p.m. the day after the biggest win of Kevin Cates’ coaching career — NC State’s improbable Elite Eight win over rival Duke sends the Wolfpack into its first Final Four. Since 1983 – and Keats is the entrance steps from the campus to the campus bookstore. Incredibly, the man behind the school’s most successful post-graduate competition for more than four decades can’t go far without stopping.

Like, not even a few feet.

Students ask for selfies. Passersby share the wolfpack’s hand gesture (the middle and ring fingers touch the thumb while the other two digits resemble wolf ears) and words of encouragement. Cates, wearing an incredible sweatshirt with five ice cream cones on it — one for his team’s five ACC tournament wins last month — is sweating in the tropical-looking 79-degree weather, but he’s smiling. Lighting, actually. Soaking up every second in this run for ages.

Two women approached Cates before he crossed the intersection and told him what every NC State fan was thinking: “Coach, we hope you go all the way!”

“That,” he replied, smiling, “makes us three.

Keat Scaled

NC State men’s coach Kevin Cates was a popular figure on campus Monday.

Ideally, Cates — less than 24 hours removed from that historic victory, and less than 12 hours after he, his staff and players landed home from Dallas — will now have a game plan ahead of Saturday’s Final Four meeting. 1 seed Purdue. (Or, you know, snooze. It’s been a long weekend.) Instead? He’s roaming the grounds, seeking no worship… but a possible transfer portal target as part of a pre-planned visit. Mark the date that this season is still going on. Although, all things considered, could there be an easier recruiting ground?

Hey, planning to watch the Final Four this weekend? Yes? Well, we’re in.

Such is the view from the campus center in Raleigh, N.C. — which this week doubles as the center of the college basketball universe. For all the hype surrounding the NC State men’s team, don’t forget the comparison to the 1983 title team, that the NC State women are also Final Four bound. In fact, the women’s team — which upset No. 1 seed Texas 76-66 in the Elite Eight, en route to the program’s first final appearance in 26 years — has been the more successful of the two over the past few years. Wes Moore’s program won three straight ACC Tournament titles from 2020-2022 as well as the 2022 ACC regular season title. It reached the Elite Eight in 2022, eventually falling (in controversial fashion) to UConn. (The Huskies sent both their men’s and women’s teams to the 2024 Final Four.)

But this is a new threshold for them, too, a bar no NC State women’s team has hit since 1998, during the program’s only other Final Four appearance. It is appropriate that both men and women make history in one day, hours apart. The women came out on top with a win in Portland, Ore. — and by the time they got to their postgame locker room, the men’s second half was just getting started.

By then, students and fans of NC State in Raleigh had begun running to the Memorial Belltower to celebrate. In her postgame press conference, Aziaha James — who made seven 3-pointers against Texas, scored 27 points and was named Portland’s Region 4 MOP — was asked about the importance of making school history.

“It’s good to light up Hillsborough (street),” she said.

And light the tower you made, bright bright red. The same color as the (lots of) chipped red solo cups filled in the two recycling bins next to the statue. Parents, in broad daylight, lined up their kids in front of the monument, asked them to hold their Wolfpack badges and took commemorative photos — hoping their kids, unlike themselves, wouldn’t have to wait decades to get another one. .

Some of those snapshots are from a day at Player’s Retreat – originally founded in 1951 by the NC State Bar. Today, behind the main bar, a dimly lit mansion with 15 TVs is lined with black-and-white photographs and memorabilia. Like the 1983 “Heart Pack” bumper sticker when you first walked in. Richard “Gus” Gusler, owner since 2005, said fans were lining up to get in early Sunday afternoon…three hours before the women’s game.

Gusler said since the men’s team went five-wins-in-five-days through the ACC Tournament, enthusiasm is building. Before that? The Wolfpack were eliminated after losing their last four regular season games. “I don’t think anybody in their right mind believed what happened would have happened,” Gusler said. “I mean, if you’d bet money predicting that? You could have done one.” a lot I made money with these new sportsbooks.

(Some NC State fans have shared betting slips on social media recently; one, a $100 bet on the Wolfpack at +25,000 odds, would be 25 grand if Cathy’s team wins twice in Phoenix.)

Gusler is an NC State lifer. A fan since he was 6 years old. He did his undergraduate degree in Raleigh – even working in player retreats or PR., As it is known in love – and then high school. They knew Jim Valvano, the legendary coach who led the Volpack to that ’83 title, and who the program has been chasing ever since. Gusler, also an attorney, worked with Valvano when he was accused of NCAA violations late in his coaching career, which eventually forced him to resign as coach and athletic director. Gusler and his wife, like many NC State fans, have long felt that the university’s mishandling of Valvano’s situation — years before his famous ESP speech and death from cancer — hurt the entire place.

“We’ve got a curse on us,” Gusler said. But I feel like there’s a magic that came out at the end of this season… and maybe that magic is lifting the curse. If there’s a curse, then it’s gone – and I’ve believed that for a while. This took care of it.

Go Deeper

Go deeper

How old is a ghost? Forty years after the miracle, NC State is trying to find out.

It’s hard not to; The NC State men have the most losses of any Final Four team and are tied for the lowest seed at No. 11. The women, despite having several players from the conference — and a national star like All-American Elissa Coonan — could compete … but they’ve made it deep in a “rebuilding” season. NC State is now the first school since Connecticut in 2014 to have both its men’s and women’s teams in the Final Four in the same season.

Moore is a PR regular, holding court in “His” booth like Valvano used to in his prime. But generally just finding a booth is difficult today. Sunday is the single-best day in the bar’s 73-year history, profit-wise. On Friday, when the guys beat Marquette in the Sweet 16 — ironically, the ’83 title team also beat Marquette in the series — Gusler said PR made $8,000 just from 4-5 p.m.

This is greater than the weekly average return when you first bought the bar.

“We had to turn away a lot of people,” Gusler added. “I honestly don’t remember how much time has passed (since this happened). I’m not sure if that’s ever happened to NC State sports in the 18 years I’ve owned the place.

American Idol winner Scotty McCreary, an NC State student, visited Sunday. So does Deborah Ross, who represents that part of Raleigh in Congress. And then, when the last shout sounded the duke, they broke into a quick run to join any of their supporters who had disrespected the ladies in the bell tower. “WOLF-PACK” they shouted as they ran, even drowning out the unexpected fireworks that had been set off around the compound.

That wave of fandom has been building since before many current students were even born. But they, of course, want to get into the game. Full T-Shirt Tables – From “Why Aren’t We?” The slogan was coined by the guys during the ACC tournament – it was sold in the student bookstore, and the leftovers were being picked off by vultures. One student, hoping for an ACC tournament shirt, even tried to buy a stranger in the store Monday. When she rejected his offer, he approached the table with an expired (and for sale) Sweet 16 set. “This isn’t bada—but like the other one,” he muttered before finding the size.

Beyond the bookstore in the student union, parents and children desperate for a tour were told there were only self-guided options available for the next week. hosted? Completely sold out. A tour guide through Reynolds Coliseum — where the women play and where Valvano’s historic teams have been — led her team in matching “This is our state” shirts.

And considering NC State is the only Triangle team left standing, she has a point.

The buzz is palpable, because NC State fans have waited a long time — a long time — for this moment. Generations before them have seen for themselves the same basketball success. And now, in Phoenix and Cleveland, whatever happens next, they have. Both teams are underdogs in their next game — the men against Purdue, the women against undefeated South Carolina — but their early accomplishments will remain intact until next weekend.

Consider what athletic director Boo Corrigan said to Moore over the weekend: “He said, ‘If I accepted all the free beers here in Dallas, I’d probably be in a cliff somewhere,'” Moore said.

But there’s no greater sign of NC State fans’ passion for the moment than the 10-minute drive from campus. Lean back to the main site along the stone walkway leading to Oakwood Cemetery and you’ll see Valvano’s headstone, still shining black even under a thin film of pollen. Usually here are relics, flowers, longtime fans come to pay their respects – but never on this scale.

Among the gifts? Riviera’s half-drunk tallboy, the university’s collaboration beer with local R&D brewers; Around the can is a rubber band, holding some dried roses off the ground. A small foam ball with the Wolfpack logo. A sticker from the campus bookstore reads, “Why Not Us?” Motto and therefore, so many flowers.

“It shows you the impact these teams have had on Wolfpack Nation,” Gusler said.

(Photos: Brendan Marks/ The athletics)