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The Final 4 and This Incredible Journey

Wow, what a turn of events. Three weeks ago the men's basketball team was a leaking life raft taking on water at an alarming rate. Sinking seemed inevitable, but heart and determination overcame the situation in a way that is still mind-boggling. They didn't just patch the leak, they found a luxury yacht, climbed aboard, and it has been a celebration ever since.

The women's basketball team entered the ACC tournament with a lot of questions and then lost a very disappointing championship game to Notre Dame. They were like a plane that lost an engine and was losing altitude, but Aziaha James was able to restart that engine, and there were plenty of people to pilot the plane safely to its destination.

This is a very rare thing. Both the men's and women's teams have reached the final four! It's never happened at NC State, not even close, but it's real and it's right. As a fan, it's like eating Bologna sandwiches every day for years, and then suddenly you're at a five-star restaurant with a whole menu to choose from, and someone else is paying the bill. It can be hard to process. After all, there is NC State stuff, right? Not anymore. Like the Boston Red Sox finally broke the curse of the Bambino, NC State has emphatically thrown the very large monkey from its back. It's time for a new chapter, a chapter that can start to erase so many years of heartbreak and frustration. All of the disrespect and the lack of coverage from the media over the years doesn't matter anymore. What does matter is the feeling that this magical carpet ride has created. I don't know exactly how to categorize it, whether it's pride or unencumbered joy, or a sense of satisfaction. It's all 3 I imagine. It heals a lot of wounds, or at least it should. Basketball was once the clear king in North Carolina, and it is important to the fans. NC State enjoyed a lot of success in the '70s and '80s under Norm Sloan, Jim Valvano, and also Kay Yow. Then from the darkness of evil, a book by Peter Golenbock destroyed what was becoming a dynasty under the ever-charismatic Jim Valvano. Let me be clear that the entire controversy was a sham. It was a railroad job of epic proportions, and the result was the total collapse of the men's basketball program. Since that time, NC State basketball has wallowed in the cold black depths of mediocrity with only a few seasons as the exceptions. The fact that I was around for the good times has made the last 35 years even harder to endure because I knew what success was, and it has been a very long road filled with potholes and dangerous foreign objects to get to where the basketball program is right now. The women have also had a long road, but this year things fell into place for both programs.

I live in the Midwest, and I was listening to a local sports radio show and the topic was the final four. Guess which team was not even mentioned in the discussion? You already know. Maybe they think that ignoring it somehow will make the Wolfpack nonexistent. It won't, and it's not a foregone conclusion that Purdue will end the season and stop this locomotive.

Everyone has their reasons for being NC State fans, and they are all valid. I grew up around every UNC fan within a 20-mile radius, and that included my Dad. I was drawn to being a part of Wolfpack Nation from the time that I understood what basketball was. There was no one to steer me in that direction, it just happened on its own. I wanted to attend NC State, but circumstances at the time dictated otherwise, so I am an Appalachian State grad, but I Never wavered from being a devoted Wolfpack fan, and I never will. It doesn't matter why you are an NC State fan, it just matters that you are.

I find it so laughable how bitter and vindictive UNC fans are in response to the success of the basketball programs of Kevin Keatts and Wes Moore. It's not unexpected because they can't deal with NC State's success on the hardwood. They can't deal with NC State's success in anything. They feel like they are somehow superior to NC State fans and alums. Let them think that. They aren't where NC State fans are right now and there is satisfaction in that. We also get little love from the other team that wears blue, albeit a darker shade. That's ok too. The thing that I keep going back to is that NC State beat UNC to win the ACC championship, and then Duke to win the South regional and a trip to the final 4. I don't think it could have been scripted any better. Sometimes the good guys do win.

All of these thoughts and emotions above have been swirling around in my head since the Elite 8 victories. There were many lean years in terms of measurable success. They were made worse by having to watch the success of those other two schools. I found myself asking when NC State fans would get to experience the joy and elation that comes with making a final 4. I have my answer and I couldn't be any happier. This doesn't happen very often but the fact that it has just gives this fanbase even more determination and a stronger sense of togetherness. It was needed, and no fanbase is more deserving than this one. Hope is back, excitement is back, optimism is back, and Kevin Keatts is back doing what he does. Winning basketball games. He grew so much as a coach this year, and he has it figured out now. I think NC State basketball will be on a much higher trajectory now, the women and The men. It's not going to be easy, but nothing good ever is. Enjoy this Wolfpack nation, it's been a long journey, but a satisfying one. NC State stuff is no longer your cross to bear. Enjoy the freedom from its clutches and let all of this sink in. It's been a long time since there has been this level of confidence across the entire athletic spectrum. Two final 4s, the spring football game, the baseball team clicking, and a different feeling. That is how I know NC State has turned the page. It's more than results. The energy is different, and there are other great things ahead for the Wolfpack. It's not going to be this good all the time, but the memory will be no matter how many times you replay it in your mind.


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