Caslee Sims | Staff Writer
When most think of the history of N.C. State athletics, they are reminded of things such as Riddick Field, the former home of the Wolfpack football team, or Reynolds Coliseum, the house that Everett Case and Kay Yow built. Important figures such as Presidents have been in Reynolds and it was the home of the Pack’s two National Championship-winning men’s basketball teams.
But while these stadiums are notable for the coaches they were home to and the great teams that played in them, the individual athletes are most important to the aforementioned success of these various playing fields.
N.C. State has built a tradition of standout athletes; African-Americans were vital to the success of the university as well as making the transition from the Southern Conference (SoCon) to the Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC) a smooth one.
Since joining the ACC in 1953, N.C. State has had its fair share of African-Americans being named to All-American teams as well as history makers who made very positive contributions to their respective programs.
To talk about the struggles they faced as students would be fitting for a different article- anyone who is familiar with the time of Jim Crow and the Civil Rights Era can infer maybe only a snippet of the hardships these student-athletes endured.
Making strides to become included in Wolfpack athletics proved to be a very difficult task. Pioneers such as Irwin Holmes, the tennis player and first African-American to integrate a team at this university, and Al Heartley, the first African-American to debut on the Wolfpack men’s basketball team, set a path that has led to continued success for African-American athletes at N.C. State.
The list can go on for days, but here are just a few with respect to the many other wonderful African-American athletes that made their mark as a part of the ACC and specifically the Wolfpack:
David Thompson, Forward, N.C. State Basketball (1972-75)
When you think of N.C. State basketball, as well as devising your list of greatest college basketball players ever, David Thompson should be on it.
Actually, Thompson is N.C. State basketball.
During his tenure in Raleigh, Thompson was a three-time consensus All-American and once named ACC Player of the Year. Thompson was named National Player of the Year twice and ended his career as N.C. State’s and the ACC’s all-time leading scorer.
David Thompson was a true scorer and was a pioneer of the “alley-oop”. To cap his career off, Thompson was a part of N.C. State’s 1974 National Championship winning team.
Lorenzo Charles, Forward, N.C. State Basketball (1981-85)
The 1983 season for the N.C. State Wolfpack was a season of ups-and-downs. They finished the regular season with a 17-10 record, going 8-6 in the ACC and looked as if they had no chance to be included in the NCAA tournament. A surprising ACC tournament title granted them a spot in the NCAA tournament.
Coach Jim Valvano’s “one game at a time” mentality and strategic coaching prowess lead the Wolfpack all the way to the 1983 National Championship where they would face off against the Houston Cougars.
With the game hanging in the balance and time running out, Lorenzo Charles made his mark.
As guard Dereck Whittenburg hoisted up a long shot which proved to be an air ball, Charles snatched it out of the air and dunked it as time expired to give the Wolfpack a 54-52 win that would crown them champions of the 1983 season, a game and finish either team will never forget.
Rodney Monroe, Guard, N.C. State Basketball (1987-91)
“Ice” was his nickname, which was fitting for Rodney Monroe’s quiet intensity, as he would go on to pass David Thompson’s school scoring record with 2,551 career points. Together with backcourt mate, Chris “Fire” Corchiani, the two became one of the most dangerous duos the ACC has ever seen.
One of Monroe’s best games came on January 13, 1991 as the Wolfpack trailed Georgia Tech 50-38 at halftime. Georgia Tech would prove to be no match for Monroe’s cool demeanor as the Pack would go on to win 90-83 in historic Reynolds Coliseum. Georgia Tech scored 33 points in the second half; Monroe would score 31 by himself.
Torry Holt, Wide Receiver, N.C. State Football (1995-98)
Wolfpack football’s Torry Holt rewrote the school record books. He ended his illustrious career with the Wolfpack by being named a consensus All-American. Not only did Holt set school records, he made his mark in the ACC record books as well.
He finished with an ACC record of 3,379 career-receiving yards and was named ACC Player of the Year and Offensive Player of the Year in his senior campaign.
Holt’s jersey was retired coincidentally in Reynolds Coliseum during halftime of the last N.C. State-UNC basketball game in the historic venue.
Mario Williams, Defensive End, N.C. State Football (2003-06)
A nightmare for opposing quarterbacks every weekend, Mario Williams too made his mark in the ACC. Helping to form one of the best defensive lines in the country, Williams tallied an impressive 14.5 sacks in 2005 as a junior for the Wolfpack- a school record.
Russell Wilson, Quarterback, N.C. State Football (2008-10)
Russell Wilson stands as the only ACC Quarterback to win a Super Bowl. Although his college football career did not stop at N.C. State, he was very impressive while he was a member of Wolfpack football.
Wilson also became the first freshman quarterback to be named first team All-ACC and set a then record for most pass completions without an interception.
Wilson started for the Wolfpack for three seasons, from 2008 to 2010. A three-time All-ACC quarterback, Wilson threw for 8,545 yards and 76 touchdowns in his Wolfpack career. As a fourth-year junior, he led N.C. State to a 9-4 record and a No. 25 ranking in the final AP top 25 in 2010.
Sidney Lowe, Guard, N.C. State Basketball (1979-83) Coach (2006-11)
A player on Coach Jim Valvano’s 1983 National Championship winning team, Sidney Lowe became N.C. State’s first African-American head basketball coach.
One of Lowe’s biggest moments came when the Wolfpack beat 3rd ranked North Carolina in 2007, the highest ranked team a first-year head coach has ever defeated in school history.
The ACC has seen wonderful athletes in its league; N.C. State has had great athletes to put on the jerseys and gear. But with respect to all those who have made contributions, African-American athletes and coaches making historic marks in the ACC and at N.C. State is a tradition that runs deep and has not ceased.