Sunday, March 26, 2017

Terry Gannon and Wolfpack Hoops

A tough day watching Xavier fall short of the Final Four with an 83-59 loss to Gonzaga in the Western Regional final.
It was the end of a surprising run for the battered Musketeers, but one can only think of the possibilities had Edmund Sumner not been injured...

The tournament often brings me back to those days as the hardest-core basketball fan that I knew and some of the players and teams that I loved so dearly.

I was always a Maryland fan (until they left for Big 10 with my interest waning) and I've written before of those years (70's and 80's) rooting for Memphis State (Keith Lee years) and UNLV (lots of late night watching on school nights on ESPN) being the top-notch team of the small conferences (think like a really flashy Gonzaga),but one team was the team that I rooted for most other than against Maryland-the North Carolina State Wolfpack.

Many forget that there was a time that Dean Smith and his North Carolina powerhouse weren't even in the top two teams in the league and the only time window that Lefty Driesell's Terrapins could consistently defeat Carolina, the Terps could not get by Norm Sloan and the Wolfpack.
Those Pack teams were looked at as the team to beat, so I didn't really start rooting for them until a few years later when the Tar Heels had returned to assert their presence as the league's titan.
Then it was because of one player that I liked at the end of the Sloan years-Charles "Hawkeye" Whitney (hmmm,perhaps a future Forgotten Superstar?), a 6-4 forward that reminded me size wise of Charles Barkley,who was a better college offensive player than Barkley,but not better off the glass.
Whitney had the appearance of a player that would appeal to kids and he came out of DeMatha high, which was the place for high school stars in the Washington D.C. area.

I liked Whitney and he moved State up my list, but the real appeal was the arrival of Jim Valvano from Iona.
Valvano was fun to watch, quick with the quip and I instantly was a fan.
I liked his teams and rooted hard for them (except against Maryland) and the 1983 national title team that is so fondly remembered was one that I followed from beginning to end of their stunning drive.
I have almost every game of their tournament run (I think I'm missing one or two games) on DVD and I watch them more than any college game (non-Terrapin) in my collection.
The best players on those teams were future pro (and noted singer from the Roy Firestone Sports Look show) Thurl Bailey, point guard Sidney Lowe and shooting guard Derreck Whittenburg, but my favorite was one that I could relate to.

Terry Gannon was a shooting guard that came off the bench and entered N.C.State when I was in eighth grade.
Gannon shot the ball well from long range was often used as instant offense with a sweet jumper.
Gannon instantly became my favorite Wolfpack player and I loved seeing him on the 30 for 30 featuring Valvano and the 1983 Wolfpack recalling a rare attempt at defense as he took a charge against a flying Clyde Drexler in the NCAA finals.
With Gannon's shooting range and top-notch free throw shooting, he reminded you of Mark Price of Georgia Tech (later of the Cavaliers) without the playmaking ability of Price.
Gannon's game was one that you could approximate playing in games and feel like you could somewhat play like him.
I sure wasn't going to be flying high with dunks and alley-oops, but firing away from the outside-every once in a while, I could feel like a player.
Part of the fun being an ACC fan was being to imitate some of the shooting forms.
To this day, I'll shoot around with Adrian Branch's side-saddle lean-in jumper (I remember Branch's shot to beat #1 Virginia better than I remember a game I saw yesterday!).
Gannon's shot was more of a straight up and follow through jumper that I liked to use, but there was one guy on Wake Forest that was a forward that had an unusual little tic when he shot that I liked.
His name was Alvis Rogers and he would catch the ball and roll his wrists in a circle just before releasing the ball.
My Rogers-like shot was not exactly on the money very often and I was amazed that he made as many shots as he did!

When Jim Valvano left the school and a few years later when Hagerstown's Rodney Monroe was finished with his career at State, I lost interest.
The teams weren't as good, the style of play was slow, the old tartan floor was covered-it wasn't the same.
It never has been at State since then, State was always much better than Duke growing up, but Duke blew past the Pack like they were standing still.
N.C.State is still a sleeping giant waiting to be raised out of slumber with the right coach and who knows how Duke will adapt when Coach K. finally retires?
Duke is a tougher place to win than one thinks and it doesn't take long to slide as State found out.

As for Terry Gannon, I still see him during the course of the year as he is the voice of the LPGA, which I watch quite often, on the Golf Channel.
(I still need to do that promised piece on the LPGA, although there is an old archived podcast on it)
Gannon has done other sports over the years since leaving State and a brief pro career in Europe and he's really solid.
You always have a special place for the players that you root for when young, Terry Gannon is one of those players among others and I just talked to my dad today about this weekend's games and I asked him about him remembering me practicing shooting in the backyard and the abandoned schoolyard all the time.
His response was more than I expected- "Yes, I remember trying to get you to shoot like you instead of that white guy from N.C.State and the other guy that had the funny thing that he did with his hands".
That's about a thousand times more memory than I thought Dad had on a topic like this and makes me again think about what sports can do-give people with limited things in common something to connect with.

I'll be back later with a cleaning out the inbox with a non-sports edition.

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