GREENSBORO — On Wednesday night, the Greensboro Coliseum hosted the array of individuals in which its fame is perhaps most surrounded upon, the 1974 NCAA Men’s Basketball National Champions, the North Carolina State Wolfpack.
The 9th annual Fred Barakat Sports Dinner serves as a fundraiser to the Greensboro Sports Council, and this year welcomed members of the 1974 title team’s to reassemble and serve as the event’s honorary guests. It is argued that Wednesday was the first time they have been back together in the Coliseum since that and unforgettable night on the hardwood 43 years ago when the Wolfpack won the national championship there.
The conversation and instant glow from the players on Wednesday night has outlasted the turn of time, as if it had never left the Coliseum.
Eddie Biedenbach was the 28-year-old assistant coach to the legendary Norm Sloan, and during the year of the title run was only six years removed from his time suiting up for the Wolfpack. Outside of coaching, Biedenbach also owned a prolific career as a two-time All-ACC guard for N.C. State, and could also be known for his time playing for three Hall of Fame coaches during his career, Press Maravich, Everett Case and Norm Sloan. Biedenbach, who later on took UNC-Asheville to the NCAA Tournament as its head coach, is now 71 years old.
Burleson, a 7-foot-4 center, Olympian and two-time First Team All-ACC, was also in attendance. David Thompson, three-time First Team All-ACC and ACC Player of the Year, and two-time AP National Player of the year, known as ‘Skywalker’ due to his 44-inch vertical, sat alongside Burleson on Wednesday night. During a practice in their freshman year, Monte Towe’s ‘bad’ toss near the rim, and Thompson depositing it delicately into the net helped invent the alley-oop, a modern staple in today’s above-the-rim game.
The Greensboro Coliseum has served as a form of safe haven for this North Carolina State Wolfpack basketball team, as they have collected wins from the Big Four Tournament, the ACC Tournament and their 1974 Title.
Outside of the National Championship itself, the Big Four held its own weight as the Wolfpack defeated John Wooden’s powerful UCLA Bruins in overtime to crack what could have been UCLA’s eighth national championship in a row. Earlier in the ’74 season, in St. Louis, UCLA and NC State met, and the Wolfpack picked up its first loss in two seasons, 84-66. The Bruins were led by three-time national player of the year Bill Walton.
On the loss, Monte Towe asserted, “I’m glad it happened in December, and not in March right here in the Greensboro Coliseum.”
The Wolfpack stunned UCLA on March 23, 1974, 80-77 in double overtime, and two days later vanquished Marquette 76-64 to win N.C. State’s first National Championship in men’s basketball. Thompson led his squad with 28 points. Burleson was not too far behind with 20.
Members of the team present in Greensboro Wednesday night were assistant coaches Biedenbach and Art Musselman, along with manager Biff Nichols, and players Thompson, Burleson, Towe, Phil Spence, Greg Hawkins, Mark Moeller, Dwight Johnson and Jerry Hunt.
This Wolfpack squad has earned their spot to be in the conversation as the highest-scoring team in the ACC, and perhaps all of college basketball, as they competed in a time where the dunk earned oneself a technical foul, there was no shot clock or a three-point line, and still averaged nearly 92 points per game. The dunk was outlawed before the ’67-’68 season with the ban lasting until the ’76-’77 season “because the dunking maneuver does not give the defense an opportunity to block the shot,” and with a faint cry that UCLA’s Lew Alcindor’s domination above the rim was a little unfair.
Of the numerous players and coaches present, the night saw a memorable on-stage conversation from Thompson, Towe, Burleson and Biedenbach, who shared similar post-game locker room experiences, everlasting memories and perhaps a few Stormin’ Norman quotes.
“A lot of my greatest memories came from here, I always talk about the Greensboro Coliseum and about how great it is for the ACC tournament… I think it should be here every year. This place is very special to me,” said Thompson. “We had the best point guard (Towe), the best center (Burleson) in the conference, and a lot of reserves that really played their role. We also had a great coach in Norm Sloan who in my opinion doesn’t get the credit he deserves. We had a great group of guys who really cared about winning, that was the most important thing, no one really cared about stats and I think that was what made us so successful.
“Just the fact that the fans still remember us and after all these years… and it’s been a few years and they still remember us, and I am very proud of that. We have all stayed good friends over the years, and when we come to see each other at gatherings like this, its like we have never been apart. We can pick right up where we left off and that is a sign of a great friend and a great teammate,” said Thompson.
“It is wonderful, always, to come back to Greensboro, because the first time a national championship was ever played in North Carolina, it was here. Of course we being a North Carolina team, and being able to not really derail, but throw a bump in the road to UCLA with Mr. Wooden’s 9-1, we were that one. Greensboro has always had a tremendous passion for the ACC and we as a team. It is always wonderful to get together and reminisce and come back here and think about ACC basketball,” said Burleson.
The Fred Barakat Sports Dinner was presented by the Greensboro Sports Council in 2008 and was renamed in 2010 in memory of the late Atlantic Coast Conference associate commissioner, Fred Barakat. The dinner is the Sport’s Council’s only major fundraising event. The proceeds of this year’s Fred Barakat Sports Dinner, announced on Wednesday night, will benefit the newly named Matt Brown Learn-to-Swim Endowment in honor of the Greensboro Coliseum Complex’s managing director.
An alarming statistic was stated on Wednesday night that eight children drown each week in the United States. Brown helped establish the program in 2011 and Learn-to-Swim has been 100 percent privately funded, with the goal being to teach every second-grade student in Guilford County Public Schools how to swim. As of last June, the program has taught 2,421 Guilford County Schools’ second-graders to swim and has recently expanded to the High Point area.
The Fred Barakat Sports Dinner features significant guests who in some way are related to the Atlantic Coast Conference, or nationally-prominent sports figures, past and present, and is open to any and all sports enthusiasts. In the past, the dinner has hosted Gene Corrigan, Former Commissioner of the ACC (1987-1997), Jay Bilas, ESPN Basketball Analyst; Clark Kellogg, CBS College Basketball Analyst; Dick Vitale, ESPN and Naismith Memorial Hall of Fame Inductee; Mike Krzyzewski, Duke University Men and Team USA Basketball Coach; Gary McCord, CBS Sports Golf Analyst and retired PGA TOUR player, along with Legends of the ACC: Randolph Childress (Wake Forest), Phil Ford (North Carolina), Mike Gminski (Duke), Dereck Whittenburg (NC State) and even coaches of the ACC with Dave Odom (Wake Forest), Gary Williams (Maryland), Bobby Cremins (Georgia Tech), and Les Robinson (North Carolina State).