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N.C. State's Final Four double has Wolfpack fans excited with March Madness joy

RALEIGH, N.C. — The grave is situated on a hill in the 72-acre Oakwood Cemetery near downtown. It has “Valvano” engraved in large letters on shiny black stone, paying tribute to N.C. State’s charismatic coach who inspired big dreams and

RALEIGH, N.C. — The grave sits on a hill in the historic 72-acre Oakwood Cemetery near downtown. It bears the name “Valvano” carved in large letters on polished black stone, honoring N.C. State’s charismatic coach who offered big dreams then experienced them in an unforgettable run to the 1983 national championship.

Jimmy V has been gone for more than three decades. Yet visitors are leaving new tributes. Among those: a sticker with the “Why not us?” slogan defining the most exciting March moments here in decades.

The Wolfpack men have followed their first ACC championship since 1987 with an even more unlikely Final Four appearance, the first since Valvano’s “Cardiac Pack” magic of ‘83. Even more incredible: The women are in the Final Four, too, their first trip since 1998, which came under their own beloved late Hall of Famer, Kay Yow.

It has all led to an emotional reconnection with past glory on Tobacco Road, including this time a generation that has never seen anything like this.

It’s a thrill borne of built-up frustration. Yet battered hope remains for a women’s team that has been nationally relevant for many seasons and a men’s program that spent much of the post-Valvano era wandering in the wilderness.

Payoffs came Sunday with Final Four tickets. Now N.C. State possesses a spotlight it often has to fight to share with nearby rivals Duke — the 11th-seeded Wolfpack men’s Elite Eight victim — and North Carolina.

By early Monday, fans were welcoming one Final Four team in its campus homecoming, then the other about two hours later.

Both programs have embraced it. Women’s coach Wes Moore attended the men’s ACC title win in the nation’s capital, then men’s coach Kevin Keatts sat behind press row as Moore’s women beat Tennessee in an NCAA second-round home win.

Businessman Greg Hatem, whose Empire Properties helped revitalize downtown Raleigh with restaurants and building projects, is cherishing it all. Part of the Wolfpack Club’s board of directors, Hatem was a photographer for N.C. State’s student newspaper, The Technician, during the 1983 run that ended with Lorenzo Charles’ dunk to beat Houston and Valvano frantically looking for someone to hug in Albuquerque.

It was a lasting moment for a program that also won the 1974 NCAA title, which included defeating UCLA in the Final Four to end John Wooden’s streak of seven straight championships. Now 2024 has its place in Wolfpack lore.

“It’s nice to feel the energy again, it’s nice to see people out wearing the red,” Hatem said. “Now they’re excited again, and I’m talking about the young ones who have never seen this, and folks my age who have seen and remember ‘83 and ‘74.

“It’s something I didn’t know when we would get to see it.”

The same is true of 1983 team member Ernie Myers, who said teammates are talking constantly about this run on their group text. Charles, he of the famous dunk, died in 2011 and is buried not far from Valvano.

Myers is a radio analyst for the women and worked their Elite Eight win against Texas. The wait hadn’t been quite the same for Moore’s team, which reached the Elite Eight two years ago. That top-seeded team faced a lower-seeded Connecticut team in the Huskies’ home state, suffering a crushing double-overtime loss.

However, this team, which was chosen eighth in the ACC, managed to take that final step.

Chasity Melvin was the leading scorer when the program made its only appearance in the Final Four before she went on to play professionally in the WNBA and overseas. Since then, she has transitioned into coaching. She sticks to superstitious routines during the Wolfpack’s matching runs, such as wearing N.C. State socks, sitting in the middle of a three-cushion couch, and refraining from texting or tweeting during play.

“I think it was really tough for coaches and ADs to have a clear vision of, 'Okay, we're tired of saying we can't do it because we have to compete with Carolina and Duke,'” Melvin explained. “But actually insisting, like: ‘Hey, it’s going to be difficult but we want to establish a culture. We can also win this game.’”

The Wolfpack women will play against the unbeaten South Carolina, the No. 1 overall seed, on Friday in Cleveland. The men will face the top regional seed Purdue on Saturday in Glendale, Ariz.

“It’s obviously a very special time,” Moore said. “Memories that will stay with you forever.”

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