The ACC Men’s Basketball Tournament begins today and “March Madness” is on our doorstep. Once again the Atlantic Coast Conference is evenly balanced and is predicted to be a NCAA leader. There was a time before the conference was born, however, when basketball in North Carolina and the South was secondary to football. Morton collection volunteer Jack Hilliard takes a look at the man and the tournament that brought about the roundball prominence we see today.
I remember a time in 1954 when I was a freshman in high school and working for my dad at his drug store in Asheboro. He had just hired a guy named Johnny Campbell, an Army veteran who had recently returned from three years (1951–1953) in Germany and Korea. Campbell told me once that most everywhere he went, when people learned he was from North Carolina, they would say “NC State basketball, Everett Case.”
Coach Everett Case was a basketball visionary long before he came to North Carolina State in 1946. Back in his native state of Indiana, he was a legendary high school coach. When he arrived in North Carolina, football was king; Case, however, saw basketball as king, and he began to change the minds of fans across the state. He saw a partially built Reynolds Coliseum as an arena of 12,500 cheering fans.
In the beginning, Case recruited many out-of-state players, but he visited North Carolina high schools across the state, encouraging coaches and school boards to build better gym facilities so young boys could compete for basketball scholarships.
In his first season at State, the fire marshal canceled a game because people were spilling onto the floor and climbing in the windows of tiny Thompson Gymnasium. Case described that scenario in a 1964 interview: “We played our first games in Frank Thompson Gym, and had to cancel the North Carolina game when the students broke down the doors and the fire marshal wouldn’t let us play.”
That 1946–47 NC State team compiled a 26 and 5 record, and won the Southern Conference Tournament beating Maryland, George Washington, and North Carolina.
Then, it happened again during the 1947-48 season:
The fire marshal called off our Duke game in Frank Thompson Gym on the afternoon it was scheduled to be played. . . They said Frank Thompson Gym was a ‘fire hazard’ and wouldn’t let us play any more home games there . . . so we had to move into Memorial Auditorium.
State racked up an even better record of 29 and 3 during the 1947-48 season, and once again won the Southern Conference Tournament—this time beating William and Mary, North Carolina, and Duke. By the 1948-49 season, NC State basketball was becoming extremely popular, just as Case had envisioned, as they won yet another Southern Conference Championship.
NC State moved into the William Neal Reynolds Coliseum for their home games during the 1949–50 season, and saw the establishment of a holiday basketball tournament that quickly became the top sporting event in North Carolina. It was called the “Dixie Classic.” As Case said, “All the Big Four schools were tickled to get in on it . . . it meant some big pay-checks for them.” And as you might have guessed already, State won the first Dixie Classic as well as the 1949–50 Southern Conference Championship.
I recall seeing my first Dixie Classic. I had never seen anything like it. The house lights in the Coliseum were dimmed and a spotlight was turned on for the player introductions, and when it was all over the winning team cut down the nets. The names Dick Dickey and Sam Ranzino were fast becoming heroes for kids across the state.
Case’s 1950–51 team brought home another Southern Conference and a second Dixie Classic Championship, winning 30 games. Finally, during the 1952–53 season, Wake Forest nipped State 71 to 70 for the Southern Conference Championship, but State won its fourth Dixie Classic.
The 1953-54 basketball season in North Carolina brought a new conference to town: the Atlantic Coast Conference. NC State suffered two losses in the Dixie Classic—one to Navy and one to Wake Forest—but they won the first ACC Tournament Championship.
The 1954-55 Wolfpack continued their winning ways with the Dixie Classic and ACC Championships. It was ditto for the next two seasons, and it was beginning to look like Coach Case and his Wolfpack would dominate the ACC as it had the Southern Conference. But in 1956, the momentum was derailed when NC State was placed on a four-year probation by the NCAA. It was reported that an assistant coach and State’s assistant athletic director had given a Louisiana high school kid cash and gifts to entice him from his previous agreement to attend Kentucky. Case denied the charge, but the NCAA ruled that he knew about the gifts—which included a seven-year medical education. This became known as the Jackie Moreland case.
The 1956-57 NC State team lost to Wake Forest in the Dixie Classic and the ACC Tournament. The 1957-58 Wolfpack lost both tournaments as well, this time to powerful North Carolina, who compiled a 32-and-0 record and won the NCAA Championship.
Case and his Wolfpack came back to win the ACC Tournament following the 1958-59 regular season as well as the 1958 Dixie Classic, but lost both events in the 1959-60 season. There were no NC State tournament wins during the 1960-61 season. Following the season, it was revealed that at least four NC State players and possibly two UNC players had shaved points in order to shade the outcome of games, including at least one Dixie Classic game. Said Case, “it was a terrible blow to all of us here at State.”
The 1960 Dixie Classic was the last to be played, because things got worse. On Saturday morning, May 14, 1961, Lester Chalmers, Wake County’s district solicitor called UNC President Dr. William Friday to an an emergency meeting. Chalmers told Friday that a player’s life had been threatened by gamblers. “In our minds, we were dealing with protection of human life of an innocent college kid . . . you weren’t left with any alternative.” The UNC system imposed numerous sanctions on both UNC and NC State’s basketball programs and abolished the Dixie Classic.
Due to the scandals, State played fewer games during the 1961 through 1964 seasons, with no ACC Championships. By this time, Coach Case was in failing health, but he began the 1964–65 season even though he was suffering inoperable cancer. Two games into the season, he was unable to continue and turned the coaching over to assistant Press Maravich. When State won the 1965 ACC Tournament, Coach Case was taken in his wheelchair out to help the team cut down the net. A year later, Everett Case died and was buried in Raleigh’s Memorial Park. It was his wish to be laid facing US Highway 70 so he could “wave” to later NC State teams as they traveled to Durham and Chapel Hill.
In his time at NC State, Everett Case’s resume is like no other. He won 379 games, six Southern Conference Championships, four Atlantic Coast Conference Championships, and seven Dixie Classics. During his career the ACC named Case as its Coach of the Year three times. Through all those accomplishments, he brought big-time basketball to North Carolina and the South.
Afterword from the Editor
In searching for images to illustrate this post, I’ve discovered that Hugh Morton images for the Dixie Classic and from the early years of the ACC Tournament are sparse. The earliest identified Dixie Classic negatives date from 1957 through 1959, while those depicting the ACC Tournament images date from 1958. Earlier images may exist, but the dates are uncertain. In fact, 1950s college basketball negatives by Morton are a relative scarcity. Many negatives listed in the finding aid for this decade are broadly categorized, such as “Old basketball negatives” or (take a deep breath . . . ) “College basketball, various (North Carolina State University vs. William & Mary, George Washington vs. William & Mary, North Carolina State University, Wake Forest, Greensboro, Maryland, other unidentified teams), 1940s-early 1950s.” Perhaps one day we’ll be able to sort out the images with a bit more specificity.—Stephen