<
>

Memorable minute not the whole story for NC State's Myers

RALEIGH, N.C. -- The details are a little sketchy. It might have been one whole minute but was probably a few seconds less. Truth be told, several of Ernie Myers' former teammates don't even remember that he actually played in the 1983 national championship game -- the forgotten freshman in one of the most memorable college basketball games ever.

"I don't remember anybody except for Terry Gannon," said former NC State forward Harold Thompson.

"You know what?" Cozell McQueen said with a chuckle. "I don't remember Ernie playin' either."

"I don't remember," said Dereck Whittenburg. "But I think it was a little bit in the second half, right? I think it was a little bit."

It was. There's proof.

"I grabbed a rebound." Myers beamed recently, as if it were his first game ever. "I got a rebound. I'm in the books with one rebound. No points, but one rebound. Hey, I'm in the books. It might be 50 seconds, it might be a minute, but my name is on the score sheet forever."

The official box score from NC State's miraculous, last-minute 54-52 win over Houston does credit Myers with one rebound in one minute. Call it one fleeting moment, but the Cardiac Pack might never have earned that bid to the NCAA tournament had it not been for Myers' efforts throughout the regular season.

As a true freshman in the ACC, Myers was called upon by late coach Jim Valvano to fill in for Whittenburg, a senior captain and outstanding perimeter shooter who missed 14 games because of a small fracture in his foot. During that span, Myers averaged 17.9 points, even leading the team in scoring.

When Whittenburg returned with three regular-season games remaining, Myers was relegated back to the bench, a role he never challenged. Instead, Myers graciously stepped back at a time when most players -- especially now, 25 years later -- would have wanted to burst forward into March Madness. It was an unselfish characteristic the former players say defined that team.

"The difference in guys now versus then, it's like night and day," McQueen said. "Guys now are either -- for lack of a better word -- greedy or selfish, or it's about them. Whereas back then, in my mind we had more respect for each other and more respect for the game itself. We always had an attitude where 'OK, there are seniors, juniors, sophomores and freshmen. Everybody will have their turn sooner or later.' Nowadays, guys don't care. … No respect for the upperclassmen."

Heading into the 1982-83 season, the senior trio of Sidney Lowe, Thurl Bailey and Whittenburg was the talk of NC State basketball. Together the three seniors led the Wolfpack to a 7-2 start heading into a home game against Virginia. Whittenburg had scored 27 first-half points against the Cavaliers before falling awkwardly in the second half and injuring his foot. After the game, team doctors told Valvano that Whittenburg was done for the season.

That thrust Myers into duty.

That one second or that one minute, you can affect the game...If the coach puts you in there for 30 seconds, give it the hardest 30 seconds you ever gave in your life.

--Ernie Myers

"Coach V called me in his office and he said, 'Ernie, we're going to need you to do a lot more of what you've already been doing for us. You're going to have to step up to another notch,'" Myers recalled. "… It was like a blessing in disguise. I didn't come here expecting to start my freshman year. I just wanted to be a part of a good team."

None of them had any idea just how good the team would be -- especially after Whittenburg went down.

Following Whittenburg's injury, NC State lost three of its first four games. But the team regrouped and won eight of its next 10. By that point, Whittenburg had been cleared to return to the lineup. Myers unassumingly returned to the bench.

"It goes to show you the true character of the team," Whittenburg said. "Ernie knew that he was the heir apparent, and he was going to take over when I left. He knew his role, he understood it, and that's a credit to his character. That's what made our team great."

There was at least one player who could vouch for Myers' minute in the championship game. Lorenzo Charles played 25 minutes that day, but the basketball world remembers only one -- the last. It was his dunk off Whittenburg's 40-foot air ball that won the game.

"One minute at the end I stole some glory," Charles said. "I tried to have one minute of glory, too. I just happened to have been involved with the shot that defines the whole tournament. Players like Ernie, myself, Cozell, Terry Gannon, we understood our role on that team. We understood that Sidney, Dereck and Thurl did 80 percent of what needed to be done for the team to be successful. I understood that I was a role player."

It took Charles only a minute, though, to make history -- a lesson Myers preaches to younger players whenever he gets the chance.

"That one second or that one minute, you can affect the game," Myers said. "You can get fouled, you can get on the free-throw line, you have to always be prepared when you're out there to play. If the coach puts you in there for 30 seconds, give it the hardest 30 seconds you ever gave in your life. You might get five minutes next time."

Sometimes, though, one is enough to last a lifetime.

"I like to say, 'Hey, the minute I got, a lot of people wish they had,'" Myers said. "It was a great moment for [Valvano] to pick me to get in the game. This is something I would never forget."

Heather Dinich is a college football and basketball writer for ESPN.com. Send your questions and comments to Heather at espn.hd@hotmail.com.