GLENDALE, Ariz. — Members of NC State’s 1983 Cardiac Pack share a bond that goes far beyond the national championship they won together 4 decades ago.

They still keep in touch regularly through a group text chain.

Their most frequent conversations usually revolve around family, work and other goings on that have nothing to do with basketball.

Let alone their shared history.

Reminiscing about Jimmy V and the magical NCAA Tournament run that captivated the nation was a subject for which others to get misty-eyed.

Until now.

Like so many others in the Triangle and throughout college basketball, the ’83 champions have fallen in love with DJ Burns and this new group of Wolfpack underdogs who are in the process of writing an even more improbable postseason success story.

Not only has their group chat “blown up,” according to team member Thurl Bailey, he and his teammates have become so engaged that reserve forward Mike Warren returned to campus last Sunday night to celebrate around the Bell Tower with thousands of other joyous fans after the Pack beat Duke to earn its Final Four trip and a place in school history.

“It’s been great for us,” said Bailey, a 6-11 forward who led State in both scoring and rebounding in 1983. “We’ve always stayed connected through our text chain and the championship comes up every now and then. But this March has been kind of a whirlwind for us as well.

“There’s just so many eerie similarities between what’s going on now and what we went through. It’s fun to be attached to another team going through that. And it’s your alma mater.”


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It was exactly 41 years ago Thursday that Bailey and his teammates made history by upsetting top-ranked and heavily-favored Houston to win State’s 2nd national championship.

The images of Dereck Whittenburg’s air-ball (or was it a pass?) being dunked home at the buzzer by teammate Lorenzo Charles and coach Jim Valvano frantically running around the court looking for someone to hug amid the wild celebration are among the most iconic in all sports.

The symmetry between that memorable moment in time and the accomplishments of this current Wolfpack team over the past 3 weeks is eerily similar.

And not just because of the school both represent.

Both teams were written off because of subpar regular seasons before using surprise ACC Tournament championships as the springboard to their NCAA success. Both won 9 straight postseason games, although this current group still needs 2 more victories to cut down its own set of nets.

And both have been embraced by the public because of their lovable characters with larger-than-life personalities.

Valvano in 1983. Burns in 2024.

“One reporter (in ‘83) said that NC State doesn’t have any All-Americans on their team. But they have the hearts of all America,” said Ernie Myers, a freshman who played a vital role on the championship team during the 17 games Whittenburg missed because of a broken foot. “A lot of people are gravitating toward this team the same way. It’s a DJ Burns party and everyone’s invited.”

But as Myers and several of his teammates are quick to mention, there are just as many differences between the teams as there are similarities.

“We went in on a high,” he said. “We beat Wake Forest by 40 points and we kind of rolled through the ACC Tournament. I know people are saying we already had to win the tournament to get into the NCAA, but we only had to play 3 games. These guys had to win 5 in 5 days. It’s different in that respect.”

No team in ACC Tournament history had won 5 games in as many days before the Wolfpack did so in Washington, DC, last month. And only 1 team, UConn in 2011, has ever followed that feat up by winning 6 more to claim a national title.

The odds are squarely against State, which is an 8.5-point underdog against Purdue in Saturday’s national semifinal and +1500 to win it all, according to ESPN BET sportsbook.

But if anyone knows about beating long odds, it’s the members of a team that’s already done it. They’re the ones that originated the concept of “Why not us?”

“We’re playing with house money and that’s how it was back then,” Myers said. “We had more fun than any team in the tournament. I hope this team is having fun. I hope they’re not in their hotel room stressed out because Purdue has a lot more to lose than they do.”

Whatever the outcome, Whittenburg believes that coach Kevin Keatts and his team should be the center of attention, not a bunch of old guys on a grainy old video.

This is their moment, he said. They’re the ones who should be celebrated.

“I’m happy for these guys,” the former sharpshooting guard said. “I understand the comparison of 2024 to the ’83 team. But these guys have earned it. It’s their run and I’m just happy that I’m here to enjoy it. I hope they enjoy it, stay in the moment and believe they can do it. These kids are on a special journey right now and I just want to support them.”

Whittenburg is the only member of the ’83 team to still have an official connection to the men’s basketball program. He serves as the senior assistant to Keatts and the Wolfpack’s director of player development.

Myers has a role with the university. But because he’s the radio analyst for State’s women’s team, which is playing in its Final Four in Cleveland on Friday night (and hopefully Sunday), he won’t be in attendance at State Farm Stadium for Saturday’s national semifinal game.

Bailey, a radio analyst for the NBA’s Utah Jazz and Whittenburg’s backcourt mate Sidney Lowe. an assistant coach for the Cleveland Cavaliers, have other obligations and won’t be able to attend, either. Backup guard Terry Gannon could potentially be there to support his alma mater depending on his duties as the host of NBC’s PGA Tour golf coverage.

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Charles, the power forward whose dunk clinched the championship, died in a bus accident in 2011. The reunion of his surviving teammates gathering for his funeral became the inspiration for the popular 30 for 30 documentary “Survive and Advance.”

Those players – Whittenburg, Lowe, Bailey, Myers, Gannon, Cozell McQueen, Alvin Battle and others – were already beloved by Wolfpack fans before the documentary. The fame that came out of it raised them to mythical proportions.

“NC State royalty,” as current team member Casey Morsell called it.

It’s a status Whittenburg believes Morsell and his 2024 teammates are well on their way to attaining.
No matter what happens over the next few days in Arizona.

“This is something Coach Keatts, his staff and those kids can cherish for the rest of their lives,” Whittenburg said. “They’ll be able to come back to campus and show their kids and their grandkids the banner they put up and tell them how much it’s meant to a lot of people.

“It’s just like me and our ’83 team. People are still talking about that championship 40 years later. So 40 years from now, people will still be talking about those guys as well.”

As much as the events of the past few weeks have brought members of State’s 2 most recent Final Four teams together, the bond between them – especially Burns and Morsell – had already begun to form long before this postseason run began.

The foundation was set last season during a 40th-anniversary celebration of the ’83 title.

“Coach Keatts invited us to speak with his players after one of their practices, and the one thing I noticed was how eager they were to talk to us and get to know us,” Bailey said. “They understood the impact and that even though they weren’t around when we were playing, they were part of that legacy. When you choose to play basketball at NC State, you’re connected.”

That connection hasn’t been as strong in recent years because of a prolonged dip in the Wolfpack’s fortunes, especially when compared to the national success of rivals North Carolina and Duke.

This year’s team has restored much of that pride, even taking down both the Tar Heels and Blue Devils (twice) on the road to the Final Four.

It’s suddenly cool to be a State fan again. And no one is happier about it than the guys who helped make it cool in the first place.

“Somebody asked me the other day if they win the national championship would that take us out of the picture,” Bailey said. “What kind of question is that? I said no. That just adds to the legacy, dude. I hope they can do it. What a story that would be.”