Photo courtesy of NC State University
William Neal Reynolds Coliseum.
The Old Barn.
The epicenter of NC State men’s basketball’s glory days.
If it were up to the fans, the team would’ve never left in 1999. The hardwood now named after Hall of Fame women’s basketball coach Kay Yow saw the likes of David “Skywalker” Thompson, Thurl Bailey, Chris Corchiani, Rodney Monroe, Tom Gugliotta, Derrick Whittenburg, Jim Valvano, Norm Sloan and Everett Case. And that was just the home team; stars such as Michael Jordan, Ralph Sampson, and Len Bias also set foot here.
The Cathedral of Wolfpack basketball was the original site of the ACC Men’s Basketball Tournament from 1954 to 1966. It also hosted the fabled Dixie Classic Tournament from 1949 to 1960, along with the Southern Conference’s Men’s Basketball Tournament from 1951 to 1953.
Reynolds was originally built in 1949 to host events such as agricultural expositions alongside men’s basketball games. It’s also hosted concerts and presidential candidates. It’s no stretch of the imagination to declare Reynolds Coliseum the most historically-rich basketball arena in the American South.
Phi Slamma Jamma
Perhaps the most iconic night in Reynolds’ history came on a February night in 1993. That night, Coach Mike Krzyewski and the Duke Blue Devils were in town to face the Wolfpack. But the main attraction that night was before any basketball took place. Because on that night, our hero was back in town — the man that every NC State fan holds above all others, Jim Valvano.
Valvano was a man known to us before the rest of the nation for his unrivaled charisma in front of a camera. Valvano was a man, who attacked every day with an enthusiasm unknown to man before he came along — a man who’d practice his national championship celebration with his Wolfpack team by being up in the press box playing crowd noise and having the players and coaches jump up and down and hug each other before cutting down the nets.
And when that dream became a reality after defeating the heavy favorites from the University of Houston, Phi Slamma Jamma, the team hugged and celebrated just as they had rehearsed. There was just one problem. Coach V wasn’t in the press box; he was on the floor and had no one to hug!
In a scene now immortalized by ESPN’s broadcast of March Madness, Jimmy V ran around the court like a chicken with its head cut off, frantically searching for a hugging partner. This was the same man, who gave the single greatest speech in ESPY history while accepting the inaugural Arthur Ashe Award for Courage.
During that speech, he announced the creation of the Jimmy V Foundation. To date, it has awarded over $200 million in cancer research grants nationwide.
That man had returned to Reynolds Coliseum on that February night in 1993. It was the 10-year anniversary of NC State’s men’s basketball national title. The players from that team had all lined up on the baseline, not knowing if their beloved coach would be physically able to attend. He was in the thick of his own fight against Bone Cancer.
But then, the crowd erupted louder than it had ever done during any basketball game. Jimmy V had made his way from out of the tunnel onto the court. Coach V arrived visibly weakened by the cancer that had spread over his body, but also in visibly high spirits; it was Jimmy V after all. He walked out, hugged all the players on his way, telling each of them he loved them, getting the same sentiment spoken back to him by each and every one of them.
He then delivered a brief speech reflecting on his time in Raleigh with the Wolfpack and time as a broadcaster. Then to the capacity crowd in Raleigh that night, he led the grandstands in the NC State fight song, capped off by a raucous “GO PACK” snag in unison through tear-filled, shaking voices of the Wolfpack faithful. Coach Valvano would pass not long after.
Toughest Place to Play
In its heyday, Reynolds Coliseum was one of the toughest places to play for visiting teams in the entire country. Former Duke center Jay Bilas confirmed that.
“To me, the toughest places to play had more to do with the quality of the opposing team than anything else, but Reynolds Coliseum at NC State was the toughest place I played while in college,” Bilas said. “Reynolds was configured much the same way as Cameron Indoor Stadium, but the end zones were much deeper and the sides were right on top of you. Reynolds was loud, edgy and intense.
“The Wolfpack under Jim Valvano were a tough out and the games were always fistfights, but the thing I remember most is coming back to a huddle and seeing lips move, but not being able to hear what was said. It was so hot and loud that your head would spin. Of course, having to guard guys like Thurl Bailey, Lorenzo Charles, Cozell McQueen and Chris Washburn probably had something to do with my head spinning.”
Former North Carolina guard Hubert Davis offered similar sentiments about Reynolds Coliseum.
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“The toughest place I ever played was Reynolds Coliseum, former home of the NC State Wolfpack,” Davis said. “Cameron Indoor Stadium and Cole Field House didn’t even come close. I remember the long walk from the locker room to the floor. You had to enter under the bleachers and then had to sprint to the floor so that the fans wouldn’t throw soda on us. The end zone seating went back as far as I’ve ever seen – the sea of red just never seemed to end. In the four years I played there as a Tar Heel, I never scored on the opposite basket away from our bench in the first half. I eventually calmed down, but was always flustered in those first 20 minutes. It was that intimidating.”
Reynolds Coliseum is still in use. It is now the home for all ROTC services and the women’s basketball team, women’s volleyball, women’s gymnastics, and men’s wrestling.
On Feb. 16, 2007, NC State named the court in Reynolds “Kay Yow Court”. It was done with the assistance of a donation from the Wolfpack Club. The arena at Reynolds Coliseum is also now named the “James T. Valvano Arena”.
Reynolds Coliseum will always be special in the hearts and minds of the Wolfpack faithful. They now get to enjoy the annual “Heritage Game”. That’s a contest played by the men’s basketball team every December.
Reynolds Coliseum remains the Cathedral of the church of Wolfpack basketball. Memories of yesteryear are passed down generation to generation of Wolfpackers by the mothers and fathers before them. It will always remain a special place.