"I hear [Valvano] had a big scandal at N.C. State. Three of his players were found in the library."--Pat Williams, Philadelphia 76ers general manager.
Will the real Jim Valvano please stand up?
By Peter Golenbock
Carroll and Graf
311 pp., $18.95
Isn't he the chummy basketball guy with the big schnozz and the quick wit? The coaching success story who plays by the rules--and actually cares about his players as human beings? Kind of a Tommy Lasorda without the waistline?
Or is he the well-connected sleazeball who recruits naive high schoolers to North Carolina State with visions of national TV, number-one rankings, superstardom and sports cars, only to sit them on the bench? The racist manipulator who covers up his players' drug problems, illiteracy and criminal tendencies without trying to get them help? The egomaniac who pressures professors and administrators into preserving eligibility for Wolfpack cagers in his single-minded pursuit of NCAA glory and the all-mighty buck?
In Personal Fouls: The Broken Promises and Shattered Dreams of Big Money Basketball at Jim Valvano's North Carolina State, Peter Golenbock makes a forceful case for the latter, the portrait of a venal, vicious and vainglorious Coach V.
UNFORTUNATELY, there is no way to know how much of his account is factual. Golenbock swears he taped all of his conversations, but refuses to release the tapes in order to protect his unnamed sources. The one source he does name, team manager and Valvano confidant John Simonds, had his arm dislocated by a Valvano assistant after telling Golenbock the behind-the-scenes nitty-gritty.
There was so much controversy surrounding Personal Fouls that its initial publishers decided to abandon it, particularly after N.C. State officials went through the roof after hearing of the allegations--which were revealed on an early book jacket release. Carroll and Graf, a small New York publishing firm, decided to print the book, and the university began an investigation. So far, Valvano has stepped down from the post of athletic director, but it remains unclear what further changes will be made in the Wolfpack program.
Valvano, of course, claims Golenbock's account is all lies. The truth is probably somewhere in between the two versions, much closer to the author's than the coach's.
Valvano's record, off the court, is horrible. Despite taking courses as demanding as "Leisure Alternatives," few of his players graduate. Several, like Cozell McQueen and Chris Washburn, could not read before or after their N.C. State "educations." And Washburn has been in and out of drug rehabilitation since his stereo-stealing college days.
GOLENBOCK'S allegations will raise some eyebrows, but it is his vivid characterizations that make the book work. There's Kevin Drummond, the serious, hard-working junior-college transfer who can't understand why Valvano picks on him instead of Charles Shackleford, the lazy, pot-smoking center.
There's Washburn, he of the 470 SAT scores, who could not identify the country north of the U.S. There's McQueen, who weeps as his roommate has to read him the newspaper account of the death of his good friend Len Bias. There's Avie Lester, the acne-ridden reserve who releases the frustration he builds up sitting on the bench by pummeling teammates in practice.