College Basketball

NC State’s David Thompson reflects on glory days at Greensboro Coliseum

N.C. State players pose with coach Norm Sloan, bottom left, and the 1974 national championship trophy, which is being held by David Thompson, after defeating Marquette 76-64 at the Greensboro Coliseum.
N.C. State players pose with coach Norm Sloan, bottom left, and the 1974 national championship trophy, which is being held by David Thompson, after defeating Marquette 76-64 at the Greensboro Coliseum. NEWS & OBSERVER FILE PHOTO

David Thompson will be 65 years old when the ACC tournament returns to the Greensboro Coliseum in 2020.

Like a lot of ACC fans, he would rather it not leave, first to Washington next year, followed by two years in Brooklyn. The 2019 tournament is set for Charlotte.

“I think the ACC tournament should always be in Greensboro,” Thompson said.

It’s doubtful anybody has had more big moments in the Greensboro Coliseum than the former N.C. State star, who may be an aging alum but remains an ageless ACC legend.

Thompson and the Wolfpack won ACC championships in 1973 and 1974 in Greensboro. Their ACC title game victory against Maryland in ’74 was a 103-100 classic decided in overtime, and the Wolfpack came back to the Greensboro Coliseum a few weeks later to end UCLA’s seven-season NCAA reign and then beat Marquette to claim the school’s first national championship.

“This place has been been special,” Thompson said Wednesday. “In the Maryland game, there were six All-Americans on the floor. Then to play for the national championship, the intensity was so thick you could cut it with a knife.

“There are a lot of fond memories in this building. Any time you can win the ACC championship, play in three finals and win a national championship in a building, you hate to see it leave.”

But there also was a Greensboro moment Thompson calls bittersweet. While generally considered the best ACC player ever, the graceful 6-foot-4 forward with the 44-inch vertical leap played his last college basketball game 40 years ago at the Greensboro Coliseum.

“Yeah, I try to forget about that one,” Thompson said, laughing.

The 1975 ACC tournament is remembered as one of the best and for North Carolina freshman guard Phil Ford stealing the show and being the tournament MVP. In doing so, Ford denied Thompson and the Wolfpack a third straight ACC title and a chance to defend their national championship.

Thompson scored 38 points as the Wolfpack opened with an easy victory against Virginia. But in the semifinals against Maryland, he had to leave the game in the second half after scoring 30.

The Wolfpack, with power forward Kenny Carr taking charge, again beat the Terrapins, the ACC regular-season winners. But no one knew how seriously Thompson was injured or if he could play in the finals against the Tar Heels.

“I went out of the Maryland game with full body cramps,” Thompson said. “The following day Monte (Towe) and I were in the whirlpool all day before the game. Obviously I wasn’t at 100 percent, but I still played as hard as I could.”

Thompson, lacking his usual explosiveness, hit just seven of 21 shots against UNC. But the Wolfpack couldn’t contain Ford, who had 24 points and was unstoppable in the “Four Corners” spread down the stretch as UNC won 70-66.

For the first time, the NCAA allowed more than one team from a conference into the NCAA field but Maryland was the at-large choice from the ACC. The disappointed Wolfpack, 22-6 and ranked eighth nationally, quickly decided not to accept a bid to the NIT.

David Thompson, a two-time national player of the year and three-time All-American, had played his last college game.

“I know I didn’t expect it to be my last game, especially losing to Carolina, since we had beaten ‘em so much during my era at N.C. State,” Thompson said.

The Wolfpack won nine straight games against the Tar Heels – three in the Big Four tournament in Greensboro – before losing in Chapel Hill late in the ’75 season. Then again in March.

“Phil Ford had a fantastic game,” Thompson said. “They spread the court and went to the Four Corners, and Phil Ford in the Four Corners was almost a victory in itself.

“I hated to lose to Carolina, but I’m not ashamed to lose to a great guy like Phil and a great team. And in thinking about this building, I have about 10 great memories and one bad one.”

Thompson sat Wednesday on the top row of Section 132 with his Wolfpack red shirt and cap, seemingly just a little higher than he used to elevate above the coliseum court. He watched as Wolfpack point guard Cat Barber poured in 34 points – the most by a Wolfpack player in the tournament since Thompson’s 38 – during a victory against Pittsburgh.

“When you think of Greensboro and the Greensboro Coliseum, you think ACC and think of all the history,” Thompson said

He should know. He made a lot of it.

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Twitter: @ice_chip

ACC tournament sites

2016: Verizon Center, Washington

2017: Barclays Center, Brooklyn

2018: Barclays Center, Brooklyn

2019: Time Warner Arena, Charlotte

2020: Greensboro Coliseum