ACC Tournament Media Memories


The ACC Tournament is a great sporting event. But for folks who work in sports media covering the Tournament, it’s more than that. If you grew up in North Carolina, the ACC Tournament was likely one of the things that drew you to working in media in the first place. For folks who were raised elsewhere but find themselves working in NC, they get a fast tutorial in what the Tournament means to their peers and their audience. We threw out a request to a few dozen past and present ACC media members with North Carolina ties to send us one (or two…or three) of their favorite memories of the event.

Evan Markfield, formerly of DTH, Carolina Blue and Associated Press: There are certain people, certain teams, certain fan bases who like to downplay the importance of the ACC Tournament. But there’s nothing more fun than watching a team that hasn’t won it before win it. You can tell it matters from the unbridled joy in the locker room.

Miami’s players in Greensboro in 2013 when they beat Carolina to take the crown are a fine example. A more hilarious example, however, would come two years later (also in Greensboro), when Notre Dame won the title (also over Carolina). As I was standing in the locker room wrapping up an interview, a Notre Dame player shouted at the top of his lungs, “My Instagram is blowing the fuck UP!” Several feet away stood a priest, wearing a championship hat and typing on his phone, smiling widely and nodding as if to say, “Yes, my son — there are no Insta likes like ACC tourney champ Insta likes.” Tell me those dudes didn’t care about the ACC Tournament.

Adam Smith, Burlington Times-News: It got weird in 2004 around the Greensboro Coliseum when a bodyguard for Baltimore Ravens owner Steve Bisciotti shot himself in the butt during the late game Friday night. Maryland, still in the league then, upset Chris Paul and Wake Forest. And from a writing standpoint it was like, “what the hell do we do with all of this?”

Neil Amato, formerly of the Durham Herald-Sun and the Wilmington Star-News: I interviewed John Grisham at the 06 tournament in Greensboro. It was a fairly ordinary interview, but it was cool to me that he agreed to do it. I asked him if anyone had ever told him he looked just like Rick Barnes, and he said no. I had asked Rick Barnes once, in the mid-1990s in Greensboro (at a high school or AAU event, I can’t recall), if anyone ever told him he looked liked Grisham. He didn’t know who Grisham was.
Shawn Krest, North State Journal: I’ve covered the last half dozen ACC Tournaments, after a lifetime of watching them on TV. Just having everyone in the conference—players, coaches, media, bands, fans, dance teams, mascots—in one place, with so much going on, on the court and off, is just overwhelming. As a result, I don’t remember scores or years, just a stream of snapshots.

There was the year the lights went out, and the fans started a “Pow-er fail-ure” (clap clap clapclapclap) chant.

There was the time Quinn Cook used Hayes Permar’s hat to wipe the sweat off his hands during a dead ball, P.J. Hariston bleeding all over the court in Greensboro, ACChurros in the media room, Olivier Hanlan lighting up the first day, the Ladybirds/Golden Girls rivalry.

Mike Maniscalco, Carolina Hurricanes reporter for Fox Sports:  I’m breaking the rules on this, we were supposed to give just one fond memory of covering ACC Tournaments, but for me it is how the moments run together that is the memory and meeting up with so many great people who are friends to this day. 

The first tourney I covered was in 2006 at the Greensboro Coliseum while I was working for the Virginia Sports Network with Mac MacDonald and Jim Hobgood. They are two of the best people to call a college basketball game and taught me the ropes. I was a sideline reporter for the radio network, I drove down with from Richmond with Jim and he gave a great history lesson on how big the tournament was for the fans. That tourney I was on the court after Duke won that year and seeing the joy on players faces stuck with me. 
That same tournament Boston College upset UNC in the semifinals and waiting to Tyrese Rice in the Eagles locker room. Enter the whirling dervish that is Dick Vitale asking loudly, “Where’s coach [Al] Skinner?!?” When I suddenly found Dicky V right next to me he asked who I was trying to interview because, as he said, “I can’t see so good, who is that in the crowd?”
I informed him it was Tyrese Rice and Dick Vitale shouted over the reporters, “Oh he good, tell him he’s a beautiful player!” Which was said loud enough for the entire arena to hear him. Then, as quickly as he entered, Dick Vitale left the locker room, after which a reporter turned to me and said “What the hell just happened?” To which I responded. “Dick Vitale just happened.”  
And, yes, I did let Tyrese Rice that Dick Vitale thought he was a beautiful player. 

Ken Tysiac, formerly of Anderson Independent-Mail,  The State Newspaper in Columbia, The Charlotte Observer and the News & Observer: As a newcomer to the South, I was introduced to the concept of “Anybody But Carolina” as I covered the 1996 ACC Tournament quarterfinals at the Greensboro Coliseum for the Anderson Independent-Mail.

North Carolina led underdog Clemson by six with just under six minutes to play. But then the Tigers – desperate for a win to solidify their first NCAA Tournament invitation since 1990 –  made a late run. Each Tar Heel miscue and each score by Clemson breathed more life into a crowd that suddenly sensed an upset building.
With the score tied in the closing seconds, point guard Terrell McIntyre passed to Harold Jamison in the high post. The big power forward whipped the ball to Greg Buckner under the basket for a two-handed dunk to give Clemson a 75-73, last-second win.
As I looked around the arena, I saw fans in every section on their feet, howling – except for those who had cheered for the Tar Heels. They were wearing orange, red, gold and a dark shade of blue. Despite their differing allegiances, they were united for a moment in their joy over the defeat of a common foe.
Shortly after the game, I learned that Dean Smith – the architect of the program that inspired that conference-wide ire – had visited the Clemson locker room after the game. He sought out McIntyre, the diminutive freshman point guard from Raeford, N.C., about 80 miles from Chapel Hill. In a classy, sportsmanlike move, Smith congratulated McIntyre on the way he led the Tigers to the win.
And as I was introduced to “Anybody But Carolina” that night, I realized that I didn’t understand it at all.

Barry Svrluga, Washington Post: 2003, semifinal Saturday: This was a Gary Williams/Jim Boeheim nightmare. The tournament was in Greensboro. North Carolina, seeded seventh in Matt Doherty’s final season, upset second-seeded Maryland in the quarterfinals on Friday. That left the following semifinal matchups: N.C. State vs. Wake Forest and Duke vs. North Carolina. Alumni and fans from Wilmington to Asheville must have driven into town that day. The building felt like it was the Final Four, not the semifinals of a conference tournament.

R.L. Bynum, SportsChannel8: As sports editor of the Kinston Free Press, I covered Jerry Stackhouse’s first two seasons at Kinston High School. But, other than keeping track of Charles Shackleford, we didn’t really cover the ACC. My wife and I attended the 1987 ACC Tournament in Landover, Md., (a little more than two months before we got married about 18 miles away from the Capital Centre) and saw something that hadn’t happened before and hasn’t happened since then: Both semifinals went into double overtime. No other ACC Tournament has had more than one overtime semifinal, and in no other year has either semifinal has needed two overtimes.

Top-seed North Carolina survived for an 84–82 win over No. 4 seed Virginia, then N.C. State beat Wake Forest 77–73 (in a battle of two of the three lowest seeds). The Pack overcame 17 points, eight assists and six rebounds from 5–3 Deacs point guard Muggsy Bogues. The Tar Heels needed a buzzer-beating (and a bit of a desperation) baseline jump-hook shot from freshman Scott Williams to force the second overtime, then won it on a driving floater by Kenny Smith in the final seconds. That doubleheader took a long time to play out and was emotionally draining no matter if you were covering it or rooting for one of the teams.  

That was a just the craziest of three dramatic days with unexpected results. The next day, the No. 6-seed Wolfpack upset UNC 68–67. That meant that five of the seven tournament games were either decided by one point or in one or two overtimes. In the first round, Virginia beat Georgia Tech 55–54 and the Wolfpack upset No. 3-seed Duke 71-64 in overtime.

Jeff Gravely, WRAL: The first ACC Tournament I covered for WRAL was in 1987 in Landover, Maryland. I was a photographer back then. Local TV stations weren’t allowed to shoot the games but we could get on the court to shoot video after the final buzzer of the championship game. NC State wins the title and all of the TV photographers sprint to the court to begin recording the celebration. Through my viewfinder I see a pile of Wolfpack players and a smiling Vinny Del Negro with his hands in the air. What a great shot!!

The only problem, I forgot to click the record button!!

I quickly realized it and soon began recording but I missed the money shot.

Tim Peeler, N.C. State historian: For most of us who grew up in the state of North Carolina, there has never been a time that the ACC hasn’t been part of our lives, from the grave to the cradle.

That may seem like the reverse order, but in my family, it isn’t. My two most distinct ACC tournament memories were in 1987, when I was covering my second tournament, and in 2004, my final time covering it as a newspaper reporter.

The 1987 tournament was in Landover, Maryland, on the second weekend of my final spring break as an NC State student. It was going to be the perfect time to let loose a little, enjoy the tournament in full after an early NC State exit the year before. The first day couldn’t have been better—the sixth-seeded Wolfpack took three-seed Duke to overtime and came out with a 71-64 win.

I didn’t enjoy it, though.

Earlier in the day, while on my way from the court to the hospitality room at the Capital Centre, I glanced up at the scrolling bar on the scoreboard and was shocked to see “Tim Peeler call home.” It was in the glorious days of before automatic answering machines, before the email, before cell phones, before the instantaneous contact of social media. The only way to get in touch with someone out of town was to leave a message at their hotel or hope someone at 411 could get you in touch with a live person at a known location.

My dad did both. He was calling to tell me that my maternal grandfather, Harse Gales, had died of a massive heart attack, less than a day after I went to see him before going to the tournament. The next 24 hours were a blur of making arrangements to check out of my hotel, change my flight, figure out some way for someone to pick me up at the Charlotte airport.

I missed perhaps the most dramatic day in ACC tournament history, as top-seeded and top-ranked North Carolina needed double overtime to defeat fourth-seeded Virginia, jeopardizing the Tar Heels’ perfect season. Afterwards, NC State and Wake Forest went to double overtime as well, with the Wolfpack taking a 67-63 win. It’s the only time in ACC Tournament history that both semifinal games needed two OTs.

I flew out early Sunday morning knowing that NC State would face North Carolina that afternoon in the championship game, and I was going to miss it. Someone in the family had a new-fangled videocassette recorder that could be scheduled to turn on and off if you weren’t at home, but no one had any faith it would work.

I also had to get someone to cover the championship game for me and send copy back to the student newspaper, which wasn’t exactly easy in those days.

My brother-in-law picked me up at the airport. We were supposed to meet the family at the church where my grandfather was to be buried. With great guilt and shame between us, we listened to the championship game as we drove from the airport. We arrived at the cemetery just as Vinny Del Negro hit a pair of free throws with 14 seconds remaining to end the Tar Heels’ season of perfection and NC State won the 10th ACC title in school history.

We kept the knowledge to ourselves, of course, as we met the family at the gravesite. I stopped to hug my mom, who was about to bury her father surrounded by every member of our family.

“They did it, didn’t they?” she said.

Who knew the hearse had a radio?

Bret Strelow, formerly of the Fayetteville Observer: During one ACC Tournament, we went out in Atlanta after some games, and it was clear this one NC-based team was supposed to hang close to the hotel based on how many players were with family in the lobby. We ended up running into a walk-on who was out late at a bar and didn’t seem to have the same strict rules. His freshman teammate who was with him, I’d guess that was a different story. And, thanks to the presence of Adam Smith, the walk-on was able to convince the young lady he was talking to that, yes, he was legitimately a college basketball player.

Adam Smith: On another memorable night, in 2012 in Atlanta, a group of us were out and happened upon Duke’s lovable walk-on Todd Zafirovski and a shy Alex Murphy, who was 19 at time. This was several hours after Florida State had beaten Duke in a semifinal and Austin Rivers had vowed not to watch the tournament final the next day. Anyway, we somehow had made friends with gals in a bachelorette party. They quickly became friends with Todd Z when he told them he played basketball for Duke.

Neil Amato: I’m probably the worst for the ACC Tournament. I never much cared for it, because I knew it could be the start of four straight weeks on the road. I was on the beat from 99 to 05, and my kids were born in 99 and 02, so it was not an event at which I lingered if the team I was covering lost. 

Shawn Krest: I’ll never forget the hapless student reporter from Syracuse, trying to ask Roy Williams about the tournament going to Brooklyn in a few years, right after Pitt’s Talib Zanna pulled down 21 rebounds to knock off the Heels.

I remember Dennis Clifford, the fifth-year senior on a winless Boston College team, absolutely melting in tears at the post-game press conference, reminding us all that, despite their size and (for some) NBA earning potential, they’re really just kids.

Neil Amato: At the 07 tournament, in Tampa, there were a few things I recall. One was how the NC TV guys overdressed for their outdoor live shots. It was blazing hot at 5 and 6 p.m., and they were still in suit coats. The local TV talent wore Tommy Bahama type stuff. 
The day before that tournament, I interviewed Trot Nixon at Red Sox spring training in Winter Haven. It hit me that it would be easy for a fan of a team that lost to get to any number of spring training games. And maybe that’s what happened, because attendance was at times pretty sparse there. 


ACC Media legend Bill Brill

Jeff Gravely: There are many stories shared in and about the ACC hospitality room. It’s a place to congregate and chill with a few beverages. It was a Saturday night tradition that John Feinstein would wheel in Bill Brill on a luggage cart and Brill would reveal what he thought would be the NCAA field. He was a bracketologist before we had bracketology and was very accurate. But occasionally he missed a few. After seeing Brill’s predictions, I remember some ACC tournament rookies went ahead and booked their flights to cover their team only to find out Sunday of a different destination.

In the 80’s and early 90’s when time ran out in the main hospitality room, there was a back-up hospitality suite in one of the hotel rooms. I’ve never seen so much beer crammed into a bathtub.  

Neil Amato: I wish I could recall specific moments in the Hospitality Room. Seeing Brill annually wheeled in on a hotel luggage cart to “call the field” was fun for a few years. I always considered him a decent bracketologist.

Barry Svrluga: 2001, semifinals: It was the first ACC Tournament in the Georgia Dome. This was the height of the Duke-Maryland rivalry featuring two teams that would end up in the Final Four. Carlos Boozer was still injured for Duke, and the Blue Devils were filling in with, among others, Obama-aide-to-be Reggie Love underneath. Nate James’s tip-in put Duke up late, but the main memory is this: Juan Dixon, from halfcourt at the buzzer. From my seat on press row, the shot looked perfectly on-line. But it hit the back of the rim, and Duke prevailed, 84-82.

Barry Jacobs, special to the News & Observer, legend and Orange County Commissioner: The level of play reflected the fact seven starters from both teams would become first-round NBA draft picks and that, for the second time ever in the ACC tournament semifinals, the contestants would go on to win consecutive national championships. What’s more, the leaders of each team followed one another as ACC Player of the Year.

Duke fired up 33 3-pointers, virtually double Maryland’s output, paced by 13 by 2001 co-POY Shane Battier. The Terrapins dominated the boards 51-30 but had 20 turnovers against Duke’s fierce man-to-man defense. Eight players scored in double figures, four on each side. Gary Williams’ squad outshot the Blue Devils and led at the half.

Predictably the game before some 40,000 roaring spectators at the Georgia Dome came down to a final shot. Or two.

Terp guard Steve Blake hit a three to tie the score at 82 with 8.1 seconds left to complete a comeback from a 14-point, second-half deficit. Rather than call timeout, Duke had Jason Williams rush the ball upcourt. The guard fired up a runner, which missed, but reserve wing Nate James emerged from a crowd to tip in the shot.

Just 1.3 seconds remained, enough time for Maryland to get the ball to Juan Dixon, the ’02 ACC player of the year. His halfcourt jumper to beat the buzzer bounced off the rim and the game was over.

Tim Peeler: I was able to get my parents tickets through the years to go to the tournament, including the 2001 finals in Atlanta just a few months before she died of cancer. It was one the few benefits she ever received from my sportswriting career.

Fast forward to the 2004 tournament at the Greensboro Coliseum. My wife was nine-and-a-half-months pregnant, way past due and not happy about it. I covered two games on Friday and drove back to my home in Cary just in case things started moving. Sometime about 5 a.m., she elbowed me awake and said “It’s time.”

We rushed to the hospital, and my second son did me the great favor of being born just before the tip-off of the NC State-Maryland semifinal game.

Poor tyke almost didn’t make it to his first dinner. As all Wolfpack fans will remember, that was the game in which official Larry Rose called a game-changing technical foul on NC State for staying on the court too long after a timeout, a huge contributing factor to the Terps’ 85-82 victory.

The little lump of joy in my lap being the only thing handy, I was about to chuck him at the television before my wife’s motherly instincts kicked in to save him from a free ride across the room and into the wall-mounted TV.

My son, who inherited all my passion for sports, celebrates his birthday every year during the tournament. I hope one day, when it returns to North Carolina, to take him to the tournament to see what it’s all about.

After all, it’s family tradition.

Purchase any of Tim Peeler’s books about NC State basketball here. Contact him at [email protected]

Maniscalco: The best memeory for me was from 2007 until 2016 I was able to provide radio play-by-play for the tournament. I called roughly 30 games and the privilege to do that is something I will cherish. Honestly, no game stands out, I generally got the first round match-ups to call, not always the prime match-us. To me though, every game to call was as special as the title game. 

For nine of those tournaments I would provided pre game and post game coverage for the NHL’s Carolina Hurricanes on radio. I couldn’t have done that without the help of David Modlin one of the best engineers on planet earth. That coincided with hosting a radio morning show that got me into these arenas long before everyone else so I didn’t sleep much during that week and that was fine. 
As for the friendships made and stories told in the media hospitality suite, there are too pick out just one and memories like that are best told in person…..

Stephen Schramm, formerly of the Fayetteville Observer: Sunday at the ACC Tournament used to be the worst. Coming at the end of a busy week, for a lot of us, it was quite possibly the longest work day of the year.

After probably going too hard at bars the night before and losing an hour with daylight savings, you’d cover the title game, write about the fallout from the NCAA tournament selections and make whirlwind travel plans for the next week.

When it was done, you were tired but nowhere near sleep. You want to go home, but you can’t wait to get to wherever March is taking you next. Mentally, physically, emotionally, you were kind of a mess.

That’s where fellow Fayetteville Observer writer Bret Strelow and I were when we trudged back to our Atlanta hotel room after the 2012 ACC Tournament. It was around midnight. We’d been in Phillips Arena since breakfast.

Hours earlier, N.C. State, which had endured a season filled with horrendous luck under first-year coach Mark Gottfried, had snagged the last spot in the NCAA Tournament field. It was a big story. We’d written all about it.

But when we sat down on our beds, pulled out our phones and opened up Twitter, we both got to see what it looked like.

N.C. State’s official account had posted a clip of the moment the Wolfpack’s name was called. I couldn’t stop watching it. Each viewing yielded another revelation.

Gottfried’s face going from resignation to sheer joy. Alex Johnson’s spontaneous dancing. The way C.J. Leslie stayed glued to the couch, unwilling to celebrate, lest some cosmic force rip away this piece of good fortune.

It was all real, raw emotion at a moment when I was especially susceptible to it. Having covered this team all season and been witness to much of their heartache, seeing this left me with a lump in my throat, blinking away … what, tears of joy?

“You seeing this?” Bret asked from the other bed.

“Yeah,” I answered.

“Dude, I’m serious, I think I might cry,” he said.

March is the best.

Anonymous: A group of us were out in Greensboro one year, and I started dancing with a Quadrant 4-level girl at The Boro, and she decided to roll out with us when we left. I was crashing on a pull-out couch in a co-worker’s hotel, so nobody was going back there, and somehow her mom called looking for her when she was in the car with us driving around afterward. When the mom found out the situation, she started yelling. One of the passengers got on the phone to talk the mom down, at one point saying, “You know you can attract more flies with honey?” We did a stop-and-go-style drop off to avoid any confrontation, but I got a late-night call from the girl later challenging me to meet her at the Greensboro mall food court the next morning, “If you’re man enough.” She ended the call by saying in her thick NC drawl, “If it wasn’t for your friends, you would have gotten a piece of ass.”