Basketball in the South began to develop some muscle shortly after World War II when a traveling shoe salesman name Chuck Taylor told suffering officials at N.C. State about a high school coach in Indiana. N.C. State teams had been playing to half-empty Thompson Gym, and more punishing, both Duke and Carolina had been wiping their feet on the Wolfpack. So, from Columbus, Indiana, Everett Case came to West Raleigh in 1947, and basketball below the Mason-Dixon Line would never be the same again.
With such imports as Dick Dickey, Sammy Ranzino, Norm Sloan and Vic Bubas, N.C. State dominated the Southern Conference to the point of embarrassment. Everybody else was playing for runner-up. The conference tournament had been played in a cozy little auditorium in Raleigh that seated about 3,500. Teams played on a stage to an audience seated theater-style. But once Case arrived, the tournament had to be switched to Duke, same old stone barn that’s now home of the Blue Devils; and work that had been started on what would become Reynolds Coliseum, on the State campus, was rushed to completion.
N.C. State ruled. What Everett Case had done was force the rest of the conference to get with it, or get buried. In 1953, the Southern Conference broke up, and thus the Atlantic Coast Conference took off on its own. In effect, Everett Case had changed the face of the South, and while his name was rarely mentioned during this week at the Georgia Dome, look around and what you see, this place alive with 28,000 highly charged bodies, can be traced back to the little man from Indiana, with wispy hair, florid complexion, good humor and a taste for living.
His influence is not overlooked in North Carolina. When the state initiated a sports Hall of Fame, Everett Case was the first inductee, and at the time, Jim Sumner, the official historian, wrote that “he (Case) was the most important 20th Century figure in North Carolina sports.” This, of course, was before Dean Smith, Richard Petty an∂ Michael Jordan had checked in with their careers, but to those of us who were there in Case’s time, there is no dispute. Case’s influence spread far beyond the state, and in essence was felt at all stages of college basketball.
This very tournament, closing out here this weekend, I’d dare to say, at one time was the most coveted prize in college basketball. You won the ACC championship; you’d won the toughest prize to be had at the college level. And the man who stirred the pot was Everett Case. He was not the best caretaker of self, an∂ after suffering through various illnesses, he died in 1966, 66 years old, fully lived.