by HELEN ROSS
It’s impossible to overstate the impact Everett Case had on basketball in the state of North Carolina and what would become the Atlantic Coast Conference.
A league once focused on football couldn’t help but take note as Case’s N.C. State teams won six Southern Conference titles and three ACC crowns in his first 10 seasons at the helm. At one time the Wolfpack even owned a 15-game winning streak over archrival UNC.
“He just beat everybody up around here,” Bucky Waters, one of his former players and ex-Duke coach told Barry Jacobs, writing for the News & Observer in 2017.
His influence went beyond the considerable wins and the limited losses. N.C. State’s rise to the top under Case prompted the other three Big Four schools to upgrade their recruiting efforts as well as hire top-notch coaches in an effort to be competitive.
As much as he was a coach, though, the Indiana native was also a promoter and a visionary.
When construction resumed on Reynolds Coliseum after World War II, he successfully pushed to expand the arena’s footprint from 9,000 to 12,400 seats, making it the largest in the southeast at the time.
The Dixie Classic, which pitted State, Duke, UNC and Wake Forest against some of the best teams across the nation, was Case’s creation, too. The tournament was a December holiday mainstay from 1949-60 and helped rachet up the interest in the sport in North Carolina.
Cutting the net down after a championship? Well, Case, who had seen it done as a high school coach in Indiana, brought that N.C. State and it soon spread across the country. Spotlights on the court when players were introduced? His idea, again. Case even filmed his games in color when everyone else was shooting in black and white.
And what about that one-of-a-kind noise meter that elicited those ear-splitting cheers from the fans at Reynolds Coliseum? Case asked some students at the engineering school to build it for him. The crowd went crazy when that 13th light bulb at the top started flashing.
Of course, not all his ideas were genius. Think about those players wearing capes during warm-ups early during his tenure at N.C. State.
But Case made basketball an experience. His teams played a fast-paced style and were winners, garnering national attention and even finishing third in the NCAA in 1950. The fans were loud and loyal – the Wolfpack led the nation in attendance for a decade.
In fact, during Case’s first season, a game with Duke had to be canceled due to overcrowding after fans snuck into Thompson Gym through bathroom windows and hid in the basement.
Case was something of an unknown commodity when he was hired by N.C. State in 1946. He’d built a reputation as a high school coach in Indiana, posting a 726-75 record and winning four state championships, before enlisting in the Navy during World War II.
It wasn’t long before Case made an impact in Raleigh, though, winning the Southern Conference title in his first year – breaking a drought of 18 years.
During that season, the Raleigh News & Observer chose Case as its “Tar Heel of the Week,” writing that "since the little man came here from Indiana...basketball has almost supplanted politics as the favorite topic of discussion in the North Carolina capital."
Case finished his career at N.C. State with a record of 377-134 and a winning percentage of .739. Battling cancer, he resigned after coaching two games of the 1964-65 season, yielding the team to one of his assistant coaches, Press Maravich.
Case was there for the ACC Tournament, though, sitting courtside in a wheelchair when the Wolfpack beat Duke 91-85 to win the championship. The State players hoisted him up on their shoulders to clip the final strand of the net.
“He said it was one of the happiest days of his life,” Frank Weedon, a fixture in State’s sports information and athletics department, told the AP in 2005.
Case died on April 30, 1966. He reportedly asked to be buried facing U.S. 70 so he could wave to State teams traveling to play Duke and UNC.
Case was the first basketball coach inducted into the North Carolina Sports Hall of Fame in 1964. He was enshrined in the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in 1982.