NC State student Will Privette has only one regret about leading court-storming Wolfpack fans onto the floor after Saturday afternoon's upset victory over top-ranked Duke.
"Maybe I'd wear a helmet next time," he said.
Since NC State forward C.J. Leslie carried Privette to safety after he was knocked out of his chair and nearly trampled at mid-court, Privette unexpectedly has gained cult fame both around campus and nationally. He has added more than 1,000 Twitter followers, inspired new T-shirt designs and fielded dozens of calls and texts from friends, family members and local and national media.
First ESPN analyst Dick Vitale mentioned him on the TV broadcast. Then USA Today's Nicole Auerbach wrote a nice piece about the incident. And now the story has gone viral, which means Privette began doing TV and radio interviews Monday morning at 7:30 a.m., did almost a dozen in between his class schedule and still has several more appearances to make before his day is over.
Privette was generous enough to take 10 minutes to chat by phone with me Monday afternoon. We spoke about the Zebulon, N.C., native's newfound fame, his appreciation for Leslie's gesture and what would possess someone who has been in a wheelchair his whole life as a result of leg deformities to lead hundreds of students in storming the floor.
WP: It has been chaotic. You're the 10th interview I've done today. I've done local radio, local TV, a radio station in Detroit. I'm doing ESPNU's late night talk show, UNITE, tonight. Then another podcast and another radio interview tonight as well. I've been up since 7:30, and you know for a college student, that's not right. I'm still working off adrenaline I guess.
JE: How did you end up leading the rest of the students onto the floor and did you worry beforehand it could be dangerous?
WP: I stormed the court in 2010 when we beat Duke. That time I waited for the first wave of people to go through, then I went on the outskirts and celebrated with everyone. That was my plan if we beat Duke again. But during the last minute of the game, I got into position and the ushers and PNC staff we're asking if I wanted to go first. I said, 'OK.' About that time I ran into our student body president, and he asked if I wanted him to push me. They put me on the court for the last 50 seconds, right next to all the photographers. We just waited and took off. Right before we did it, I realized, 'This is probably a horrible idea.' But I didn't care at that point.
JE: When did you realize you were in a potentially unsafe situation? And how did you end up getting knocked over?
WP: When I got to mid-court, [NC State freshman guard] Rodney Purvis got pushed into me. We all went tumbling down just like humpty dumpty. My phone flew out of my hand. My glasses flew off my face. Of course, the first thing I worried about was getting my phone back instead of protecting myself. But that got lost in the sea of people, so then I started to worry about myself. And that's when C.J. came in and saved the day.
WP: He saw me, realized what was going on and he started screaming, 'Back up. Back up' and pushing everyone out of the way. He reached out and pulled me up. We just started jumping up and down. I swear he held me for about two minutes before he put me back in my chair. As he was doing it, I kept thanking him. Then after the game, I waited around, talked to him afterward and told him, 'Thanks again.' I haven't spoken to him since that, but he did follow me on Twitter though.
JE: How long did it take before you realized people all over the nation were talking about you?
WP: Once I got off the court, I called my mom to tell her I stormed the court. Right when I told her, she said, 'Yeah, Dick Vitale was talking about you.' Then a Facebook message came up on my phone. One of my friends put the screen shot of me storming the court. I thought, 'Oh, that's pretty cool.' On the way to the mall to get my phone fixed, I started getting texts and tweets about how this was going viral. It was pretty amazing.