One of the most charming aspects of March Madness is its ability to transform otherwise ordinary players into lifelong legends with one flick of their wrist.
There's Northern Iowa's Ali Farokhmanesh, the little-known son of a volleyball coach whose gutsy 3-pointer felled top-seeded Kansas in 2010. There's Valparaiso's Bryce Drew, the coach's son who sank a miracle buzzer-beater to give his father his first-ever NCAA tournament victory in 1998. And there's Keith Smart, the former community college standout whose baseline jumper delivered Indiana the 1987 national title.
Tragically, one of the most prominent members of that fraternity of March heroes died far too soon on Monday.
Lorenzo Charles, hero of North Carolina State's improbable 1983 national title, was killed when a tour bus he was driving crashed on Interstate 40 in Raleigh. The 47-year-old Charles was the lone person aboard the bus at the time.
Charles, of course, is best known for snatching Dereck Whittenburg's errant 30-footer out of the air and dunking it at the buzzer to give 10-loss NC State a 54-52 win over heavily favored Houston in the 1983 national title game. He finished his college career 15th on NC State's all-time scoring list and played briefly in the NBA with the Atlanta Hawks, but it was always that game-winning dunk that fans and media wanted to relive with him each March.
Although Charles was a native of Brooklyn, N.Y., he made his home in North Carolina after his playing days ended with a stint in Europe. Here's a sampling of how the basketball community is reacting to Charles' death:
NC State coach Mark Gottfried: "I'm just shocked and saddened. Our whole staff sat around with him for a half-hour and told stories [Sunday]. We had camp going on and he just came by the camp. ... We had a great time reminiscing. He was so full of life. I'm so stunned. Not only did NC State lose one of the all-time greats as a human being, everyone loved him. He was a big-hearted guy. Everyone from the NC State family is calling. They're all so saddened and stunned." (ESPN.com)
1983 NC State teammate Thurl Bailey: "He was that funny, loveable, huggable Teddy bear. But you looked at him, with that body, and he looked like he could crush you with one hand. ... He was so tough on the court, so competitive," added Bailey. "He was able to really command respect." (CBSSports.com)
Former NC State coach Herb Sendek: "It's hard to express the tremendous loss that so many are feeling right now with this tragedy. Lorenzo was a wonderful person and one of the true legends in NC State basketball history. His game-winning basket against Houston in the 1983 national championship game is forever carved on the minds of anybody who has ever followed the sport." (ESPN.com)
ESPN analyst Jay Bilas: I am deeply saddened to hear of Lorenzo Charles passing. I played against him, and guarded him. A great player. I liked him very much. Lorenzo Charles was incredibly strong. Playing NC State, we came back to a huddle and said we were trying to foul him, but he still scored. Lorenzo Charles could seal you, throw his foot to a spot, then bull his way to that spot. There was little you could do about it. Strong. I played barnstorming games with Lorenzo Charles, and he was a really fun guy to be around. He was quiet, but had a great smile and laugh. (Twitter)
1983 NC State teammate Sidney Lowe: "He always made you feel like he was excited to see you. That's what I remember about him. He had the biggest smile. He was excited to see you. He was always just so positive. We talked about things. He always just had the right thing to say. He didn't talk much but when he did he was profound and supportive. He's just a good guy." (ESPN.com)