Aug 09, 2023
by Dennis Garcia
ASHEBORO — It’s a scene in college basketball that has been replayed on television a million times.
With the 1983 national championship game tied and the final seconds ticking off the clock, N.C. State’s Dereck Whittenburg launches a long shot that falls into the hands of a leaping Lorenzo Charles, who quickly stuffs the ball through the hoop. The basket, which gives the Wolfpack a stunning 54-52 victory over a seemingly unbeatable Houston team, ignites a celebration that features Coach Jim Valvano running around the floor looking for someone to hug.
It’s been 40 years since that amazing finish and it’s still considered one of the biggest upsets in NCAA Tournament history. It surprised almost everyone, including Alvin Battle, a junior who was one of only three Wolfpack players who saw action off the bench that game.
“I believe the national championship was a divine intervention from God because of all the things that went on,” Battle, who now lives in Randolph County, said as the guest speaker for the Kiwanis Club of Asheboro last week at Pinewood Country Club. “There’s no way we should have won that game. No way.”
But they did win, despite a multitude of injuries, hurdles and obstacles that were both unavoidable and self-causing.
“A lot of people don’t know this, but there was a lot of controversy at N.C. State on the team,” Battle said.
Among the issues that the Wolfpack were dealing with while attempting to win a title that year, Battle said, included a teammate — George McClain — fighting through a bout of bacterial meningitis, an injury to Whittenburg, fatigue, weakness, girlfriend drama, bad attitudes and playing all season with the coaching staff “PO’d at someone all the time about something.”
But there was also something very special about that team.
“There was a lot going on that people didn’t know about, but the one thing that we all did is we never gave up on each other as a team,” Battle said. “We ran the gamut from drinking alcohol to chipping in to help our brothers when they needed money. It was a camaraderie that I had never been a part of. We have a brotherhood that will never go away.”
Battle, who was born in Tarboro and raised in Rocky Mount by his grandmother, is a 1980 graduate of Northern Nash High School. His upbringing was far less than smooth.
“As a child, I was one of those problem kids,” said Battle, whose mother and father sent him to live with his grandmother in the projects of Rocky Mount. “I really didn’t like school and did everything I could not to go to school.”
But Battle said his grandmother was a true believer of “corporal punishment” and he had the whippings to prove it.
“Those anger issues continued until I became a Christian at age 16 and they started to subside,” he said, turning instead to his love of basketball, becoming a much-sought after player while a junior.
But two knee surgeries his senior year left him searching for a place to go after high school. His prep coach told him his best option would be to head to California and play for Merced Junior College. Battle said he was very perplexed by the suggestion, but decided to pack his bags and move 3,000 miles away.
While basketball was never a problem, school was and his coaches gave him the ultimatum of improving his grades or being sent back to Rocky Mount. He improved his grades, graduated with a 3.5 GPA and was named the California Junior College player of the year.
He was then recruited by a number of schools and he had decided to go to Virginia Tech. But the coach who recruited him switched to N.C. State and Battle had a decision to make, until Valvano came calling.
“He came to California and we met at a hotel and he said we need you to come to N.C. State and we will win a national championship,” Battle said of his first meeting with the legendary coach. “He said you can rebound, you can jump and you have a good inside game and we need that. I said you have other players and he said yeah, but we need you to give them competition.”
Talking about winning a national championship won Battle over and he headed to Raleigh for what turned out to be a magical season. How the Wolfpack made the tournament has been well chronicled. How they won the ACC Tournament with gigantic upsets of first North Carolina and then Ralph Sampson and the Virginia Cavaliers. How they opened NCAA Tournament play with a 69-67 double-overtime win over Pepperdine and then a 71-70 win over UNLV. How the Wolfpack, known as the Cardiac Kids, beat Utah and then Virginia by one point to win the regional title. How they beat Georgia in the Final Four and then pulled the shocking upset of No. 1 Houston.
The players on that team were treated like celebrities and they took advantage of that status.
However, coupled with the class time he missed during the championship season, Battle saw his grades decline. Entering his senior season at N.C. State, his GPA had sunk to a 1.5. Once that was discovered, he had already played 10 games and school officials had another ultimatum. He could remain in school, have his classes and tutors paid for by the school, but he would have to leave the basketball program.
Battle said he talked to a lot of people about the decision, prayed and decided he wanted to remain in school.
“I didn’t watch a game the rest of the season,” he said. “It broke my heart.”
Battle went on earn a B.A. degree in speech communications in 1985 and he became the first member of his family to accomplish that goal. He said his grandmother had always wished for one of her family members to graduate from college, but she passed away before Battle earned that honor. It is something that he is proud of, just as he is of being a member of the NCAA championship team.
“What I did opened a door for my family,” he proudly said. “My uncles and my aunts on both sides of the family told their kids, ‘If Alvin can do it, you can, too.’ They knew how much I had hated school. It kind of started a cycle of kids in my family graduating. Me staying in school impacted my family.”
Now a resident of Archdale, Battle has a long list of community-oriented accomplishments, including being an inspirational speaker, spreading the word of God; an Alcoholics Anonymous accountability partner; a divorce care accountability partner; an ordained minister; the founder of the Cary YMCA 5 a.m. men’s Bible study group that began in 2000 and still meets via zoom; has worked for the Chatham and Edgecombe County Youth Detention Centers and the Wake County Adult Correctional Center in Raleigh; a member of the Randolph County GOP Executive Committee; vice-chairman of the Randolph County Juvenile Crime Prevention Council; and countless other youth and adult community-related organizations.
Battle admits his life hasn’t always been easy. But things that are so worthwhile rarely are.
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