N.C. State teammates, others recall Charles as ‘gentle giant’

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Lorenzo Charles turned an errant shot into one of the greatest college basketball upsets of all time. Small wonder his death Monday prompted an outpouring of fond memories around the country.

Not bad for a guy who always said he was just as lucky as he was good.

Charles, 47, was a forward on the 1983 N.C. State squad that stunned Houston in the NCAA tournament title game, capping a 54-52 win by catching an errant 30-foot shot by teammate Dereck Whittenburg and dunking it home.

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=puQvU4PBzhI]

“Most people say I was the guy who was in the right place at the right time,” Charles said in a story on the N.C. State Web site. “Actually, I was in the wrong place at the right time, because as an offensive rebounder, the particular position I was standing in when Dereck (Whittenburg) shot the ball was the wrong place to be.

“I was standing under the cylinder, which is exactly where you don’t want to be if you are going to be a decent offensive rebounder.”

Seems to me he was good and lucky. Good players usually are.

Here’s a sampling of how his teammates and other hoops notables reacted to Charles’ death:

N.C. State teammate Dereck Whittenburg: “It’s a terrible day for the ’83 team, a terrible day. He’s just a positive, a warm spirit. On the court, he never smiled. He was a competitor. He was tough and all that. Off the court. He was a gentle giant. Man, he came with that bubbly smile.” (From ESPN.com)

ESPN analyst Dick Vitale: “What I will always remember about Lorenzo Charles was his warm, affectionate smile. I knew that, when I saw him before calling his games, I would get a playful bear hug.”

Pam (Valvano) Strasser: “That night in Albuquerque, you’d never known he’d made the big shot. He was so humble,” she said. “That was just Lorenzo, though. He was the same nice young guy whether we’d won or lost. He was quiet, but he loved people and loved being around those guys on that team.” (From the News & Observer)

Caulton Tudor, Raleigh News & Observer: “At 6-foot-7 and 240 pounds virtually void of body fat, Charles looked intimidating beyond words. He grew up on the streets of Brooklyn. He had a wonderful sense of humor but wore a game face that resembled a clenched fist.”

N.C. 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.” (From CBSSports.com)

Teammate Sidney Lowe: “His smile. Always a good guy. Always. He always made you feel like he was excited to see you,” said Lowe by telephone, who was audibly upset over the death of Charles. “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.” (From ESPN.com)

Former Duke player 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.” (From his Twitter account)

N.C. State coach Mark Gottfried: 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.” (From ESPN.com)

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