Thanks to his world-famous ESPY speech, many people are aware that Jim Valvano once coached basketball for the Rutgers Scarlet Knights. However, one thing people are largely unaware of is the fact that Valvano also played his college hoops at Rutgers.
In three seasons with the Scarlet Knights, Valvano was an absolute stud — averaging double figures in every season he played and ending his career with a scoring average north of 15 points per game. When all was said and done, Jimmy V had tallied 1,122 points in his Rutgers career, playing 74 games from 1964-67. In his senior season, Valvano (along with leading scorer Bob Lloyd) led the team to success never before seen at Rutgers — their first-ever 20-win season and a deep run into the NIT.
Now 50 years later, Valvano finally had his name honored by the school where he first saw major collegiate success, as Rutgers named the court at College Avenue Gym, “Jimmy V. Court”.
On Saturday, April 29th, the university held a special event to honor the court dedication for Valvano.
According to J.P. Pelzman of the Asbury Park Press, many current Rutgers’ players were in attendance, as well as teammates from Valvano’s senior season.
A video tribute played before the “Jimmy V. Court” logo took center stage — featuring current Rutgers’ head coach Steve Pikiell, as well as basketball legends Dick Vitale and Mike Krzyzewski.
In addition, Valvano’s back-court comrade, Bob Lloyd, made a speech of his own during the ceremony. Between several near-breakdowns, Lloyd called Valvano, “the best defensive player I ever saw” and added that the late coach was “just a good guy”.
Besides being his teammate, Lloyd served as the chair of the V Foundation, Valvano’s posthumous cancer research charity.
The current team no longer plays their home games at College Avenue Gym, but the venue was the same court Valvano competed on as a player. “The Barn”, as it is known around campus, was first opened in 1931 and is still a big part of Rutgers University and their athletic program. Currently, “The Barn” serves as the home floor for all women’s volleyball games and wrestling matches, as well as a place for students to use at their leisure.
Out of necessity, the program moved from the College Avenue Gym into the newly-constructed Louis Brown Athletic Center (or “the RAC) in 1977-78. With room for just 3,200 fans, the old gym could no longer fill the needs of Rutgers’ increasing fan base. In the season before the move, the Scarlet Knights made their first-and-only Final Four appearance — further proving the need for increased seating.
“The RAC” seats 8,000 fans, almost 5,000 more than their old digs.
Valvano passed away on April 28th, 1993 — nearly 24 years to the day that he had the court dedicated in his name. He was 47 years old at the time and was less than two months removed from his Arthur Ashe Courage Award acceptance speech.
Among many memorable quotes during his time on stage, Valvano included Rutgers in a funny story about his first-ever pregame speech given.
I’m reading this in this book. I’m getting this picture of Lombardi before his first game, and he said, “Gentlemen, we will be successful this year, if you can focus on three things, and three things only. Your family, your religion and the Green Bay Packers.” They knocked the walls down, and the rest was history. I said, “That’s beautiful.” I’m going to do that. Your family, your religion and Rutgers basketball. That’s it. I had it. Listen, I’m 21 years old. The kids I’m coaching are 19, and I’m going to be the greatest coach in the world, the next Lombardi. I’m practicing outside of the locker room, and the managers tell me you got to go in. Not yet, not yet, family, religion, Rutgers Basketball. All eyes on me. I got it, I got it.
As we all know, the speech didn’t go as planned but it was nice to see that Valvano never forgot where he came from.
You can watch the speech and see the full transcript here.
Or you can donate to the V Foundation here.