A native of Long Island, New York, Valvano played point guard for the Rutgers Scarlet Knights from 1964-67. The '67 team, Valvano was paired in the backcourt with All-American Bob Lloyd, placed third in the National Invitation Tournament.
His career as head coach began soon after graduation, as the head coach at Johns Hopkins. His 10-9 record was the school's first winning season in 24 years. After Hopkins, he made stops at Bucknell (1972-75) and Iona (1975-80), before landing the gig that would make him famous: head coach of the North Carolina State Wolfpack.
The most memorable moments of his coaching career are familiar to anyone who has ever watched the NCAA Tournament: Lorenzo Charles converting Dereck Whittenberg's air-ball at the buzzer to defeat heavily-favored Houston for the 1983 NCAA Championship, and Valvano running on the court, desperately looking for someone to hug. Those images are in heavy rotation in the opening sequence for every NCAA Tournament broadcast.
In addition to the '83 title, Valvano's teams won the ACC regular-season title in 1985 and 1989, the ACC Tournament in 1983 and 1987, and reached the Elite Eight in '85 and '86. He was twice named ACC Coach of the Year.
Unfortunately, his coaching career ended in controversy. Author Peter Golenbock, in his book Personal Fouls, raised questions about rules violations on Valvano's watch. A full investigation cleared Valvano of any wrongdoing, but found that some of his players had sold sneakers and game tickets. NC State placed itself on probation for two years, and Valvano was eventually pressured to resign.
He left the Wolfpack after the 1989-90 season... and as many other ex-coaches are wont to do, he immediately joined ESPN as a color commentator. He excelled in the role, winning a Cable ACE Award for his work on hoops broadcasts.
In June of 1992 he was diagnosed with terminal cancer. Despite that, in November he returned to the air on ESPN.
In March of 1993, at the inaugural ESPY Awards, Valvano received the Arthur Ashe Award for Courage. As part of his acceptance speech, he announced the formation of the V Foundation. Less than two months later, Valvano passed away.
In the years since his death, the V Foundation has raised more than $70 million dollars for cancer research.