Remembering Dean Smith
Growing up, Carolina Basketball was one of the only reasons I was allowed to miss church. We went anytime the church doors were open, but if there was a game Mom would make an exception and we would stay home to cheer on the Tar Heels. As a preschooler, I have vivid memories of taunting our Preacher, who had the misfortune of getting his divinity degree from Wake Forest, on the way to preaching on Sunday mornings or church supper on Wednesday nights. I would stop in my tracks, I am sure goaded on by my mother, and call- “Go Tar Heels” and he answered “Go Demon Deacons” while the parishioners looked on with indulgent amusement. I was a Tar Heel. The Tar Heels were my team.
My mom loves Carolina basketball. Through her, my sisters and I came to love the game as well. As we watched Dean Smith lead the Heels on the court, we got lessons like, “look how the scorer acknowledges the passer” and “see how Coach Smith would rather get a technical than not start a senior on senior night.” From the basketball court and through the T.V., Coach Smith coached me as well. While never a player, I learned to be a smart, engaged fan, to appreciate a well-played game, and to see how the lessons learned through basketball could be applied to my life, too. My good friend Derrick, a State fan, jokes that people in the South love Jesus, the Pope, and Dean Smith- though not necessarily in that order!
Like many others who are honoring Dean Smith, I can ply you with facts and statistics; my head is stuffed with them. He learned the game at Kansas from Phog Allan who learned from Dr. Naismith himself, joined Frank McGuire as an assistant at UNC in 1958, took the helm as head coach in 1961 amid point-shaving rumors with the missive only to run a clean program, was hung in effigy after a 1965 loss to Wake Forest, used the four corners strategy so well that in 1985 the NCAA created the shot clock, retired in 1997 with 2 national titles, 11 Final Four appearances, 879 wins and a 77.6% winning record. All of these accomplishments are important, they add up to what his work was, as a coach, but they do not begin to cover his importance to UNC, North Carolina, and basketball.
As a basketball fan, it wasn’t just supporting a winning team that made me a Tar Heel. It was the lessons that I learned from Coach Smith, through basketball, that were the most important.
- Coach Smith is credited with inventing the tired signal a player can give to let the team know he needs a break. Basketball is a team sport. It is played best when players communicate with the coaching staff and each other. Communication is key to winning games.
- He also taught his scorers to point back to the passer that set up the play for them. The scorer gets credit for the basket, but they did not do it themselves. Good players spread the credit around.
- Coach Smith liked fast breaks, half court offense, and aggressive defense. He trained his teams to listen to the point guard who called the plays on the court. He was the coach, but there were times that you looked to those around you for leadership. When you know who to look to for instructions, you can do your job the way it needs to be done.
- On Senior Night, seniors, whether they are regular starters or not, start the game. If there are six seniors, Coach Smith accepted the technical foul to start them all. All team members are valuable and it is the coach’s job to recognize that.
- Though not the inventor of four corners, Dean Smith taught his teams to execute the strategy so well that the NCAA had to invent the shot clock to counter it. I agree that basketball is more fun to watch with a shot clock, but if you are going to do something do it so well that they have to create rules to evolve the game.
As I got older, I realized that Dean Smith was special off the court as well. His memory is legendary. Those who knew him said he could recall details of games played years ago and would remember to ask about your family members by name. He was also quietly and solidly a progressive moral compass that I could set my own sails by. He was an unapologetic political activist, cultivated by his father who coached the first racially integrated basketball team in Kansas in 1934, but always quiet and never shouting it. When he arrived in Chapel Hill he joined Binkley Baptist Church because it included everyone. As an assistant coach, he, along with an African American theology student, went to The Pines, a restaurant on Franklin Street, and stood together to be seated. This was real work in the still segregated south of the late 1950s and by the time the sit in movement came to Chapel Hill places like The Pines were already integrated. In 1966, he recruited Charlie Scott to play for UNC and with that action integrated the ACC. He was a vocal opponent of the Vietnam War in the 1960s and recorded anti- nuclear weapons radio spots in the 1980s. In 1998, he appeared at the clemency hearing of a death row inmate and told then Gov. Hunt, “The death penalty makes all of us murders.” In retirement, he took stands against the Iraq war and for gay rights. Dean Smith, along with fellow North Carolinian Andy Griffith, were my models for how to think about issues that we face in our daily lives and how to navigate living with integrity and doing what is right with the power that you have.
I’m always happy to rehash Tar Heel basketball details, like how free throws and time outs were factors in both the 1982 and 1993 National Titles, but what I will remember about Dean Smith has much more to do with the lessons he coached me through as a spectator and Tar Heel Fan.
While I haven’t had time to post, this has been a great week of college ball.
Louisville came to the Dean Dome and the Heart Attack Heels topped the Cards by one point (72-71) with Marcus Paige’s shot in the last seconds.
On top of that, for the last two Duke games, I had the privilege of seeing red while visiting diddukewin.com. Their first loss was at the hands of the unranked Wolfpack at the PNC Arena. It was at PNC, in March, when the Mercer Bears handed Duke their last loss. I was jumping and yelling as NC State pulled off that victory!
Last night, the Miami Hurricanes blew into Cameron and upset the Devils at home. This is Duke’s first loss at home since 2012 and Miami’s third win over ranked opponents this season!
Tonight, is the Battle for the Wes Miller Bobblehead- every time UNC meets NCSU the outcome of the game decides if our bobblehead will reside at the Colonna or the Newkirk house. Wes has come home with me for the last two Tar Heel victories and D feels with the Duke win the Pack is poised for greatness tonight. The Red-Blue game is at the same time that UNCG meets VMI at home, so it is double basketball for us tonight!
Go Heels! Go Spartans!
Tonight is the 2014 ESPY awards and, to be completely honest, I had forgotten about them. Wednesday nights in the summer are for “So You Think You Can Dance” (because I can’t). However, I received an happy little present as I was going up to bed- happy enough that I needed to to a quick blog post for you all.
The ESPY for the Best Upset was Mercer’s defeat of Duke in the NCAA tournament. You know I am jonseing for for basketball in the middle of the summer…it’s a long time until October, but this was a happy little surprise. Let’s Celebrate!
Let’s recount that night. The Mercer Bears were in Duke home territory playing at the PNC arena in Raleigh. And as the seconds wound down Coach K had to steel himself for losing to a #14 seed and getting knocked out of the round of 64 AGAIN (let’s also savor the 2012 win by Lehigh in Greensboro). The Bears won that game 78-71 on their strength and experience. They started five seniors, shut down Duke’s scorers from the field, and played all 40 minutes of basketball. This ESPY is a bit of basketball goodness in the middle of the summer!
Let’s Celebrate that again!!
Today, with losses by both Michigan State and Arizona, my bracket is completely busted. I had those two in the final with the Spartans taking it all. I don’t love any of the final four teams. Kentucky wears that garish shade of blue, plays dirty ball, and relies to hard on the one and done players- blah, no thank you. Billy Donovan and his Gators lost it for me with his piss poor coaching against UConn in their loss to the Huskies. UConn has been a perennial “no thank you” but with their new coach, the time they have spent in “no post-season” purgatory, and the on-court leadership from Shabazz Napier this season they may be the best of a lack luster choice. (I also saw Napier’s mom saying “good job” to the MSU players as they walked into the locker room today- good sportsmanship is learned early and that was nice to see). I own two dachshunds and it is just hard to root for the Badgers.
On a better note, the Lady Heels won against that other “Carolina” and will be meeting Stanford in the elite eight. If they get another win, Coach Haskell will be meeting the ladies in Nashville. Go Carolina!
As Arizona is out, we no longer get to see Rondae Hollis-Jefferson do this:
Only 3.3% of brackets predicted this upset! Go Bears!
Is your bracket broken yet? I’m sure that it is…this has been a day of upsets. It has also been a day of OT play. Last year there was only one game that went into overtime. This year there has already been four. This is what we live for. This is March Madness!
The North Dakota State Bison beat Oklahoma in overtime. Looking at stats, the Bison did not match up well with the Sooners, but their defense held them in check, making jump shots harder to make. The surprise star of the night was first year player, Carlin Dupree. He did not play in regulation, but got put into the game in OT because of a reach-in foul by Taylor Braun. After less than a minute on the floor, Dupree was calmly sinking foul shots like a pro (they win and loose games, people) leading NDSU to the win.
NC State blew a 16 point lead to loose in OT to St. Louis. A win seem assured for the Pack with five minutes left in regulation, but St. Louis (what they heck is their mascot, anyway) steadily, play-by-play, tied the game and took the game into overtime. During the regular season, St. Louis was 2-0 in OT and State split their OT 1-1. Derrick did assure me that State was not going to loose this game by text as they set up for the extra minutes, but alas poor foul shooting was the undoing of this game. TJ Warren, ACC player of the year, alone was around 30% from the line and the Pack overall left 17 points on the floor (20-37). Missing foul shots makes your season much shorter. Coach G should rest assured, the pack is young and he has TJ Warren and 4 freshmen in rotation. They will do nothing but get better.
For the first time since 2009, Ohio State is going home after one tournament game. PJ had them in the Final Four on his bracket, but the Dayton Flyers had other ideas. With the OSU senior, Aaron Craft, missing his last second shot the 11 seed won the game by one point. Throughout the year, the Buckeyes had played with strokes of brilliance, but tonight they did not play to any potential. The game was not a disaster, but Ohio State could have played every part of this game better.
Texas held off Arizona State with a last minute buzzer beater to win. I had ASU beating Texas, so while this is not an upset I was a little surprised that the Longhorns pulled this one off. After a missed three pointer center Cameron Ridley scooped up the offensive rebound for a quick put-back. The officials had to review the play. He got it off before the buzzer, so the Longhorns survive to play another round.
I could not watch the Louisville- Manhattan match up. The game started with the commentators recounting fact that Manhattan head coach, Steve Masiello, has ball boyed for, played for, and coach with Rick Pitino. Manhattan runs the same style as Louisville and Masiello’s coaching style is most similar to anyone else in Pitino’s coaching tree. (It was fun that reporters heard him calling out Louisville’s plays during the game) Pitino is on record saying he cared less about the #4 seed (one I think he deserved) than that the NCAA made him coach against is protege. That sounds like whining at its finest. You should coach against those in your coaching tree. It is something to be proud of not something to whine about. Louisville won the game, but just barely. It took 8 straight points by Luke Hancock to lift the Cards to a 71-64 win. Last year’s champs weather this game, but I’m not going to loose any sleep when St. Louis sends them home in the next round.
In a night of upsets and close calls, perhaps the most surprising (except to my Mom who had Harvard winning on her bracket) was Harvard’s win over the #5 Bearcats. Last year, Harvard was a surprise winner, but this year they shouldn’t have been. Harvard has steadily been recruiting well and playing basketball at a higher caliber. Even Pres. Obama picked this upset, though he does not have the Crimson beating the Spartans in the next round. For tonight, the Ivy League champs have their upset and go into the next game with experience and momentum on their side. (Though, I do agree with the president and have MSU winning it all- they are looking health and playing at the level the need to be playing right now).
As foul shots can make or break a win (I’m looking at you NC State), I have to mention Michigan State’s Adreine Payne. He went 17-0 from the free throw line tonight in the Spartan’s win over the Delaware Blue Hens. Payne was on fire in all aspects of his game tonight (though his conditioning could be a bit better), but going 100% from the line is impressive. That is how you win games during the Big Dance. Harvard can’t match them for size and I think they have the best chance for playing through their region and winning the whole thing (beating Arizona).
Ohhh, it’s March Madness….my favorite time of the year!
I have some work I need to do for school, but it is hard to get anything done when today is the day the Big Dance brackets are set and my favorite app opens for the post season! There’s about 45 minutes until the ACC championship tip-off, Go Cavs, beat dook!- but there are so many good basketball stories swirling in the air right now. Who’s gonna get that fourth #1 seed (maybe Virginia if they knock off the devils)? Is Wichita State gonna go perfect for the season (unlikely unless you are the Lady Huskies)? Is this the year that a #16 beast a #1? It’s never happened, but one of these years….
As we wait for the ACC to start so that they can finish, there were some good stories from conference championships around the country. Perhaps as not a surprise, but worth commenting on nonetheless Louisville beat UConn in fairly spectacular fashion. I have no love lost for Rick Pitino (and the particular shade of blue that the Cardinals play in hurts my eyes), but their run through the AAC tournament (does AAC tournament sound made up to anyone else?) has been thorough. They beat Rutgers by 61 points and the 10 points they beat the Huskies by belies a much harder game that was played. This was the fifth meeting in a row where the Cardinals beat the Huskies in double digits.
I was rather surprised that UCLA routed #4 Arizona, though I guess I shouldn’t have been. They are both strong teams and the rivalry growing between them leads to passionate play on both sides. Arizona’s defense was just ineffective against the Bruin’s quick offense. I am going to ignore the Wear twins in all future discussions of UCLA, for obvious reasons, but they were effective from mid-court for this game. UCLA won this game by 4 points, play was fast and fun, but the Wildcats did miss 6 free throws in the game. Those points left on the court could make all the difference between going to the Big Dance and going to the Big Dance as a #1 seed.
The shocker of the day was Providence’s 65-58 win over Creighton. I thought Creighton had that one, no problem. The Blue Jays have been hot and Buckets McDermott (click on this link you will not be disappointed) is an offensive machine. This game was a study in how a steady game wins the race. A good mantra to mediate on as we enter the live or die moments of the post season- you have to show up to the game and play a full 40 minutes (I’m looking at you Carolina) to win the title.