Remembering Dean Smith

Remembering Dean Smith

Michael Jordan, Dean Smith

Dean Smith– coach, legend, cultural icon died at his home on February 7, 2015

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.


Lovely week all around

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!


UNC over UAB

Santa, through his NYC-based elves, left us tickets to the UAB-UNC game, so on this beautiful, warm December afternoon we  caravanned to the Dean Dome for a late afternoon game.

Last year UAB surprised UNC in Alabama.  This year the Blazers traveled to Chapel Hill and lost 89-58.  Marcus Paige and Justin Jackson pulled the Heels away with their three point shots.  Paige had been off his shot for the past few games but today connected for 2-6 from beyond the arc.  Justin Jackson hit 2-3 of is three pointers.  Kennedy Meets was on his game tonight cleaning up under the basket, hitting mid-range jumpers, doing his part from the line.  Though, the free throw stars for the night go to Isaiah Hicks (5-6) and Nate Britt (4-4).  Those FT percentages win games, especially as conference play draws closer.

Tonight is the first night I paid much attention to the new point guard Joel Berry.  The point guard position is a hard one to learn.  He is beginning to get his feet under him and blossom (short bursts) in the role.  Marcus Paige is shining bright right now, but it is good to see Berry learning how to be a Tar Heel PG.

On another note, while I was hopeful that neither Louisville nor Kentucky would win….Kentucky did.


Cleaning up

I made two blog posts as pages, so I am combining them into one post and cleaning up the blog:

Battle of Tate Street:

While these two schools do not technically share a border, both UNCG and Greensboro College share space on Tate St.  They are separated by mere feet, so yesterday’s game at the Coliseum was essentially a home game for both teams.  It was an 11:30am start and kids from Guildford County were in attendance as part of the GCS Education Fair.

I was late to the game and walked in with the Spartans down 22-9, but UNCG turned on the turbo and ended the half tied at 41.  This was a close game, UNCG never led by more than 7, the Pride led by 15 at one point, and they were tied 9 times.  The stats for both teams show why it was such a close game:  Free Throw shooting was excellent on both sides- Greensboro College an impressive 92% (12-13) and UNCG 86.4%.  This is how free throws should look at all games.

Beyond that, the field goal percentage for each team was 44% for Greensboro College and 45% for the Spartans.  The Pride connected on 50% from beyond the arc and UNCG made 30% of theirs.

I would be remiss not to mention the TWO fouls on three point shooters committed by the Spartans.  One connected for a total of 4 points for the Pride on a single play and one missed with their shooter making all three free throws.  Fouling a three point shooter is the worst play in the book and we did it twice.

What I think helped put UNCG up was help off the bench.  UNCG got 21 bench points highlighted by Jordy Kuiper and Diante Baldwin.  This was Baldwin’s first game of the season, as he has been dealing with an knee injury, and it is delightful to have a true point guard on the court!

NC State vs Wofford:

There is a particular shade of dark blue that I hate.

Kentucky beat UNC this weekend.  It was awful and there’s not much more to be said there.

I was much more stunned by the 55-54 upset of NC State by the Wofford Terriers last night.  The Terriers made their late basket and State’s got waved off leaving Wofford up by one.

I’m not sure why I’m surprised.  Wofford was last season’s SoCon Champion (UNCG’s conference) and they “returned nearly its entire team from last year’s Southern Conference tournament champions, and is the preseason favorite to win the league again.”  Parity is coming to men’s basketball (women’s is a whole other conversation- but “way to go” to South Carolina for being #1 over traditional powerhouses UConn, Tenn, and Stanford this week).  Even though the ACC has lost to SoCon before (Va Tech, Georgia Tech come to mind- and we are not talking about when some of those teams were in the SoCon), it is still surprising, but it shouldn’t be.  A team like Wofford, with a recent conference championship, returning much of it’s experience and leadership should be a force to be reckoned with.  The schools that tend to attract the one and dones (ESPN top10s, height that other conferences can’t recruit, and the NBA’s own rule about being a year out of high school are all details we can discuss) can have flashes of greatness, but schools that build solid teams with leadership and experience- and we can look at mid-major conferences here like VCU’s Shaka Smart- step up to those larger courts and televised games with knowledge and support, from their coaches and each other, to win close games like this one.

Tomorrow UNCG faces UNC at the Greensboro coliseum, their own home court.  Will UNC be looking for a recovery win?  Will UNCG capitalize on their recent winning ways? Either way, I’ve got GREAT seats!


Tar Heels visit the Spartans

Over 11,000 people trekked to the Greensboro Coliseum today to watch the UNCG Spartans take on the UNC Tar Heels.  While there was plenty of Blue and Gold represented, it was practically a home game for UNC since it is only about 50 miles from campus to campus.

The final score UNC 79- UNCG 56.  The Tar Heels led the the whole game, but it was not a beautiful game on either side.  If I had to describe this game in three words it would be sloppy, hesitant, and unfocused.  Both teams had issues with throwing the ball away and poor passing.  UNCG, in particular, didn’t follow through on their shots causing some easy points to be missed- not to mention the free throw misses.  The 15 points that the Spartans left out of play at the line would have put them in contention for this game.  However, the Spartans did find their game in the second half- scoring 39 points- and began to play with more confidence.

Numbers for the Tar Heels will not blow anyone away- 49% FG, 21% from the three, and 69% from the line.  UNCG has plenty of room for improvement (hopefully before we meet Elon on Saturday)- 35% FG, 21% three points, and 42% free throw.  That is where the Spartans need to practice- 42% is just not acceptable at the college level.

For the Spartans Kayel Locke led with 17 points.  Nicholas Paulos contributed 12, including some late threes that brought the crowd to their feet.  Diante Baldwin, who did not start the game, added a respectable 13 from the point guard position.  It is nice to have a point guard back on the court and my question for Wes Miller is: why is Baldwin not starting?  With the leadership he showed today he should be one of the starting five on Saturday.


The Sweetest Time of the Year

The air has a note of crispness and it snowed in the mountains today.  But more importantly, it is Homecoming at UNCG.  For many that means the bonfire or the soccer game, but I get most excited to pick up my basketball season tickets!

This is a great time of year! Even though dook has been predicted to lead the ACC and UNCG is listed at a respectable 6th for the newly reorganized SoCon, right now anything is possible.  Teams are healthy, players are motivated, and it remains to be seen who will be the this year’s Cinderella– like last year’s Mercer or Florida Gulf Coast from two years ago.  I’m ready to hear the squeak of shoes on the court and cheer for the game in person and on TV.  Just two more weeks for UNCG’s home opener!


Sunday Funday

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.