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!
I am writing this post as UNC is down to Butler by 13 with 3 minutes left to go in the first half. They are playing in the Maui Invitational tournament and at this moment being totally manhandled by the Butler Bulldogs. Butler, by the way, is a team that I had picked to watch when asked for my preseason picks (but I don’t want the Heel to loose to them). This team went all the way to the end of the big dance and lost to Dook. They have graduated a lot of that talent and taken some growth time, but Coach Brad Smith is an excellent coach. I like his style and the amount of work he is able to get out of his athletes.
****side note, Roy needs to call a timeout and get the Tarheels’ heads back in this game. They are looking to go into half time with less than 20 points for the first time since 1998****
By WHY is there a Maui Invitational Tournament at all? That is a great question and I am glad you asked:
Other than the fact that playing basketball in Hawaii over Thanksgiving break sounds like an awesome idea, there is a great story that created this tournament. In 1982, when the University of Virginia Cavaliers were the top ranked team in the nation, they lost to the NAIA school Chaminade. This is a small Catholic school who at the time had 900 students and paid their coach only $10,000/ year (he held down a day job as a counselor at the local middle school). UVA had 7’4″ Ralph Sampson and Chaminade had a team that was made up of 6 returning seniors. (In the same year, NCSU won the national title, so it was a year of surprises!)
There was less than 4,000 people at the game and no major media to document this feat. This tiny school had taken down a Division I powerhouse. The news was slow to get to the mainland media and because of the Christmas holiday it took a while to break. That is pretty hard to think about in today’s connected world. I get texts of bball updates of my favorite teams right to my phone. This was, by some accounts, the ushering in of the modern era of college basketball where seeming underdogs take down the big teams, but it was also a big reason that ALL games are covered and videotaped. EPSN would never want to miss the chance of another huge story like this, so virtually all college games are covered to the max. The UVA coach mentioned, after his loss, that Chaminade should host a tournament. Two years later, it came to be. Some think it is the best tournament in the basketball world, offering a neutral court for teams to play (did I mention it was in Hawaii). Chaminade is the only non-division one school that participates.
Yesterday, the Silverswords beat Texas (ouch to the Longhorns) and are set to play Illinois in the next round of this tournament. Go Chaminade…how can you not cheer for this team?! This is a great start to the college basketball season (not for the Tarheels of course- we are in the second half and they are down to Butler by 25. I love my Heels and they need to get it together! They will in the next 14 minutes!!!!)
There is a great article on the UVA-Chaminade game. Perhaps it was the greatest upset we never saw and that is what I love about college ball!
*********** Nov 21, 2012*************
My mother, an basketball fan herself, has asked for an addition to this post, I will let her words be that addition:
in your blog say something nice about PJ Hariston (from greensboro) trying his best to get them back in the game 10 points in a short time. Was the high scorer for UNC!