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!
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.
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.
UNC survives the last 10 minutes against Providence to play another round! That is not a luxury afforded to the Blue Devils and that makes this a pretty perfect basketball day!
Pretty much everyone’s bracket is broken, but I’ll take a broken bracket and the dookies cooling their heels back in Durham!
Luke Nadkarni wrote a piece addressing Wolfpack fans and telling them to grow up. He wrote, “And for State fans to be throwing debris on the court at the end of the game is simply unacceptable. For as much as we brag about being great fans, we sure don’t act like it…Good fans don’t act like kindergartners when their team loses.” Owning that is not what State fans wanted to hear, but as someone who love great basketball perhaps what needed to be said.
One the other hand, that does not take Tar Heel fans off of the hook. I agree that the behavior and the feelings of being less than need to stop. It must be hard to struggle to make the top 25 when you have such a great history of basketball. But discounting NC State, beyond the usual back and forth that comes from sport and competition because I do love some trash talking, is a disservice done on our part. Fans have called out the victory as less than citing an empty Franklin Street after the win (compared to the flooded street last week in the win over Duke). Even ESPN was brought into the social media fray as people linked to the their listing of the UNC-NCSU rivalry as the #2 overall most one sided rivalry in the 21st century. That is true, the 21 century has not been kind to NC State basketball, but great basketball traditions are built over decades, not years. Tar Heel fans would do good to remember that!
Tonight, as UNCG lost to rival Elon (oh my- there were some whiney Phoenix sitting behind us) PJ pulled up the Syracuse- Boston College game on his phone (gotta love technology). The game was tied at 50 and they went into OT as we walked out to the car. Once in the car, we put the game on through the Bluetooth.
They were tied at 52, then BC pulled ahead. The Eagles made their final four foul shots in a row and won the game 62-59. BC, who only sits above VT at the bottom of the ACC rankings, stuns #1 Syracuse! The Orange was projected to win by 14 and they lost by three. Syracuse was surprised and BC’s celebration was written all over their surprised faces.
As the seconds ticked down in OT, PJ and I discussed the last time that BC had upset the #1 team in the nation. They beat UNC January 2009. Yes, the team that was projected to have an undefeated that season. The team that went on to win the National Championship.
As a Tar Heel fan, that was hard to watch, but what rubbed the salt in the wound is that three days later BC lost to Harvard. Yep, they beat the #1 team in the nation, the team that went on to win the NCAA Championship and dropped a game to Harvard. If I remember correctly, the question that kept being asked was: Does Harvard even have a basketball team? Fast forward 5 years later, Harvard basketball has grown and they have gotten some strong recruits, but in 2009, it was shocking to the Tar Heel soul. We lose to BC then they turn around and lose to Harvard. What was right in the world?
Good job tonight, BC? I was hoping that the Wolfpack would have knocked them off of perfect last week, but I’ll take it this week instead.