Dean Smith: There Will Never Be Another …

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Rarely in sport, or any other faction of society, has there been a man who has had such an impact on so many. On February 7th, we lost that man to eternity, and probably the best line-up he ever coached.

There are so many accomplishments that mean so much to so many that it’s hard to accurately ever count them, so these are the ones that we believe were the most important and part of the “Carolina Way” he instituted.

First an foremost, Dean Smith ran a clean programme that graduated 96.6% of his players, even if it meant they had to comeback to school to do so …

Equally worthy of being named initially here is his promotion of the desegregation of his team by recruiting and giving Charlie Scott a full scholarship.  This was at a time when people like Kentucky’s Adolph Rupp would not play a team with Black Players.

Many do not know that today’s “Shot Clock” was installed because Coach Smith’s teams had perfected a b whereby they would get a reasonable lead, then freeze the opponent out by accurate passing.  It was the ultimate “Ball Control Offense.”

He instituted so many aspects taken for granted in today’s game. The huddling at the Charity Stripe, pointing at the player who made the pass to a player who scored, and the hand signal by a tired player, were all instituted by Coach Smith.

North Carolina never had a “one-and-done” player under Coach Smith, and it was he who instituted a “Senior Day” on the last home game of the year to honour his Players who fully matriculated.   That included Bench Players and even Walk-On Players.

Coach Smith recorded 879 all time Wins in 36 years, and while his records have been and will be surpassed, he will be remembered for how he did so while ushering in the “modern era” of college basketball.  Coach Wooden of UCLA and Coach Knight of Indiana may have preceded him as greats, but neither had the caliber of competition North Carolina faced.

From 1977 thru 1993, Coach Smith was recognized as National Coach of the Year 4 times.  From 1967 thru 1993, he was ACC Coach of the Year on 8 occasions. Of course, he was inducted into both the Basketball Hall of Fame and North Carolina Sports Hall of Fame.  Sports Illustrated made him Sportsman of the Year, while naming him one of 5 greatest American coaches in any sport. He was also awarded the Arthur Ashe Courage Award by ESPN.

Coach Smith was enshrined as one of the 5 original members of the National Collegiate Basketball Hall of Fame.  Finally, he was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom. 

According conventional knowledge, in 1986, when the University of North Carolina named their new athletic facility as the Dean E. Smith Student Activities Centre (AKA “The Dean Dome”) there had never been a major arena named for a living, actively coaching personality.  It was an honour everyone agreed was proper and fitting, even if it defied conventional wisdom.

It goes without having to mention that Coach Smith has seen many of his Players go on to both the NBA and the coaching ranks. Interestingly, he is also one of only three who have both played and then coached a National Championship Basketball Team.

Here is his career by the numbers:

  • 1133   –         Games coached
  • 27       –         NCAA Tournament appearances
  • 26       –         North Carolina Players were recruited as All-Americans
  • 25       –         Player were 1st Round Draft Picks
  • 22       –         Seasons with at least 25 wins
  • 21       –         UNC Alums in the Coaching Ranks
  • 17       –         Regular Season ACC Titles
  • 13       –         ACC Tournament Titles
  • 11       –         Final Four Appearances
  • 8        –         ACC “Coach of the Year” Awards
  • 5        –         Players were NBA Rookie of the Year
  • 4        –         National “Coach of the Year” Awards
  • 2        –         National Championships
  • 1        –         Olympic Gold Medal (1976)

Coach Smith was not only an athletic personality, he took his position in the community seriously.  An active Democrat, he took the lead in the desegregation movement, and was even recruited to political office.  While turning down the offers, he did support his alumni within North Carolina.

All the numbers and all the accolades could never adequately encapsulate the very wide swath of influence this man had on so many. The measure of his influence can only be measured by how many now feel they need to speak out about him, now that he is gone, and do so with such admiration, affection, adoration, and appreciation.

People like Dean Smith cross our paths very rarely, and when they go, the gap left is the measure of his legacy … a legacy that lives on each time a Tar Heel Player utters that motto he gave them …

“Play Hard, Play Smart, Play Together” !!!

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