Praise For Coach Smith

RALEIGH --- A number of Dean Smith's former players were in attendance at Wednesday's Naithsmith Award ceremony. They talked with Inside Carolina about their former coach ...

Phil Ford '78

How do you feel about being a part of tonight's festivities?
"It's a great honor for a great person. I think he's the greatest coach to ever coach basketball but what sets him apart is that he's a great human being. He's extremely smart. He would've been successful in any occupation that he chose to do and we're just lucky he chose to be a basketball coach."

With all the former players here tonight it doesn't seem like it's hard to get people to come back and support him. Is that true?
"No, not (hard) at all. I wouldn't have missed it for the world. This is a great night."

How special is it to have three coaches from the same area honored here on the same night?
"You think of how close all the schools are -- Duke, North Carolina and State -- and to have three coaches on that level and to have Roy at North Carolina now -- we're just blessed to have such great coaches here in this area. It's great for all ACC basketball fans."

Dave Hanners '76

When you think back to your time with Smith, what sticks out to you?
"How smart he is. It's funny, Phil Ford and I always joke that he would tell us something to do and it would take us about 15 minutes to figure out exactly what he wanted. But once we got a handle on it and figured out what he wanted, we'd look back and say ‘How did we not know that the first time around?'

"Whether he wanted us to look back at how many McDonald's All Americans Duke had and how many we had and what happened to them as first round draft picks and all these things. He was just always smarter than everybody and nicer than everybody. We were really fortunate to be with him as long as we were."

What do you think you learned from him?
"We learned how to work and how to be professional. He and coach Guthridge always beat us to the office and they were always the last to leave. For people who had achieved a status in the basketball coaching world that they achieved over their careers, they were just so hard working. And for young guys coming in, to see the greatest doing that, it really had a big impact on all of us that came through the office.

"They taught us how to be great workers. They taught us how to look at things objectively all the time. The loyalty and the tradition he created through his family atmosphere at UNC, it's something at every stop we've made since we left, we've been able to give them some of the stuff he gave us."

Do people ever ask you about your time working with Smith?
"Every day. In fact, I just got off the phone with a guy who is in Chapel Hill right now. His wife is a doctor in Chapel Hill. He's from Brazil and he works for the Brazilian national basketball federation. He wants Larry Brown and I to come down in August and do a clinic because he wants something that's connected to coach Smith. … It doesn't matter where you go. I went to Japan and did clinics there for years and the reason they brought me there was because they wanted to be taught how coach Smith would teach someone the game of basketball. It's a never-ending cycle."

What's his greatest legacy as a coach?
"He has so many. I don't know if you can just pull one out. But when you look at the number of people who graduated from UNC in the years he was there. His graduation rate is phenomenal -- 98 percent. No one will ever match that. And the number of games he won. And the number of former players who have become coaches and really famous, good coaches: George Karl, Larry Brown, Donnie Walsh, all these guys. I don't think you can pull one thing out of a hat and say this is why Dean Smith was great. I think it's a combination of a lot of things."

What are you going to tell him when you see him tonight?
?"Just see how he's doing and tell him I'm still trying to get another job. Help me coach!"

Charlie McNairy '97

What's your favorite memory from playing with Smith?
"My favorite coach Smith memory is we were playing Wake Forest. We were down about 20 points with maybe 10 minutes to go and he said ‘Let's cut it to 10 points with five minutes.' We cut it down to 10 points with five minutes and he called a time out and he said ‘Guys, we've got them exactly where we want them. We're going to pull this out. I'd much rather be us than them.' And we came out, we won it on a buzzer beater and the rest is history. "(When we got into pressure situations) he would always say ‘This is so much fun. Think of all the people who would love to be right here.' Another thing is he would always have us prepared. We were prepared for every single outcome so you couldn't get nervous because you had prepared for it."

Any others?
"It was an open practice and he was getting on Vince Carter every single play. So finally, he blew the whistle. He brought everybody in. He turns to Antawn (Jamison) and says ‘Antawn, I'm looking at you and I'm pointing at you but this is meant for Vince. Now Vince, don't you ever …' He didn't want to embarrass Vince (anymore) because he'd been on him the entire practice. He's just that type of classy guy. … If you ever won, it was because the players did the right thing and they focused. If you ever lost it was because he didn't prepare us. That's the type of guy he is."

How do Smith's teachings affect you in your non-basketball life now?
"I can't tell you how many times I say ‘What would coach Smith do in this situation?' We had a thought for the day and I remember those thoughts for the day constantly. Like, ‘What do you do with a mistake? Recognize it. Admit it. Learn from it.' And ‘Don't judge another until you've walked in his moccasins for a fortnight.' Just countless sayings and things that were special that he conveyed to us that come up in everyday business life."

Woody Coley '77

How does it feel to be a part of this tonight?
"Just to be included when you were a walk-on and still be treated like the same family as Al Wood and Phil (Ford) is an amazing privilege."

What's your favorite memory from playing for Smith?
"To be in those huddles in time outs in general was always educational. You might be down eight points and he would say ‘Just remember when your first business fails that you can come back from defeat.' He had everyone wired that the outcome would always be positive and more often than not, we'd go in those huddles and when the buzzer sounded we won. And you weren't really sure how it happened every time, you just became really confident that it was going to happen."

Did you just get into a habit of winning?
"He developed in people this ability to look beyond the scoreboard and just do what you knew how to do. And the repetition in practice built a certain expectation of outcome. So he'd get in the huddle and say ‘When John (Keuster) finishes making these two free throws, we'll call time out.' So no one even thought about the two free throws. It was ‘Well, we're going to knock them down and then we're going to call time out.'

"And he would usually say, ‘And then we'll get a steal and we'll also make a jump shot and we'll run out but don't celebrate on the court. I want you to go back in the locker room and be gentlemen about it.' So there was always a little humor in the middle of all this tension. He kept people loose."

What was it like to be around someone as smart as Smith?
"You were always on your toes. There was a certain etiquette in practice and you listened, particularly when you wanted to play more than you were playing. Every possession counted. Every drill counted. So for those of us who didn't play, practice was our Final Four. And if you got a compliment from coach Smith, it would last for six weeks and you'd float. But if he came down on you, you went home feeling poorly because you never wanted him to have to call you out because he had a lot of other things on his mind."

There were a ton of places you could've played basketball. How special is it to come into a situation where you end up being coached by one of the best coaches ever?

"I'm beyond lucky. To be average and slow and to have somehow found a spot on that team, it was better than (having) a 20 point average at any other school."

Did you stay in touch with Smith after you left?
"We talked frequently. He was always friendly. Probably the funniest story is I finally got him to play golf with me once and he was up on the green and I lofted a wedge shot, he wasn't paying attention and it hit him in the hip. So he acted like I'd shot him with a pistol and said ‘I drove two hours and some walk-on beans me with a golf shot. I'm going to require a flak jacket the next time I play.' So I felt terrible and on 18 he holes out from 150 yards with a six iron. So he won the bet as usual.

"I don't think he ever lost on a golf course. I don't think he's ever lost a dollar. He's the most competitive golfer ever. You have to putt out everything even two-inch putts. He's a special man to fans and players. We're just thrilled to have had a small chapter with him."

Charlie Scott '70

Why did you agree to be a part of tonight's ceremony?
"Anything we can do for coach Smith is always an honor for us. Coach Smith has always been the epitome of what we all try to live like. He's always been my mentor and everyone else that went to Carolina's mentor. But more than that, he's always been a father and a person we could always depend on at times when nobody else would be there. … Anything we can do for coach Smith is an honor and privilege for us to be able to do that."

People often say Smith was a better humanitarian than coach. How would you describe that aspect of his life?
"Coach Smith has affected all of our lives and everything we've done in our lives. It wasn't basketball that was the most important thing he's done for us. It was the way he's given us insight to how to grow as men and how to grow as people to make an impact and really do something that was a positive in life. Coach Smith means a whole lot more than basketball to all of us."

What's the most important thing you learned from Smith?
"I think the most important thing we learned from coach Smith is compassion. Coach Smith taught us to always care. I think that's more important than anything else."

Eric Montross '94

You were part of Smith's elusive second title team, is your relationship with him even more special as a result?
"Honestly, whether we had won a title or not wouldn't make any difference on how I viewed my time playing under coach Smith. It was a terrific byproduct of playing for him. When I look back on that experience, it's a terrific one. But as far as how I relate to coach Smith, whether we won or not, it wouldn't have made a bit of a difference."

Charlie Scott mentioned learning compassion from Smith. What would you describe as the best lesson you learned from him?
"I think there's hardly a better term than compassion. But I think (also) excellence and the standard he set that carried over. Whether it was academics, whether it was athletics. Whatever he chose to do in his life or whatever he chose to stand for, he did it in a fashion that he was proud of. … He's one of the classiest individuals I've ever been around and it was an honor to be around him."

Lennie Rosenbluth '57

Why did you choose to be here tonight?
"I didn't play for coach Smith but I knew him when he first came down with coach McGuire. Just being part of the Carolina basketball family and to honor coach Smith to me is the greatest thing you can do."

What do you think makes Smith special?
"He was one of the first ones to believe in desegregation, bringing Charlie Scott down. And all his ball players loved him. He called them to find out what they're doing as they got older. He was involved with all the families and everything else. What more can you ask of in a coach? The definition of a coach is Dean Smith."

What are you going to say to him when you see him tonight?
"I'm going to give him a big hug and a kiss."

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