A Gift from Coach Smith

Shortly after Dean Smith’s passing on Feb. 7, all of his former lettermen received a simple request.

“They asked us to update our addresses,” said former UNC guard Terrance Newby, who played at UNC from 1997-00. “I thought it was so they could keep us informed about the arrangements and anything else going on as far as memorials.”

Turns out it was one last gift from Smith, who coached at North Carolina for 36 years, to his players.

Smith willed a $200 check to each of his former lettermen with a note stating it was to “enjoy a dinner out.”

"I was just surprised," said Scott Cherry, who played for Smith from 1989-93 and just completed his sixth season as head coach at High Point University. "Not surprised in the fact that Coach did that, just simply surprised that was something he took the time to think about and to have done and set aside from us. It’s not a shock that he did that, that’s who he was. He was just a special man."

Tim Breedlove, the Charlotte-based trustee of the trust that bears the late coach's name, said Thursday that letters were sent earlier this month to each of the players who lettered for Smith's Tar Heel teams - about 180 in all. The checks were attached to the letters.

“I just found out about it,” said Michael Brooker (1996-00). “My wife told me I needed to check the mail because she’d seen the news on Twitter and social media.”

He checked his mail, and there it was.

“It’s unbelievable,” Brooker continued. “It exemplifies his giving nature. It shows the way he was always thinking about others even after his death. He always treated everyone with such dignity. It’s unique and probably the first time something like this has ever happened.”

Newby immediately shared the news with his family.

“You can’t really put it into words,” Newby said. “He’s still doing amazing things for us from heaven. My mom said ‘it should make you feel even more fortunate that you went there to play for Coach Smith.’”

The Hall of Fame coach retired in 1997 as the winningest men's coach in Division I history with 879 career victories.

"He did things like this all the time for us," Cherry said. "Many more things that nobody knows about, he didn’t want the public attention. He did things like this and just did it because it’s the right thing to do, not because he wanted people to pat him on the back or anything. He probably would’ve been upset (this is on the Internet), because he doesn’t want people to make a big deal about something that he should do."

Brooker plans to follow his coach’s instructions one last time.

“Oh yeah, I’m going to do what he asked me to,” he said. “I’m going to take my wife off to a nice dinner. It’s been a long time.”

(Photo by @chestpassdemps. The Associated Press contributed to this story.)

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