CHAPEL HILL, N.C. – UNC and the United States Basketball Writers Association announced the Dean Smith Award on Wednesday to honor the coaching legend.
The “DES” patch that North Carolina players wore on their jerseys following Smith’s passing in February set in motion the creation of the award. Washington Post columnist John Feinstein questioned why UNC was the only team at the ACC Tournament in March wearing the patch Smith during a conversation with former UNC sports information director Rick Brewer, who responded by saying there should be something done to honor Smith on a yearly basis moving forward.
Feinstein floated the idea during the USBWA’s committee meeting at the Final Four in Indianapolis and it was unanimously agreed upon.
“My first thought, though, was ‘What took us so long?’” USBWA president and Yahoo Sports columnist Pat Forde said during a press conference at the Dean E. Smith Center. “We should have done this 15 years ago, probably, at least, to honor one of the great men that’s ever been involved in college basketball.”
The USBWA will seek to honor people who have had an impact on the game beyond the court, Forde said. The award criteria is open-ended, although Feinstein stressed that wins and losses were not a component.
“I think it’s fantastic,” UNC head coach Roy Williams said. “If you really concentrate and think about the best example of a true leader in college basketball on and off the court, you would come up with Coach Smith. The contributions that he made off the court were probably millions of times more significant than the games that were won, the championships that were won and things like that. I do think it’s very fitting.”
Smith, who passed away at the age of 83, won 879 games and two national championships in his 36 seasons at UNC. It was his efforts off the court that have received significant attention since his death earlier this year. Smith was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation’s highest civilian award, in 2013 after a lifetime championing civil rights.
“We’re very happy about his legacy - he created his own legacy – and being recognized for it, but mainly being recognized for doing the right thing,” Scott Smith said. “Dad would not want an award named for him, but I’m sure he would feel comfortable having people acknowledged for what they’ve done in their lives and how they’ve impacted other people’s lives through the game of basketball.”
A committee will be put together to select the yearly recipient and the winner will be announced in late summer/early fall, according to UNC spokesman Steve Kirschner.
The award will be presented at a dinner each year in November prior to the start of the college basketball season. The intent is for the dinner to be held on the UNC campus and to be open to the general public. Proceeds will benefit the Dean E. Smith Opening Doors Fund.
The award marks yet another show of support for an icon that turning his coaching position into a platform for greater change.
“I don’t think we could have asked for more support from Chapel Hill, from the university, from fans all over, from fans from different institutions,” Dr. Linnea Smith, the coach’s widow, said. “It’s been very gratifying… We’re in part overwhelmed by so many good wishes and so many people and organizations wanting to honor him by naming awards or other things for him.
“It’s just been very special.”
Dean Smith Award Unveiled
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