USA Today Sports

Kenny Smith Answers UNC's Call

Kenny Smith returns to his alma mater on Friday night to host 'Late Night with Roy,' honor his late friend, and celebrate Carolina Basketball.

Why was it important for you to come back and host Late Night With Roy at this time?

Because Roy called. It’s that simple. They called and asked and I was like ‘no problem.’ We’re a Carolina family and we’re always accessible and available. That’s what makes us unique and a unique program.

Over the last year you and I have talked about the passing of your friend Stuart Scott and he has been a host for Late Night many times, and you have done it as well in the the past. I was wondering, in some ways, did you want to come back to honor him and in effect carry the torch for him?

You know what, after the fact, knowing that Stuart has hosted, I’m going to try to do something special for him. His daughters reached out to me and they are having some type of tweet day as well the same day that I’m going to participate in. So, in that regard, no question.

I mean, Stuart and I came in to Carolina together. We came in the same year. We graduated the same year. We hung out at the same places and ate at the same places. We had all the same friends so to me it was important because I just know the fabric that he left, not only for Carolina but for sports television and that’s big to me in how he sort of represented sports television and created an element that was not there before and a style that was not there.

It’s been a tough year of loss with Carolina losing Dean Smith, Bill Guthridge and Stuart Scott, but on the court this season’s team is ranked No. 1 in preseason polls and there is a lot of excitement. Are you able to feel that as well?

Well, for me there’s always excitement. I always think we can win it all because I think if you’re good enough to be in the Top 20 you have a chance to win it all because it’s a single game elimination and we’ve always been there. So, being ranked preseason No. 1 doesn’t change my excitement but it probably adds to the excitement of others.

There’s no corner to be turned. We’re always going to be one of the most powerful programs in college basketball and the disappointment comes only when we don’t win it all.

... (We lost) part of our Carolina family, especially Dean Smith who is the Carolina family. For me, the toughest part is not having Coach Smith around. I was talking to Larry Brown about it and how difficult it is for him as well because he’s someone we all called so it’s just a difficult situation. You know, we would call him for everything, not just basketball and even before his passing it was difficult for me because I wasn’t able to reach out and have conversations especially in the last few years when he was a lot sicker.

One thing that any of us that works for the The NBA on TNT knows is that Kenny Smith knows how to have fun. What sort of atmosphere do you anticipate having at Late Night?

Well, I’m not responsible for all of the antics that go on, but I know how to join in. I know how to create havoc. I think I will create a mayhem in that building that is typically not there on Late Night because the kids are there to have fun and they are excited about being there. So, I know how to feed into that and I am the kerosene thrower on those types of environments.

A couple of weeks ago I met a high school senior named Brandon Robinson who mentioned guys like yourself, Vince Carter and Michael Jordan on the day he announced his commitment to play at UNC. These are guys that played at Carolina before he was born or would really remember watching basketball. How important is it for you at these events to sort of embrace that historical Carolina family and highlight that?

I actually saw Brandon play this summer… The one thing for me is that it’s important to always take care of your home front. You want the kids to come back and go ‘man, I had a great experience at home,’ and to me Carolina is home. Everyone that goes through there is part of the family and it’s important that we keep those traditions going and remind each other even when others forget where home is.

Last year at the Final Four, I organized a dinner with Shammond Williams, George Lynch, Brian Reese, Derrick Phelps, Makhtar Ndiaye and we all just have to remind each other where home is and if all of us are in one city we all have to get together and represent because we’re family and we have a connection that no one else has and no other school keeps. The bigger schools in the world that have won national championships in the last five years, without calling them out, there’s players on those teams that go ‘man, I wish we had what you guys at Carolina still have. You guys are different.’

Any scoop you can give us on Late Night?

I’m going to have 22,000 people going crazy. I’m going to get them all crazy that night. I have my own contests and things that I’m going to do to make people go crazy.

How well do you know the current squad’s players?

I know most of them just from talking to them and I just think we’re plugged in at every position. Our point guard situation to me is the best. You know, I think he (Marcus Paige) has the ability to be the best point guard in the country. I always think that when the ball is in his hands, I feel relaxed for Carolina. I feel real relaxed when it’s in his hands. I know that he might not get the shot, but we're going to get the right decision.

Final thing, any message for the fans that are coming out?

We’re not back. We’re still here.

Beau Estes is a sports anchor, host and columnist for Turner Sports in Atlanta.

Inside Carolina Top Stories