Smith Enters College Hoops Hall

KANSAS CITY - Side by side, elbow to elbow, a pantheon of the game's living legends gathered Sunday night to celebrate the new National Collegiate Basketball Hall of Fame and its first class.

There was Bill Russell, still gruff, soft-spoken yet eloquent in his snow-white goatee. Nearby sat John Wooden, the Wizard of Westwood, noticeably slowed by age well into his ninth decade, but still whip-sharp with a quip. Oscar Robertson was a little thicker around the waist from his playing days, but still looked like he could take a defender 20 years his junior off the dribble.

And, there was retired Tar Heel coach Dean Smith, who joined the three luminaries and game founder James Naismith atop the marquee of the Hall's founding class of 2006.

"The gentlemen up here set the standard of success through which all other players and coaches are judged," said Jim Haney, executive director of the National Association of Basketball Coaches, the Kansas City-based group that spearheaded the new Hall. The interactive museum is set to open next year in the city's new Sprint Center arena.

Smith, self-effacing to a fault, credited his players and assistant coaches for the successes that made his induction a no-brainer.

"I grew up in Kansas, so that's probably why I got this," said Smith, a former player at the University of Kansas in nearby Lawrence.

Smith, clad in a Carolina blue dress shirt and Tar Heel tie, was introduced by his former player and assistant Larry Brown.

"Dean Smith turned coaching into an art," said Brown. "He's truly a special man."

The audience was a Who's Who of big-time college hoops, from master of ceremonies Billy Packer to the loquacious Bill Walton, who introduced Wooden.

ACC commissioner John Swofford and former Smith assistant Bill Guthridge made the trip from Carolina. Even Mike Krzyzewski and Bob Knight – the man who will likely break Smith's NCAA record for all-time wins this season – showed up. Both are in town for the two-day CBE Classic that starts Monday.

The trip to Kansas City was a homecoming not only for Smith, but also for the Tar Heel program, which catapulted to national acclaim after its epic triple overtime win over Kansas for the NCAA title in 1957.

Russell, who was introduced by Knight, cited both Wooden and Smith as inspirations - not only for their coaching acumen but also for the roles they played in making the world a better place.

"Both are great human beings," he said. "That's part of the reason they were great coaches. Because they were great people."

The five inductees led an inaugural class of 152 members, each of whom is also in the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame in Springfield, Mass.

But future members of the Kansas City hall will also include college stars like Ralph Sampson and Danny Manning, whose pro careers never matched their collegiate accomplishments, organizers say.

While Smith's remarks were brief, his image loomed large throughout the night.

At a reception before the induction ceremony, guests mingled around a video display of Smith's career highlights framed by oversize quotes of tribute from Roy Williams and Michael Jordan.

Players from Marquette and the Air Force Academy, the teams that join Duke and Knight's Texas Tech squad in the local tourney, stood silently around the Smith display, seemingly soaking up the instant history lesson.

It's a history that will last long after Knight breaks Smith's all-time win record, said Packer.

"The record will never be taken away from Dean Smith, one of the greatest innovators in the history of college basketball," he said.

The awards ceremony will be broadcast on ESPNU later this month.

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