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Remembering Dean

February 12, 2015

Brendan Brody begins LCB's effort to remember Coach Smith:

I live in Illinois now, and people here don't seem to understand why the Duke-Carolina thing is a big deal to me. They expect someone from Virginia to root for Virginia or Tech. They don't realize the fact that in the '90s Tony Bennett was a backup point guard in the NBA and VCU was a middle- of- the- pack team in the Colonial. Virginia college basketball back then wasn't very good, which led me and many of my peers to pick a side on Tobacco Road. I chose Carolina because it's the school that Michael Jordan played for, but I stayed because of Dean Smith.

As time has gone on, it seems as though dadgum Ole' Roy has been at the helm in Chapel Hill for decades. Time had pushed Coach Smith out of my memory, with years upon years blurring together as I crashed headfirst into my mid 30s. It doesn't seem fair that Williams has just as many championship wins as Dean. Nothing against the man, but Coach Smith built this basketball factory into a blue blood. He went toe-to-toe with the guy in Durham with the Polish surname, making for some classic back-and-forth battles that served as the climax for many interactions between the two that were less than civil. Just read John Feinstein's book, A March to Madness, if you want to get an idea of how they felt about each other back then. The thing about it though, is that each legend made the other one better. Carolina would not be Carolina without Duke pushing them, and the converse is true as well.


I dreamed about what it would be like to go to basketball camp at North Carolina when I was in middle school, but family finances never allowed it to happen. I often wondered what it would be like just to have a conversation with Coach Smith. To a little kid, he just seemed like he'd be a fun coach to play for and would treat his campers the same way he treated his players: with respect. I'd have liked to, in my seventh or eighth grade state of mind, heard him talk about politics, or civil rights, or how he made sure his players pointed at the man who passed him the ball when they made a shot. Hell, I would have listened to him pontificate about almost anything at that time in my life.

Memories fade as time goes on, and I'll admit I didn't even really know Smith was close to dying. I knew he'd been in relatively bad shape over the last couple years, but I didn't really pay attention. If you're not the current coach trying to beat Louisville or Virginia, you aren't in my college basketball obsessed consciousness. That's what made his passing such a jolt.

I'll remember the wins, I'll cherish the fact that you did it the right way, and I'll think about how much better all the players that played for you are to have had you in their lives. You were an activist, a rapscallion, and someone with a healthy competition disorder that couldn't stand to be wrong. You didn't cuss, but you drank and you smoked. In other words, we would have gotten along swimmingly. I subconsciously point to someone when they give me an assist on the most menial of tasks in my life, and I didn't even play basketball at Carolina for you. You touched people that didn't even know you, and that's something that everyone should strive for. And we're all pointing now.

Brendan Brody can be followed @berndon4.

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