SMITH, DEAN EDWARDS
Hometown: Topeka, KS (Topeka, HS)
Born: Feb. 28, 1931
Link to his Basketball Hall of Fame site
* Includes 2 games in 1952 Olympics.
DEAN EDWARDS SMITH (Player 1951-53)
“He’s the most famous bench-warmer in Kansas basketball history.” – Pete Goering, Topeka Capital-Journal
As a little-used
reserve forward on Kansas’ great 1951-53 teams, Dean Smith certainly does not
qualify as a basketball great on the basis of any production on the court. His
results on the court sidelines, and his gold standard reputation on and off the
court, however, most certainly qualifies him as one of KU’s biggest Legends.
While Phog Allen is called the ‘Father of Basketball Coaching’, Dean Smith could
arguably be called the ‘Father of Modern Hoops’.
Born in Emporia, Kansas, Dean was the younger of two children of devout Baptist school teachers. His father Alfred was a forward-thinking coach at Emporia High, winning the state title in 1934 with the first black basketball player in Kansas tournament history. The school board there told him not to do it, and he said, “No, I'm going to do it, or I'm going to resign”. They won the state championship, and then nobody complained about having an integrated team anymore.
Just in time for his freshman year, the Smith’s moved to Topeka, where Dean played for the Topeka High Trojans, my alma mater. He played quarterback on the football team, lettered as a catcher on the diamond and played point guard on the hardcourt.
Though he played basketball at KU, he went there on an academic scholarship, majoring in mathematics. It was at Kansas where he made valuable use of his time observing the finer points of the game from legendary coach Phog Allen. An all-around athlete, he also played freshman football and varsity baseball for the Jayhawks.
After graduation, Dean served one season as a graduate assistant coach at KU before joining the Air Force. “Everyone understood that he was going to be a coach”, observed Rich Clarkson, Lawrence Journal-World reporter. Lieutenant Smith coached his base team in Germany and hoped to find a high school job in the States after his tour of duty was up. However, at a service tournament he became acquainted with Bob Spear, who had just been named coach at the Air Force Academy, and Spear offered him a job as assistant. While at the Academy, he also served as head coach of the baseball and golf teams. Three years later, Frank McGuire offered him an assistant’s position at North Carolina.
McGuire’s lavish recruiting style eventually got the Tarheels in trouble with the NCAA, so in 1961 UNC let him go and hired 30-year-old Smith to replace him.
Smith's first few teams were nothing special. When he took over the reins, the basketball program was on probation, restricted in recruiting and scheduling. He began with a losing season. It was said that that team produced more lawyers (9) than wins (8). After several mediocre seasons, Smith was burned in effigy on campus in 1965. But by the time he retired in 1997, he compiled an 879-254 mark, becoming the winningest coach in the history of the game, and certainly one of its most respected.
During his 36 years as head coach at UNC, he became the winningest coach in the history of the NCAA tournament with 65 victories, his teams qualified for the NCAA tournament a record 23 consecutive years, his teams won 13 ACC championships, his teams made it to the Final Four 11 times and they won two national championships. He was named National Coach of the Year four times and voted ACC Coach of the Year eight times.
Before 1982, Smith was always a bridesmaid, never the bride. Six times he went to the Final Four, and six times he came away empty-handed. He gained the rap that he couldn’t win the big one. That was finally laid to rest in1982, when the Tarheels were composed of future NBA players Michael Jordan, James Worthy and Sam Perkins. In the now-famous title game against the Georgetown Hoyas, led by the great Patrick Ewing, Jordan made the game-winning jump shot with 17 seconds left on the clock. Smith gained his second national title in 1993. After defeating Kansas in the semi-finals, North Carolina played Michigan’s “Fab Five”, and won when Wolverines received a technical because Chris Webber called a timeout when his team had none left.
Smith was particularly adept at adapting to the style of play that best suited his players and is recognized as one of the great minds of the game, being credited with many innovations, including the four-corners offense, the scramble defense, the practice of huddling at the free throw line before a foul shot, starting all the seniors on the last home game of the season, and the practice of saving time-outs for end-of-game situations. Smith's teams executed the four corners set so effectively that in 1985, the NCAA instituted a shot clock to speed up play and minimize ball-control offense.
Smith surpassed Adolph Rupp’s winning record on March 15, 1997, with his 877th career victory. He deflected credit, choosing instead to dedicate the achievement to those who had come through his program. “I want to recognize all the assistants who coached with me and all the players who played for me. I don’t have to name them all, but I could do it. They all share in this moment.” Former All-American Phil Ford said, "I knew when I signed with North Carolina that I was getting a great coach for four years, but, in addition, I got a great friend for a lifetime."
Just in terms of former players, Dean Smith’s influence on the game’s present and future is immeasurable. After playing for him, 48 former players have gone on to play in the NBA or ABA. Tarheels that had made a mark in coaching include: Larry Brown, Billy Cunningham, George Karl, Eddie Fogler, Phil Ford, Roy Williams, Matt Doherty, Buzz Peterseon, and Jeff Lebo, as well as many others not so weel known.
The basketball arena at UNC is officially the Dean E. Smith Student Activities Center, but popularly known as the Dean Dome. No basketball program besides North Carolina has been more heavily influenced by Dean Smith than the one at Kansas University. Coach Smith is credited for KU hiring Larry Brown, convincing Athletic Director Monte Johnson to hire Brown in 1983. And when Brown left after guiding KU to the 1988 NCAA championship, Smith promoted the hiring of Roy Williams. Both played under Smith, and Williams was his assistant for 12 years.
Smith received a number of honors during his coaching career. He coached the US team to a gold medal at the 1976 Summer Olympics in Montreal and he was enshrined in the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame on May 2, 1983. In 1997, he was named Sports Illustrated magazine’s “Sportsman of the Year”, because “his teams won, his players graduated, and the rules went unbroken.” And in October, 1997, Sports Illustrated dedicated an entire issue to Smith, as a tribute to his 36 years of Carolina basketball. Smith coached nine consensus first-team All-Americans, 13 Olympians, an incredible 96 % of his players graduated and, like his mentor Phog Allen, he always kept in touch with every one of them. In November, 2008, he was a recipient of the distinguished North Carolina Award, the highest civilian honor the state can bestow.
When Smith came to coach at Carolina, the Atlantic Coast Conference still was all white. However, he championed racial equality both on and off the court. He played a large part in desegregating the city of Chapel Hill, first by helping to integrate The Pines, a local restaurant where the team ate its meals, and then when he integrated the basketball team by first recruiting Willie Cooper, a walk-on in 1964 and then recruiting Charlie Scott as the university’s first black scholarship athlete. In 1965, Smith helped Howard Lee, a black graduate student at North Carolina, purchase a home in an all-white neighborhood. Four years later, Lee became the town's mayor.
At KU’s basketball centennial celebration in 1998, a packed crowd at Allen Fieldhouse gave big Clyde Lovellette, the leading scorer on the 1952 team, a rousing ovation, but the loudest cheers were reserved for the backup guard who played a total of 29 seconds in KU’s victory over St. John’s for the ’52 NCAA title.
“If basketball had a Mount Rushmore, Dean Smith's face would be on it.” - Jay Bilas, former Duke star on ESPN Classic's SportsCentury.
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