Assigned Reading: Memories of Dean Smith should continue to last

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Dean Smith, the legendary North Carolina basketball coach, who amassed 879 wins, won two national titles and reached the Final Four 11 times, celebrated his 83rd birthday on Feb. 28.

Though for years now the Hall of Fame coach has endured an ongoing struggle with dementia. John Feinstein of the Washington Post published a story on Saturday, detailing his relationship with his players — from Michael Jordan to walk-ons — and the lasting impact he’s had on Chapel Hill. It was Feinstein’s call to remember all Smith had done, even if he has a difficult time recalling those memories himself.

“Of all people, for it to happen to him is beyond cruel,” Duke Coach Mike Krzyzewski said. “You’re talking about the person who had the sharpest mind and the most remarkable memory of anyone I’ve ever met. It’s just not fair.”

 The first time I ever saw him have difficulty recalling something was in 2005. I was interviewing him for a book I was writing on the Final Four and he had trouble remembering the name of a coach he had met the first time he went to the national semifinals as Frank McGuire’s assistant coach at North Carolina.

Dean Smith reaching for a name and not finding it was slightly more stunning than waking up to find the sun rising in the west.

“My memory’s slipping,” he said. “I forget things now.”

He had just turned 74, so a little memory loss didn’t seem like a big deal.

Smith last coached in 1997. He was inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in 1983 and was part of the inaugural National Collegiate Basketball Hall of Fame class in 2006.

Stanford loses key veteran guard to stress fracture

Marcus Allen
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Stanford guard Marcus Allen will be out indefinitely after suffering a stress fracture in his right foot, the school announced on Monday evening.

“We want to make sure Marcus is fully healthy before returning to the court,” Stanford coach Johnny Dawkins said in a statement. “Marcus played at a high level during our summer exhibition competition in Italy, where he was one of our leading scorers. We will certainly miss him as we continue to prepare for the season, but we are fortunate that this happened now and he will be back before he knows it.”

The loss of Allen is a potentially brutal blow in an already-thin back court. The 6-foot-3 Allen started 23 games as a sophomore last season, averaging 6.4 points and 3.5 boards. But he averaged 11.4 points and 5.4 boards as the Cardinal made a run to the NIT championship and looked poised to be able to replace the departed Chasson Randle’s production this year.

What’s worse is that without Allen, Stanford does not return a single player in their back court that averaged more than 11.5 minutes. Sophomore Robert Cartwright looks poised to step into the starting point guard role, but neither Dorian Pickens nor Christian Sanders looked like they were ready for that kind of role in the Pac-12 last season. Dawkins does return Malcolm Allen, Marcus’ twin brother, who sat out last season with a broken wrist.

The good news is that Stanford’s front court is strong enough to carry the Cardinal until Marcus is healthy. Rosco Allen, Reid Travis and Michael Humphrey will be able to hold their own against any front line in the Pac-12, while Grant Verhoeven and freshman Josh Sharma will provide adequate depth.

Utah lands top-75 center Jayce Johnson

Larry Krystkowiak
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Utah picked up its center of the future on Monday as four-star center Jayce Johnson pledged to the Runnin’ Utes, a source confirmed to NBCSports.com. The 7-foot Johnson recently cut his list to Cal, Colorado and Utah with the possibility of reclassifying to the Class of 2015.

Regarded as the No. 67 overall prospect in the Class of 2016, Johnson will look to attend Utah in December as a walk-on who will redshirt. While Johnson likely won’t play this season, he does give head coach Larry Krystkowiak another big man to use in practice to go against sophomore center Jakob Poeltl. A solid long-term prospect, Johnson has a good frame to add weight and he’s also skilled finishing with both hands. Utah now has its replacement for Poeltl if he opts to leave for the NBA after the season and he gets an extra semester to work with the program.

Johnson is coming off of his official visit to Utah this weekend as he joins junior college guard Jojo Zamora in the Class of 2016.