In late June the creation of the Dean Smith Award was announced by the University of North Carolina and the United States Basketball Writers Association, with the recipient being a person in college basketball who “exemplifies the spirit and values” represented by the late coach. While Smith, who passed away in February, won 879 games, two national titles and many ACC titles during his time in Chapel Hill, he was also known to take stands on important issues in society.
Wednesday it was announced that former Georgetown head coach John Thompson would be the first recipient of the award, which will be presented at a dinner in Chapel Hill November 10. Thompson won a national title and made three Final Four appearances during his tenure at Georgetown, which included multiple Big East regular season and tournament titles as well.
But Thompson’s impact, like that of his close friend Smith, was not limited to the court and the win/loss ledger. That made him a fitting choice for the first winner of this newly created award.
“You are hitting me in my soft spot,” Thompson said when informed he had been selected. “There was no one in basketball I loved or respected more than Dean Smith. There was never anyone like him.”
Thompson’s respect for Smith went way beyond wins and losses. And, it was Thompson’s record away from the court rather than his wins and losses that led to this recognition.
“We think John Thompson is the perfect choice as the first winner of the Smith award,” said USBWA President Pat Forde. “We wanted the winner to be someone Dean Smith would be proud to present the award to if he was here to do it. We think, with John, we have that and we know we have someone who Coach Smith’s family is thrilled to honor.”
The two coaching greats, who are both enshrined in the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame, most famously coached against each other in the 1982 national title game with a Michael Jordan jumper being the difference in a one-points North Carolina victory. Two years later Thompson would lead the Hoyas to their lone national title.