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.
The impact that the late North Carolina basketball coach Dean Smith had on college basketball and society in general goes well beyond the 879 games and two national titles he won during his time in Chapel Hill. He was active in protests against segregation while also recruiting the school’s first African-American scholarship athlete in Charles Scott, and overall there were a number of causes he championed while also being one of the sport’s greatest coaches.
With that in mind the United States Basketball Writers Association and the University of North Carolina jointly announced the creation of the Dean Smith Award. The honor, which will be awarded annually, will be given to a person in college basketball (all levels, not just Division I) who best exemplifies “the spirit and values represented” by Coach Smith.
“The USBWA has a long history of supporting college basketball and honoring the men and women who make our game great, so I am thrilled that the USBWA would honor Coach Smith’s legacy with this award,” current UNC head coach Roy Williams said in the release. “The award will be especially meaningful because its criteria go beyond winning games in selecting people in college basketball who have made a significant impact on their communities.
“It recognizes the profound impact Coach Smith had on so many lives. I am proud that Carolina is teaming with the USBWA to establish the award and honor the recipients here in Chapel Hill.”
Per the release, the award will be given out at a dinner on the North Carolina campus just before the start of that particular season, with proceeds from the dinner going to the Dean Smith Opening Doors Fund. The fund aims to help students from low-income families with college expenses and professionals involved in the fields of education and social work.
North Carolina head coach Roy Williams honored legendary former Tar Heel coach Dean Smith on Saturday by running Smith’s famous Four Corners offense during the team’s first offensive possession against Georgia Tech. Point guard Marcus Paige found a cutting Brice Johnson for a layup to give No. 15 North Carolina its first field goal of the afternoon.
Smith passed away on Feb. 7 at the age of 83, but the Tar Heels have not played a home game at the Dean Smith Center since a loss to Virginia on Feb. 2. Before the game, the school honored Smith with a moment of silence.
Williams finally got to honor one of his mentors by running Smith’s signature offense on the team’s first offensive possession. Pretty cool moment and a nice gesture for Smith in North Carolina’s return home.
(Vine Credit: Josh Parcell)