North Carolina announced that legendary head coach Dean Smith passed away on Saturday night, succumbing to a long battle with an illness that had kept him in poor health for years.
It may be fair to say that no one in the history of basketball has spanned the generations quite like Coach Smith. He coached at Kansas under a man, Phog Allen, who played for the inventor of the game, James Naismith. While at North Carolina, he helped turn Michael Jordan into the greatest player the game has ever seen. When Jordan was inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame, he said, “There’s no way you guys would have got a chance to see Michael Jordan play without Dean Smith.”
That’s quite an endorsement.
In total, Smith recruited 26 all-americans to North Carolina and sent 25 players to the first round of the NBA Draft. Here are the ten best to ever play for him:
1. Michael Jordan: It’s impossible to put together a list of greatest players without having Jordan top that list. Let’s just put it like this: He hit the national-title winning jumper as a freshman, was the National Player of the Year as a junior and finished his professional career as nothing more than the greatest basketball player of all-time. That’s a decent career, isn’t it?
2. Phil Ford: Ford finished his North Carolina career, one that saw him named a three-time all-american, as the school’s all-time leading scorer and the only player in ACC history to score 2,000 points and dish out 600 assists.
3. Sam Perkins: “Big Smooth” was a member of the team that won the 1982 National Title. He was a sophomore and a second-team all-american that season. Perkins would go on to be named a first-team all-american his last two seasons in college. He scored more than 2,000 points in college.
4. James Worthy: Worthy was the co-National Player of the Year in 1982 (Ralph Sampson) as the Tar Heels won the national title. That 1982 team also included Michael Jordan and Sam Perkins, which should give you an idea of just how important he was.
5. Antawn Jamison: Jamison was among the last recruits that Smith brought into the North Carolina program. He was the National Player of the Year in 1998, the year after Smith had retired, averaging 22.2 points and 10.5 boards. It was North Carolina’s second straight Final Four.
6. Mike O’Koren: O’Koren was a three-time first-team all-american under Smith, leaving the program in 1980 as the only player to score 1,500 points, grab 800 rebounds and dish out 300 assists.
7. Charlie Scott: Scott may not have been the best player to ever come through North Carolina, but he was arguably the most important. Scott was the first African-American scholarship athlete at North Carolina, enrolling in the school in the late-1960s.
8. Billy Cunningham: The Kangaroo Kid finished his three-year UNC career with averages of 24.8 points and 15.4 rebounds.
9. Vince Carter: Before he became ‘Air Canada’, Carter entered North Carolina in the same recruiting class as Jamison. He was a second team all-american in 1998.
10. Jerry Stackhouse: Stack was a first-team all-american and won a National Player of the Year award as a sophomore at UNC. He also left the program with one of college basketball’s most memorable highlights: