Jim Brown: America’s Coach Dean Smith Loved Louisiana

February 12th, 2015
Baton Rouge, Louisiana


One of the all time great coaches in college basketball passed away this week. North Carolina’s Dean Smith had retired with more wins than any coach in history, along with capturing two national championships. But to those who knew him, and I consider myself in that elite number, he was much more than a coach. He was a teacher, an innovator both on and off the court, a role model, and a real humanitarian.

I was high school senior in 1958, and was hoping to get a college athletic scholarship for either basketball or track, when I first met Coach Smith. He had just been hired away from the Air Force Academy as an assistant at Carolina by then Coach Frank McGuire. It was common knowledge than Coach Smith was being groomed to be McGuire’s successor.

One spring afternoon, I was called to the principal’s office and told that a Mr. Dean Smith was there to see me. His family waited in an older model Chevrolet with a U-Haul trailer hooked to the back, while Coach Smith told me that he was on his way to Chapel Hill to begin his new coaching career. He had been asked by the coaching staff at Carolina to stop by and recruit me. And in his mild mannered but persuasive way, it didn’t take long to convince me that Chapel Hill should be my new home.

So my “minor” claim to fame in the sports trivia history books would be that I was Coach Smith’s first Carolina recruit. I ended up being a much better sprinter and hurdler than a basketball player, and I eventually gave up basketball for track. Coach Smith and I joked from then on that even though some guy name Jordan came along a few years later to play pretty well for him, I would always be his “first” college commitment.

When Carolina won its first national championship under Coach Smith in 1982 at the New Orleans Superdome, I was there in that number. A few weeks after his victory, I received in the mail a blue and white Carolina basketball autographed by Coach Smith, Michael Jordan, James Worthy and the entire Tar Heel team. He told me he had sent it as a special gift to his first recruit.

My son checked on eBay and told me I could sell the ball today for as much as $15,000. No way, I told him. It was a gift from Coach Smith. The ball will stay with me till I die, and then be donated back to the Carolina Basketball Museum in Chapel Hill. Continue Reading………….

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