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Vol. 53, No. 1 November 2015 .pdf version
USBWA creates Dean Smith Award to honor his spirit
The USBWA has created an award to pay tribute to one of college basketball's most revered coaches.
This past summer, the USBWA announced at a joint news conference with the University of North Carolina the creation of the Dean Smith Award to honor the late coaching legend and former Tar Heels basketball coach.
The Dean Smith Award will be presented annually by the USBWA to an individual in college basketball who embodies the spirit and values represented by Smith. Candidates for the award will include coaches and non-coaches, both male and female, from all divisions of the NCAA and NAIA.
"We are proud to honor the legacy of Coach Smith," said USBWA President Pat Forde of Yahoo Sports. "Dean Smith was not simply a coach who won, but a coach who educated outside the gymnasium, who demonstrated a concern for his players beyond their athletic ability, who had an active voice on social issues and was an agent for positive change. He was a great role model for his peers and for future generations. We are pleased to recognize those who have followed his path."
Smith passed away last February at the age of 83. He coached 36 seasons at North Carolina, winning two national championships and an Olympic gold medal and appearing in 11 Final Fours. He retired in 1997 with 879 victories, which at the time were the most by any basketball coach in Division I history.
Smith is remembered not only for his coaching success but his accomplishments off the court. He took a stand on a number of social and political issues during his career, even though they were often unpopular. He championed racial equality and joined in protests on campus against segregation. He helped integrate a restaurant and a neighborhood in Chapel Hill, and in 1966, he recruited the first African-American player to North Carolina, Charles Scott. Smith was opposed to the Vietnam War and the death penalty and spoke publicly in support of women's rights. He also recorded radio spots to promote a freeze on nuclear weapons.
In 2013, President Obama awarded Smith the nation's highest civilian award, the Presidential Medal of Freedom, for his "courage in helping to change our country."
Smith is also known for his loyalty to his players. He was deeply involved in their lives, both during and after college. Shortly after his death, it was announced that Smith's will included sending $200 to every letterman who played for him at North Carolina, with the message, "Enjoy a dinner out compliments of Coach Dean Smith."
Smith coached 30 All-Americans at North Carolina, including perhaps the game's greatest player, Michael Jordan. "He was more than a coach," said Jordan in a statement following Smith's passing. "He was a mentor, my teacher, my second father."
"The Dean Smith Award is about recognizing individuals for things beyond winning basketball games," said Washington Post columnist and former USBWA president John Feinstein. "Coach Smith used his platform to take on tough issues that most people in sports shy away from. We want to honor those who have lived up to his ideals."
"The USBWA has a long history of supporting college basketball and honoring the men and women who make our game great," said North Carolina coach Roy Williams. "I am thrilled that the USBWA would honor Coach Smith's legacy with this award. "The award is especially meaningful because the criteria to receive the award go beyond winning games. It recognizes the profound impact Coach Smith had on so many lives."
The USBWA plans to present the award annually prior to the start of the college basketball season in November. This year's award will be presented at a dinner on the UNC campus in Chapel Hill, with college basketball analyst Bill Raftery serving as emcee for the dinner.
Net proceeds from the dinner and reception beforehand will benefit the Dean E. Smith Opening Doors Fund, which assists students from low-income families to attend college and professionals in education and social work to pursue advanced degrees. Coach Smith championed the cause of access to higher education and opportunity for all, two fields close to his heart.
John Thompson is award's first winner
The USBWA selected former Georgetown coach John Thompson as the first winner of the Dean Smith Award. Thompson will be presented the award at a dinner in Chapel Hill on Nov. 10.
Inducted into the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame in 2006, Thompson retired in 1999 with a 26-year record at Georgetown of 596-239. His 1984 team won the NCAA championship, and he took the Hoyas to three Final Fours and 19 NCAA tournament appearances. He was one of Smith's closest friends in coaching, an un-official pupil,' of Coach Smith's dating to North Carolina's recruitment of one of Thompson's players while he was coaching at St. Anthony's High School in Washington, D.C.
"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 earned him the award, which 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 got someone who Coach Smith's family is thrilled to honor."
Thompson grew up in Washington, D.C., and played on an Archbishop Carroll High School team that won 48 games in a row during his junior and senior seasons. He was an All-American at Providence College and part of the school's 1963 NIT championship team. He then backed Bill Russell up at center on two NBA championship teams in Boston before starting his coaching career in Washington at Archbishop Carroll.
When he was named the coach at Georgetown in 1972, the school president told him he would be thrilled if the Hoyas could "make the NIT every few years."
They did that but threw in the 19 NCAA appearances, including 14 in a row at one stage while Thompson recruited such stars as Patrick Ewing, Dikembe Mutombo and Alonzo Mourning, among others. Thompson was an assistant to Smith on the 1976 gold medal-winning U.S. Olympic team and was head Olympic coach in 1988.
More important at least in the context of the Smith Award almost all the players he recruited who stayed four years left with Georgetown degrees. Thompson became a leading spokesman on social and education issues and was the first African-American coach to take a team to the Final Four when Georgetown advanced to the national title game in 1982 against North Carolina.
It was at that Final Four that Thompson first made his voice heard on a national stage. Asked how he felt being the first African-American to coach a Final Four team, Thompson said: "I resent that question. I resent it because the implication is that I'm here because I'm somehow better than other great coaches who came before me who didn't have the same opportunities I've been given. I am not the first black coach capable of coaching a team to the Final Four by any means."
He lost the national championship game to Smith, a classic game decided by a Michael Jordan jump shot. Afterwards, Thompson said, "I wanted the pupil to show the teacher that he'd learned from him. I wanted the teacher to be proud of the pupil."
The teacher was proud then and no doubt he would be very proud today.
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