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Vol. 53, No. 1 • November 2015 • .pdf version
Dean Smith Award honors best of college hoops
By PAT FORDE / Yahoo Sports
College basketball is a wonderful sport with a lot of warts, and there are times when the blemishes overwhelm the beauty of the game.
We currently are in one of those troubled times. Jim Boeheim will sit out nine Atlantic Coast Conference games in 2015-16, partial penance for years of violations within his Syracuse program. Larry Brown was recently hit with his own nine-game suspension, and SMU is prohibited from playing in the postseason. Rick Pitino's Louisville program is being buffeted by tawdry allegations of a staffer paying for players and recruits to have sex with escorts in an on-campus dorm. Roy Williams still is laboring through an NCAA investigation at North Carolina, too.
And those guys are all Hall of Famers.
Given the current climate, the USBWA's Dean Smith Award has come into being none too soon. This is a good time to remind everyone that nobility is attainable in college basketball.
The award is the brainchild of longtime USBWA member John Feinstein, who suggested it at the 2015 Final Four. It was met with enthusiastic response from the board and others within the organization. Equally important was the embrace the idea has received from North Carolina, the school where Smith did his brilliant work.
Creating an award out of thin air is more work than I had imagined – it's been a learning experience pulling this together. Joe Mitch has, as always, been a resolute point man for the USBWA in this project. Steve Kirschner of UNC has shouldered a huge load on his campus and been the MVP of many planning calls. Feinstein and Dana O'Neil have supplied lots of legwork and brainpower to the project.
And thus we are arriving at a landmark occasion on Nov. 10 in Chapel Hill: the first Dean Smith Award will be presented to former Georgetown coach John Thompson.
Big John was an easy choice because he epitomizes what we want the award to stand for: courage, conviction, conscience and activism beyond basketball. Dean Smith was so much more than a basketball coach, and Thompson has been as well. Before coaches lost their civic voices and retreated to the safe harbor of saying nothing, they dared to be heard. Both stood for something, often in the face of opposition.
The cynical will point out that North Carolina's academic scandal – the subject of the aforementioned NCAA investigation – has its roots in the latter years of Smith's tenure at the school. I'd argue that the timing is mere coincidence, not an indication that Smith aided and abetted the flim-flammery. If there is a coach who cared more about his players' education than Smith, well, we'd all be lucky to meet that person.
As president of the USBWA, I hope the entire membership takes pride in being the creators and curators of the Dean Smith Award. In a sport that sometimes sabotages itself, it is a reminder of how good college basketball can be.
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