Former Tar Heels, true blue to Smith, share their favorite recollections
GEORGE LYNCH, Class of '93
Vancouver Grizzlies forward
One day in practice during my senior year we were going through end-of-the-game situations. Donald Williams got trapped and called timeout so he wouldn't turn the ball over. Coach Smith stopped practice and said, "No one uses a timeout unless I tell them to." In the NCAA final the same situation came up for Michigan, and they wasted a timeout. That was big later, when they didn't have a timeout at the end of the game [and Chris Webber called an illegal timeout]. After it was over, I remembered what Coach Smith had said.
RICHARD VINROOT, Class of '63
Former mayor of Charlotte
I served in Vietnam in 1968. The most frequent correspondent I had was my mom. The second most was Coach Smith. He wrote to me weekly—I hope you're doing well, keep your head down, here's how the team is doing. A lot of guys like me weren't very good players, but he's just as loyal to them. He just cares deeply about his boys.
I have three children who went to North Carolina. Each one of them got a call from the basketball office during their first week at school, making sure they had tickets to the games. They said, "Your dad played for Coach Smith, we want to make sure you're taken care of." I don't know how he found out they were in school there, because I never told him.
KING RICE, Class of '91
Assistant coach at Illinois State
I had an altercation with my girlfriend once, and a bunch of things were being said about me in the papers. He called me, but I was embarrassed and avoided his messages and didn't want to see him. Finally, I went to his office. He said, "King, don't you understand, I'm here for you in the good times and the bad? If anything, I'm here for you more in the bad times." He tells you from the start, when you join, you join for life.
MITCH KUPCHAK, Class of '76
General manager, Los Angeles Lakers
In my junior year I had a back problem. We played at Clemson on a Saturday night, and I had a procedure scheduled the next morning on my back. They were going to inject my spine with an epidural block. I'm in the operating room, and Coach walks in wearing a gown and a mask. I think he's pretty squeamish, but he was there, first thing on a Sunday morning. Suffice it to say, with my parents back in New York, it was comforting having him there with me.
JEFF LEBO, Class of '89
Assistant coach at South Carolina
I'll never forget, we played Georgia Tech and we were up two points, they had the ball with timeout and about five seconds left. We came over to the side, and Coach diagrammed the play they were going to run. He said, "Jeff, when they come off this screen, you switch out and stop it." They tried to run that exact play and couldn't. We stole the ball to win the game.
CHARLIE SCOTT, Class of '70
Marketing director, Champion Products
As one of the first black college athletes in the ACC, I experienced many difficult moments timing my time at North Carolina, but Coach Smith was always there for me. On one occasion, as we walked off the court following a game at South Carolina, one of their fans called me a "big, black baboon." Two assistants had to hold Coach Smith back from going after the guy. It was the first time I had ever seen Coach Smith visibly upset, and I was shocked. But more than anything else, I was proud of him.
PAT SULLIVAN, Class of '95
Assistant coach at North Carolina
In 1993 we were playing Cincinnati in the East Regional final at the Meadowlands for a chance to go to the Final Four. The score was tied and there were eight tenths of a second left. He got in the huddle, calm as can be, and drew up this play. He said to Derrick [Phelps], "Brian [Reese] is going to run to the corner, then come back off a screen from Eric [Montross]." He told Donald Williams to stay out behind the three-point line. He said. "Derrick, Brian's going to be wide open in the lane, just throw it up to him." Then he said, "Now, Brian, you won't have time to dunk the ball, just drop it in the basket and we'll win." Sure enough, it was as if the Red Sea had parted. Brian was open. But he tried to dunk the ball, and it clanked off the back of the rim. We were like, Brian, Coach did everything else for you. Why didn't you just drop it in? [Those Tar Heels won the game in overtime and later won Smith's second national title.]