Through that door and past those two secretaries is the spacious, comfortable office of North Carolina Basketball Coach Dean Smith. Let's sneak a look inside.
Hmm, this is unusual. There seem to be no mementos of his teams' 10 straight postseason tournaments, nine 20-victory seasons, eight consensus All-Americas, seven Top Ten finishes, six ACC regular-season titles, five ACC tournament championships, four Eastern Regional crowns, three NIT appearances or two international tournament victories. No partridge in a pear tree, either. In fact, there is not a "one" of anything, at least not as in "No. 1." For all his enormous success, Smith has never coached the top-ranked team in the country, not even for a week.
Although Smith would be loath to admit it publicly, this shortcoming could be corrected next March at the NCAA tournament in Atlanta. The Tar Heels would be ranked No. 1 right now if they had not suffered a one-point overtime loss to Wake Forest in the season-opening Big Four tournament. Since then the team has roared to nine straight victories, raising its record to 10-1 and lowering its postseason betting odds.
Already there have been warning drumbeats from as far away as Portland, Ore. After Carolina blitzed three opponents in the Far West Classic last month, Coach Neil McCarthy of runner-up Weber State flatly declared, "They should be No. 1." The night before, following an awesome 86-60 thrashing of Oregon, wounded Duck Greg Ballard had said, "That's the best team I've ever played against." And yes, as a senior, Ballard knew UCLA when.
The Tar Heels brought their point closer to home last week, opening the ACC season with victories over Clemson (91-63) and Virginia (91-67). Coming into the contest, Clemson was nationally ranked itself, with nine triumphs in 10 games and a 35-point victory margin. But afterward, Coach Bill Foster shook his head and said, "They made us look like we'd never even practiced together."
With four starters back from last year's 25-4 club, the Tar Heels have practiced together a lot. And three of the players have Olympic gold medals after playing for Smith in Montreal last summer.
Like most coaches, Smith plays games one at a time and says so ad nauseam. He not only refuses to look very far ahead to where he might be going, but he also won't even look behind to see where he has been. When the school pep band struck up the Olympic theme after the Clemson game last week, Smith acted like Humphrey Bogart in Casablanca. "I wish they wouldn't do that," he said. "That was last summer when we had Scott May and Adrian Dantley." In other words, don't play it again, Sam.
Even if he could make use of his 12 Olympic players, Smith would not take much for granted. "Oh, we'd be one of the 32 teams in the NCAA field," he allows, "but we wouldn't necessarily make the final four. Too much can happen."
But the three Olympians he does have—Guard Phil Ford, Forward Walter Davis and Center Tommy LaGarde—may be enough. On the bench he even has a fourth Olympian, Randy Wiel, a 25-year-old former policeman from the Netherlands Antilles who was a sprinter in the 1968 Games.
Recently the Tar Heels have been blowing out opponents like birthday candles. "We're killing teams and it's hilarious," says Guard John Kuester, the fourth returning starter. "People must get tired of reading that every game was our best of the year." Says LaGarde, "Things might go wrong for a while, but not for an entire game." One reason for the team's fast start is the rapid development of freshman Forward Mike O'Koren. "I learned quickly that it's more than putting the ball in the hoop," he says. "The first week of practice I was dribbling downcourt when all of a sudden somebody stole the ball and everybody else was running in the opposite direction."