MIKE O'KOREN, forward, 1976-80:
The halftime score at Duke in 1979 was 7-0, Duke. The game ended up 47-40--we played them even in the second half--and afterward reporters asked me about our decision to stall, and I said, "Personally I thought we should have played with them. He wanted to stall." Well, he saw that in the papers, and he told me that I should do the playing and he would do the coaching. So I had to put on the weighted vest and run pretty much all of practice. A week later we played Duke in the ACC championship and beat them [71-63].
JAMES WORTHY, forward, 1979-82:
He didn't allow players to wear beards. I had a skin problem and couldn't shave close, and I complained so much that he said, "O.K., if you get a doctor's note, I'll let you wear one." But if you look at the SPORTS ILLUSTRATED cover in 1981, with Jimmy Black, myself, Matt Doherty, Sam Perkins and Coach Smith, I had to shave for that. He said, "Can you shave just this once?" So I shaved.
Having a system has its advantages and disadvantages. You knew they were always going to reverse the ball, that they were never going to shoot too quickly. But every now and then he'd suck you into defending his system and surprise you. When they beat us in the Final Four in 1981, they just turned Al Wood loose.
I later found out that he'd had someone come in to scout his team, and that person had told him, "Your guys are easy to guard because you make them easy to guard." Evidently he took that advice and shook things up. To take someone's advice to that extreme, at that time of year, shows he's not as inflexible as people might think. That was brilliant.
BREAKING THROUGH, 1982-1997
"We are going to determine who wins this game"
After Larry Miller's arrival, the Tar Heels would never again finish lower than third in the ACC standings. Smith would guide them to 11 Final Fours, including at least one in four decades, and two NCAA titles.
To be sure, each championship came with the help of an opponent's blunder in the dying seconds--in 1982 Georgetown's Fred Brown threw the ball to Worthy by mistake, costing the Hoyas a shot at beating the Heels; and in 1993 Chris Webber of Michigan was charged with a critical technical for calling a timeout when his team had none left. But on both occasions the Tar Heels stood in cool counterpoint: In '82 they got the game-winning jump shot from Jordan, who was then only a freshman, and in '93 they husbanded their timeouts and played with prepossessing calm.
ROY WILLIAMS, assistant coach, 1978-88:
Against Georgetown in '82, when Coach Smith called time with 32 seconds left, I didn't like the looks on our faces. For the first time I thought we could actually lose the game. But he told the team, "We're in great shape. I'd rather be in our shoes than theirs." He said it so confidently that I had to sneak a peek at the scoreboard to make sure it said Georgetown 62, North Carolina 61. Then he said, "We are going to determine who wins this game." And he grabbed Michael and said, "Knock it down."
When our guys broke the huddle, the looks on their faces had changed 180 degrees. The way he talked to them had more to do with us winning the national championship than anything else that happened that season.