For a moment Smith's privacy was breached. A hint of a tear appeared on a cheek. Smith refused supplications to take the final shreds of net, insisting that Black, the captain, do the honors. "I got my net," Smith said, holding a snippet. Then an admission: "Sitting on the bench, it really was just another game," he said. "But now it's not."
In the days before judgment night, Smith and Georgetown's John Thompson could have been a pair of talk-show celebrities, so effusive and benevolent were they to each other. Over the years they have become uncommonly close, regarding one another with a degree of respect and a trust that few coaches hold for another member of the profession. Smith integrated the North Carolina program—indeed, helped integrate Chapel Hill itself. Thompson became the first black coach to make the Final Four and was proud of it, but he bristled at the slightest mention of this subject: "I don't want to be the first black nothing."
When Smith was selected as coach of the 1976 U.S. Olympic team, he chose Thompson as an assistant. Smith and Thompson exchange telephone calls about the little things: sneaker deals, recruiting prospects. "When the phone rings between one and two a.m., John's wife says she knows who it is," says Smith. John Thompson III, 15, attends Smith's summer basketball camp. Once Thompson even sent his ward, Donald Washington, to play for Smith.
Thompson allowed as how coaching with Smith at the Olympics was his "most refreshing experience." He said, "I've been a Dean Smith fan all my life." Thompson said if Smith's Final Four failures represented a monkey on Smith's back, it was a "helluva monkey. Can you imagine? Seven times the man's been here. I'd like to have that monkey." Most poignantly, Thompson said that playing against Smith for the championship would be, for him, a "no-lose situation."
Smith on Thompson: "As soon as you try to describe a close friendship, it loses something [in translation]. John is both a wonderful coach and a remarkable human being. Maybe he should run for President someday."
Just as cerebral, inventive coaches like Smith and Thompson have firmly imposed their styles and wills upon college basketball—this season finally taking the game away from the players and somehow making it less fun—so did they inject mystery in New Orleans.
Where was Smith? Unbeknownst to his own team, he was cozying out in the French Quarter, at the elegant St. Louis Hotel. And where was Thompson? Why, Biloxi, Miss., of course, a 1� hour bus ride away. It's a feat to beat retreat to the Mississippi mud.
Georgetown's Eric Smith was asked if he missed staying in New Orleans. "I don't know what I've missed," he said. "Can't you see? I ain't here."
Smith was here, there and everywhere in the Hoyas' 50-46 semifinal victory over Louisville. As advertised, this was a menacing full-court-press-me, full-court-press-you defensive struggle. Good shots were hard to come by; in fact, with Ewing glaring down at one end and the veteran Cardinals, four of whom had started on the 1980 NCAA champs, flying and flapping at the other, any shot was hard to come by.
In the other semifinal. Worthy appeared to have reached all the way across Orleans Parish and up to the farthest row of the Superdome for a sledgehammer of a slam early in the Tar Heels' 68-63 TKO of Houston. The crowd had barely settled in when North Carolina took a two-touchdown lead, 14-0. Moments later Worthy spun around one Cougar at half court, flashed past another at the circle, took off from the foul line and didn't parachute to earth until he had drilled the ball through the floor. Dr. J, move over for Dr. James.