To succeed in the ACC you have to be extraordinarily tough. Florida State should have learned that in its first game against the Tar Heels this season in Chapel Hill, when it blew a 21-point lead in the last nine minutes on the way to an 82-77 defeat. North Carolina's rally may have been dramatic, but it wasn't all that unexpected: Under pressure Tar Heel teams do not waver from their game plan; they simply continue to execute the disciplined Smith system.
So North Carolina is back, but how long will Smith keep coming back? These days that's Topic A in Chapel Hill. If he were to average 24 victories a year, Smith would catch the late Kentucky coach, Adolph Rupp, the alltime wins leader, with 876, during the 1997-98 season. That, of course, would be the ultimate legacy. Yet Smith insists it will never happen. Is this simple humility, or does Smith intend to retire in the next few years? Asked about Rupp's record, Smith says, "You just don't understand."
Well, maybe not. In any case, Smith's immediate concern is another NCAA title. "I'm thrilled at this point," he says. "This team is sound, and it's a contender, and it's a very good defensive team." He smiles his enigmatic smile, his eyes disappearing under bushy eyebrows. Duke? Are you kidding? The Dean of college hoops wants it understood that with all due credit to the program down the road, North Carolina is still, well, North Carolina. Always has been. And in college hoops, that's about as good as it gets.