I grew up in Eastern North Carolina where it’s God, Basketball, and BBQ! You had to pick your favorite of each and stick to it. There were no exceptions. Well, I chose to go against the grain when I made my choice for basketball. Most of the people I knew either pulled for the UNC Tarheels or the Duke Blue Devils, neither of which tickled my fancy. I chose to head down Tobacco Road and stop in Raleigh, with North Carolina State University. I cheered vigorously every time we played against Carolina, short for UNC, or Duke. We were usually on the losing end of the challenge, but that didn’t stop me from cheering for our team. Everywhere you turned people had to rep their team by wearing their colors. I hated the sight of Devil Blue and tolerated the Carolina Blue and white; don’t ever call it sky blue and think you will survive in my home town. It is Carolina Blue and shall never be referred to as anything else. I of course donned my red, black, and white representing the Wolfpack! Epic battles were played between these three schools and even though there were other teams in the conference, they were non-existent in the minds of my North Carolina cohorts. If you weren’t in “The Triangle” you did not matter. Though I still love my basketball roots, as an adult I strayed from norm and have chosen to cheer for the Tennessee Lady Vols and no longer pay attention to the men’s game.
These wonderful childhood memories flooded my mind this morning as I heard the news of the passing of the legendary Dean Smith. In North Carolina the men’s collegiate basketball coaches were just a step away from being gods; with Dean Smith leading the way. The other legends were the one and only Jim Valvano of NC State and Mike Krzyzewski of Duke. They were rivals, but they also respected each other and you never saw them fighting each other or bad mouthing one another. They were too classy for that; that type of behavior was left to the fans.
As a fierce fan of NC State, I cheered for my team, but I always admired Coach Smith. This man knew how to coach. You have to respect a man who won 2 National Championships, took his teams to 11 Final Fours, won 879 games making him the winningest coach in NCAA history at the time, and oh yeah coached a little guy named Michael Jordan! Coach Smith would go on to hold the title of the winningest coach in NCAA history for many years, until Pat Head Summitt of the University of Tennessee, broke his record in 2005; she still holds the record with 1098 wins. Coach Smith was the only coach that I know of, to have an arena named after him in his lifetime. The Dean Dome has hosted many battles between the three rival schools, and one thing has held fast; the respect and admiration for a great man from everyone who entered its doors.
It is with great sadness that I write this post, because it means we have lost another legend from the world of basketball. First Jimmy V succumbed to cancer, then Pat Summitt was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, then Coach Kay Yow passed from cancer, and now Coach Smith has passed away. UNC Women’s Coach, Sylvia Hatchell, who was diagnosed with leukemia in 2013, and Coach K at Duke are the only legends from my childhood still actively coaching. Death is a fact of life, but it really sucks! Journey well Coach Smith…