Dean Smith: Knowing What Matters On and Off the Court

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I’m a Tar Heel, born and bred North Carolinian who grew up watching UNC basketball coached by Dean Smith. I also attended and graduated from UNC, and continue to follow Carolina basketball. Smith, who was the head coach of the UNC men’s basketball team for 36 years died last weekend at age 83. He leaves a legacy of basketball greats and accomplishments, but he also had so many positive effects on up-and-coming student athletes that he coached. That lot of kids includes Michael Jordan and James Worthy, some of the all-time legendary greats, but so many more players that the general public may have never heard of; and so many young kids who didn’t even play basketball that were loyal UNC fans or who happened to attend a UNC basketball camp when Smith was coach.

On the way in to work today, I heard a quote from Smith: Never be proud of doing the right thing, just do the right thing. That seems to sum up his perspective on life, and a mantra that is good to live by. Smith taught his players lessons in character that are universal for young athletes – and people in general. In addition to being coach, he was also a humanitarian who pushed for social change. Sure, he wanted to win, so he taught dedication, commitment, respect, teamwork, patience and perserverence (which came to be known as the Carolina Way), but winning came through strong character values as a person. He believed in his players abilities as athletes, but also as young adults who had potential to be leaders once outside of the game. That belief, and his loyalty to those he knew, extended long beyond players’ days at UNC.

A lot of pressure can be put on kids at a young age to play sports at a competitive level. It can be overwhelming. Smith encouraged young players to be better people who could grow their lives into positive, proud lives on and off the court. So many lessons can be learned in sports that carry over to life: good sportsmanship, resilience, and character-building. Whether you are a Tar Heel fan or not, take a minute to read up on Smith as a person. He was an role model of upstanding character that will be remembered for more than his basketball accomplishments.