Offering humorous anecdotes and fielding questions about his life on and off the court, the winningest college basketball coach of all time made a rare speaking appearance Tuesday afternoon.
Basketball legend Dean Smith, who retired in 1997 after amassing 879 wins as UNC’s head coach, spoke to a filled-to-capacity crowd of more than 150 students and faculty at the James M. Johnston Center for Undergraduate Excellence.
Moderated by former UNC-system President Bill Friday, Smith’s conversation with students was the second installment of the monthly Tuesdays with Friday series, which brings influential civic leaders to speak with the University community. Smith, who said he turned down nearly all speaking engagements last year, said he enjoyed fielding questions from students and catching up with his old friend Friday.
“I don’t feel comfortable speaking in (formal) business settings, but in front of students, speaking is the easiest thing in the world to do,” he said.
Those who wanted to see Smith speak had to fill out a “ticket to win” weeks beforehand to get a chance to attend the conversation. Because of limited seating, only 150 students were selected.
At the onset of the discussion, Smith set a humorous tone as he joked about his and Friday’s presence at UNC since the 1950s.
Throughout the event, Smith walked around and interacted with the audience instead of remaining in his designated seat, which helped foster a lively conversation with a wide range of questions. Topics covered in the discussion included Smith’s opinion of college basketball today, his most memorable moments on the court and his activities since retiring from UNC.
Smith said a lot of his time recently has been spent lobbying for important causes such as bringing an end to betting on college sports.
In a visit to Washington, D.C., several weeks ago, Smith worked with Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., to get a bill on the Senate floor to make betting on college sports illegal in Nevada, which is the only state that still allows the practice.
“There shouldn’t be point spreads in the newspapers,” Smith said. “It encourages new betters.”
In addition to his efforts to curb collegiate betting, Smith said he is still closely involved with UNC basketball, whether it be offering advice to new Coach Matt Doherty or answering players’ concerns about recruiting and their future plans.
Smith said he is pleased with Doherty’s efforts so far as head coach. “We wanted someone who wouldn’t change our program’s discipline,” he said. “I will be here to help (Doherty), but he knows he doesn’t have to listen to (me) like he did when he played for us.”
After describing some memorable coaching experiences, Smith stressed how difficult it was to pinpoint his best players of all-time. “It’s like asking, `Who’s your favorite child?’” he said. “I never answer questions like that.”
Neely Curtis, a freshman from Mooresville and one of the students selected to hear Smith speak, said she felt honored to be at the event.
“I’m glad I was able to take advantage of this one-time opportunity,” Curtis said. “(Smith) is such a highly respected person, and he inspired so many people to work harder.”
Friday, who has known Smith for more than 40 years, said Smith will continue to serve as a role model for all. “He’s truly an accomplished individual,” Friday said. “He’s the man who set the standard for intercollegiate sports.”
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