CORRECTION: This story originally incorrectly said the White team won the scrimmage Friday night. The Blue team won, 71-70. The Daily Tar Heel apologizes for the error.
Dean Smith reluctantly made his way onto the court Friday night to the sound of an emotional standing ovation inside the building that bears his name.
True to the form he showed during his coaching days, he tried to quiet the crowd with a few hand gestures in order to deflect attention from him to his former players.
His efforts were futile. The noise simply grew louder in appreciation of his 36 years on UNC’s sidelines, and four spotlights illuminated the man who avoided them all of his life.
Smith didn’t make a speech, but he didn’t have to.
The gratitude of his players said it all.
“He did become a father figure to so many of us,” Bobby Jones, who played for Smith until 1974, said. “He did things the right way. Little things like being on time, but the other things, too — being honest, accepting blame.”
Generations of North Carolina basketball players — from as far back as 1942 to as recent as 2009 — encircled and hugged the coach who shaped UNC’s program under the moniker it still prides itself on today.
Play hard. Play smart. Play together.
But Smith was far from the only memorable piece of basketball history on display in the Smith Center during the “Celebration of a Century,” part of UNC’s yearlong festivities to honor 100 years of basketball.
In a friendly exhibition game played between players ranging in age from their early 90s to early 20s, there were more than a few allusions to the past.
Phil Ford flashed his familiar four-finger signal in the air, and UNC fans were treated to witness the Tar Heels’ once-fearsome “four corners” offense one more time.
Donald Williams, the 1993 Final Four MOP, sliced through the lane more than once, showing the combination of soft touch and explosiveness that made him a terror for opposing defense.
And former teammates Dante Calabria and Serge Zwikker showed little rust on their jumpers, tickling the twine on shot after shot to lead the Blue team to a narrow 71-70 victory against the White team.
But not every player was convinced showing off their old moves was such a good idea.
“I told the guys that all any of us did tonight was erase all the good memories they had of us as players and replace it with a bunch of bad memories,” Eric Montross said with a laugh.
The oldest players on the floor were Bobby Gersten and Julian Smith, who both last played at UNC in 1942.
They, along with four other former Tar Heels in their 70s and 80s, kicked off the exhibition with a halfcourt game of three-on-three.
“Even though we didn’t play together here at the same time, we all feel like we’re brothers,” Ford said. “We’ve shared so many of the same memories.”
The celebration also gave players of the past a chance to fight over bragging rights.
Jawad Williams, the 2005 national champion, argued with 2009 national champ Wayne Ellington about whose team would win if they played.
While Ellington said it would be a good game and end with a narrow victory for his team, Williams wasn’t nearly as political.
“The ‘05 team would probably win by 20.”
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