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UNC and basketball writers association create Dean Smith award for charity

Members of the U.S. Basketball Writers Association have been talking about an honor for the late UNC men's basketball coach Dean Smith since the Final Four at the NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament in April.

And at a press conference Wednesday morning in the Smith Center, the association officially announced the concept for the new award it will sponsor in partnership with UNC. Few specifics on the award were discussed, though Pat Forde of Yahoo Sports said the criteria is going to be open-ended.

"That’s really what we’re seeking to honor here, people who have had an impact on the game and on the people around them, outside of just college basketball and on the court," Forde said. "What they do with players outside, what they do in society. Coach Smith was never afraid to have a voice in that area."

Present at the announcement to further elaborate on the award were John Feinstein of the Washington Post and Dana O'Neil of ESPN. Joe Mitch, executive director of the USBWA; Dean Smith's son, Scott, UNC Director of Athletics Bubba Cunningham and North Carolina basketball coach Roy Williams also made appearances at the press conference.

"The winner's going to have nothing to do with wins and losses because Dean was about so much more than wins and losses," Feinstein said. "The causes that he stood up for, the lives that he touched throughout his coaching career and after his coaching career — that's what this award is about."

Feinstein said a committee will be put together to announce one winner in late summer or early fall. A banquet will then be held in their honor in November of 2015, possibly in Chapel Hill at the start of the basketball season. The proceeds of the banquet, which will be open to the public, will all benefit the Dean E. Smith Opening Doors Fund, which assists students from low-income families to attend college as well as professionals in education and social work.

“It’s not really directed at any reason, proposing any changes in the NCAA structure," Mitch said. "It’s focusing, concentrating on his legacy, honoring an individual who exemplifies those standards.”

The winner may be anyone involved in college basketball: a coach, administrator, player — either women's or men's and not just those in Division I, Mitch said. 

Feinstein originally came up with the idea for the award when talking with Rick Brewer, sports information director emeritus at the ACC tournament. He wished that all of the ACC teams were wearing "DES" on their uniforms, and Brewer suggested there should be something to honor Smith going forward.

"Dean stood for all that was good in college athletics, and as Pat said, there's a lot that's not, as we all know," Feinstein said.

The idea of the award was later pitched to the USBWA and approved by what Forde described as "the easiest committee meeting of all time."

"It is better late than never," Forde said. "And maybe better now than ever, given the state of some of the things in college sports and in all sports."

Summer Editor Sam Schaefer contributed reporting.

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