Now 82 years young, no one has yet to touch college basketball the way Dean Smith has. (Photo courtesy of Rivals.com)
He was one of the reasons I became a North Carolina fan. From his desire to run a perennially clean program, to reinforcing the family concept in college basketball, to having a persona reminiscent of the grandfather I never got to know, Dean Edwards Smith seemed like the perfect man to lead such a tradition-rich program.
Today, Coach Smith turns 82 years old, and despite his bout with Alzheimer's disease; a tale that often becomes far more tragic when you consider Smith's long-standing reputation as a man who paid particular attention to detail and remembering everyone he came into contact with, and now realize that he sometimes forgets who he himself is and has no recollection of current North Carolina coach Roy Williams, he remains a legend. With 879 career wins and a pair of national championships, not to mention developing a Who's Who of future NBA stars the likes of Michael Jordan, James Worthy, Brad Daugherty, Sam Perkins, Jerry Stackhouse, Rasheed Wallace, Vince Carter and Antawn Jamison before his retirement in 1997, one would be hard-pressed to find names outside of Mike Krzyzewski or maybe even Jim Boeheim that come close to matching the legacy and career that Smith carved out for himself over 36 years in Chapel Hill.
The proper tribute to Coach Smith is something that I may not be able to provide, as I feel that no amount of words I write will effectively give him the respect he deserves, but I hope this suffices: The 1993 national championship game, Smith's last of two titles, and the game that turned me into a North Carolina fan considering it was the first one I ever watched start to finish back when I was just six years old.
Happy birthday, Coach, and many, many more.