Legendary UNC-Chapel Hill Tarheels men's basketball coach Dean Smith passed away yesterday at 83, and if you grew up in ACC country, especially in North Carolina like I did, Dean Smith was as close to a fixture in sports as you could get.
Coach Smith was already a legend by the time I was a kid, winning the NCAA tourney with a team that included Michael Jordan, James Worthy, Matt Doherty, Sam Perkins, and Buzz Peterson, and did it again 11 years later with the 93 squad led by Eric Montross and George Lynch.
The school said in a statement Sunday from Smith's family that the Hall of Fame coach died at his home Saturday night. He was with his wife and five children.
"We are grateful for all the thoughts and prayers, and appreciate the continued respect for our privacy as arrangements are made available to the public. Thank you," Smith's family said in the statement.
Smith had health issues in recent years, with the family saying in 2010 he had a condition that was causing him to lose memory.
Smith coached the Tar Heels from 1961 to 1997, going 879-254 and retiring as the winningest coach in college basketball history. North Carolina won NCAA championships in 1982 and 1993 and reached the Final Four 11 times under Smith.
"We lost one of our greatest ambassadors for college basketball for the way in which a program should be run," said current Tar Heels coach Roy Williams, who worked as an assistant under Smith. "We lost a man of the highest integrity who did so many things off the court to help make the world a better place to live in.
"He set the standard for loyalty and concern for every one of his players, not just the games won or lost."
Smith coached Hall of Fame players Michael Jordan, James Worthy, Bob McAdoo and Billy Cunningham, won 13 Atlantic Coast Conference tournament titles and coached the U.S. Olympic team to the gold medal in 1976.
So yeah, growing up there in the 90's the Duke/UNC rivalry was real. Duke won back to back in 91 and 92, UNC won in 93, and North Carolina was the heart of the college basketball universe back then. I was in high school in Durham at the time and man, it was amazing.
We'll miss you, Dean.