CHAPEL HILL, N.C. — Fans, former players and coaching colleagues gathered Sunday to honor the late Dean Smith.
The school held a public memorial service for the retired Hall of Famer in the campus arena bearing his name, drawing thousands of fans to pay their respects to the coach whose career made him not only the face of the university and a coaching innovator but also a civil-rights advocate.
“I’m really going to miss him,” said Phil Ford, the former Tar Heels point guard who ran Smith’s famed “Four Corners” offense. “And if there’s a model of how we should live our lives, I mean, we need look no further than Coach’s life.
“I’m truly honored to have played for and been an assistant coach to the greatest coach ever. Not (just) basketball, the greatest coach.”
UNC coach Roy Williams, a former Smith assistant, and former players such as Brad Daugherty and Antawn Jamison were also scheduled to speak at the ceremony and share their memories of Smith — who died two weeks ago at age 83.
“He coached you to be a better basketball player for four years,” former 1970s walk-on Mickey Bell told the crowd. “He coached you to be a man for a lifetime.”
The service attracted former UNC players and coaches such as Larry Brown, Kenny Smith and J.R. Reid, as well as longtime Smith assistant and successor Bill Guthridge.
Atlantic Coast Conference commissioner John Swofford, who worked as athletic director here during Smith’s tenure, and former Texas and UNC football coach Mack Brown also attended.
Fans had gathered outside the Smith Center long before doors opened, with lines stretching around the arena more than an hour before fans could enter — a scene that former Smith player Serge Zwikker documented with photos before entering the building.
Fans were also able to sign guest books with their memories of Smith once inside the arena, books that will be presented to Smith’s family.
“I think for most everyone it’s not about seeing this on television, we all have some kind of special reason deep inside of us (to attend),” said Greg Bullard, a lawyer and UNC graduate who drove from Lumberton. “Dean is Carolina.”
The family held a private church service for Smith last week.
AARON BEARD, AP Basketball Writer___