20 Second Timeout is the place to find the best analysis and commentary about the NBA.

Monday, February 28, 2011

Happy Birthday, Coach Dean Smith

Hall of Fame Coach Dean Smith celebrated his 80th birthday today. I have not interviewed or met Coach Smith and, as the name of this site indicates, I focus more on NBA basketball than college basketball. Coach Smith's influence on college basketball goes without saying but it is also striking how much impact he has had on so many people who have gone on to play and/or coach at the professional level. I am currently tinkering with the right hand sidebar of 20 Second Timeout's main page--organizing some of the archival links thematically to make it easier for readers to find the articles that most interest them--and this little project reminded me of how many people I have interviewed/written about who were mentored by Coach Smith in some fashion; I have created a new sidebar category titled "Carolina Connection" to spotlight those individuals. Here are a few North Carolina-themed interviews/articles:

Bob McAdoo starred for Coach Smith at North Carolina before becoming a three-time NBA scoring champion. I first wrote about the underrated McAdoo for Basketball Digest and I am really proud of how I summarized McAdoo's greatness (though I am still disappointed about the ridiculous way that editor Brett Ballantini ruined the article's title, which is why I restored the original title when I reprinted the article at 20 Second Timeout):

Bob McAdoo Reconsidered

Less than two years after I wrote that Basketball Digest piece, I interviewed McAdoo and wrote a longer profile of him for HoopsHype.com:

The Numbers Don't Lie

Bobby Jones embodies everything Coach Smith stands for on and off the court. Jones is most remembered for two things: being a great defensive player and pointing to a teammate to acknowledge a great pass. When I interviewed Jones, he told me that he learned the "point" from Coach Smith:

The Ultimate Team Player

TNT's pregame, halftime and postgame shows contain a lot of humor but when the time comes to really break down the action few people on any platform speak with more intelligence and insight than Kenny Smith; I attribute this to three factors: (1) Smith has the perspective of being a star player in college and then being a nearly All-Star level player in the NBA before finishing his NBA career as a role player (Smith would note that all players are "role players," though some have bigger roles than others), so he sees the game from many angles (unlike someone who was always a star or always a role player); (2) Smith played for Dean Smith in college and clearly soaked up the "Carolina Way" of doing things; (3) Smith absorbed many lessons from his first NBA coach, Bill Russell. I interviewed Kenny Smith four years ago:

Always Ahead of the Game

Larry Brown played for Coach Smith before becoming an ABA All-Star point guard and one of the most successful collegiate/professional coaches ever. Brown's "jump/switch" trapping defense helped him win both an NCAA title (Kansas, 1988) and an NBA title (Detroit, 2004), a dual feat no other coach has accomplished. Joe Caldwell, who Brown coached in the ABA, explained to me the finer points of Brown's defensive scheme:

The Art and Science of NBA Defense

Of course, basketball historians realize that Brown did not invent the "jump/switch" defense but merely adapted it from principles employed by Coach Smith. Hank Egan--the former Air Force coach who later won an NBA championship as Gregg Popovich's assistant in San Antonio--later told me that Coach Smith actually learned this defense from Air Force Coach Bob Spear, who in turn had borrowed the concepts from Hall of Fame Coach Ben Carnevale (Egan's coach at the Naval Academy back in the 1950s). Here is my interview with Egan, a must-read for anyone who loves basketball history and is interested in the evolution of defensive strategies:

Hank Egan Interview

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posted by David Friedman @ 4:59 PM

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