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Still a coach at heart, Smith watched on from Chapel Hill


For a quiet, unassuming guy who stayed home in Chapel Hill, Dean Smith received a fair amount of attention in Detroit on championship Monday. And all of it was deserved.

That afternoon, Tar Heel uber legend Michael Jordan acknowledged his induction into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame by saying "There's no way you guys would have got a chance to see Michael Jordan play without Dean Smith teaching me the game." Hours later, Tar Heel coach RoyWilliams stood atop the victory platform at Ford Arena, and said to the camera, "Coach, I hope you're watching this moment."

Coach was. He was sitting on the couch in his living room and watching the vintage TV set mounted in the bookcase beside the stone fireplace. As he scribbled notes on his white notepad, his wife Linnea knew better than to interrupt his concentration. This was the Dean Home, not the Dean Dome. Not a party or a social event. No snacks on a plate, no memorabilia on the walls. Nothing that bespoke his 879 wins, 11 Final Fours, two NCAA championships, 1976 Olympic gold medal or 1997 SI Sportsman of the Year Award. Basketball is still serious business for Smith, even 13 years into retirement. His children, including his daughter Kelly and her Michigan State grad fiancé, hung with the younger crowd.

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Unlike Carolina's five other Final Four appearances since his retirement, Smith sought the peace and comfort of familiar surroundings. It isn't easy being a 78-year-old icon in a churning crowd that could love you to death. And it's even riskier when you haven't been the same after knee replacement surgery in December 2007.

Obviously, Smith liked what he saw, especially the balance of screaming offense and stifling defense that is always taught but rarely observed. Surprisingly, his coach's nerves didn't twitch when the Spartans rallied late in the second half to cut the Carolina lead to 13. "It's always tough to come back," he said after CBS had rolled One Shining Moment. "I don't think Coach Williams nor I thought they could."

Smith's main thoughts reflected his pride in his former assistant's accomplishment. "This is coach Williams' night," he said. "I'm very happy for him. I sent him to Kansas and got him back here, and everything's gone smoothly."

And as for that Jordan fellow, Smith sounded sincerely bewildered by his praise: "Oh, my. That's nice of Michael. We all bow to him."