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First winner of Dean Smith award was coach's close friend

Posted November 10, 2015
Updated November 11, 2015

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— Dean Smith and John Thompson – two of the biggest names in college basketball – were close friends on and off the court, so it was only appropriate that Thompson was the first winner of the Dean Smith Award on Tuesday night.

Normally Thompson would not be found at a fancy event, but the former Georgetown basketball coach said that he couldn’t say “no” to the award because of the person it was named for.

“I would rather eat a bug than attend things like this,” said Thompson. “Because of what he meant to me, it was special.”

The Dean Smith Award is given to someone who embodies the legendary University of North Carolina coach’s spirt and values.

“What he contributed to my life, it meant a lot,” said Thompson.

Thompson said Smith shared things with him that others may not have. Thompson has been a leader on social and educational issues and he was the first African-American coach to take a team to the Final Four in 1982. That year, Smith and Thompson were already close when both coaches faced off for the National Championship.

“It was not a very easy thing at all,” said Thompson. “In some ways, it was a no-win situation.”

A Michael Jordan jump shot sealed the win for the Tarheels, but Thompson most remembers what Smith did next.

“When the game was over, he ran and he hugged me and I always said, ‘I wonder if I would have done that’,” said Thompson.

UNC coach Roy Williams said Thompson was a perfect choice for the Dean Smith Award.

“One of my regrets is I never told Coach I loved him,” said Williams.

The event was sponsored by the U.S. Basketball Writers Association and raised money for the Dean E. Smith Opening Doors Fund. The fund gives money to low income students and helps education and social workers pursue advanced degrees.


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