CHAPEL HILL, NORTH CAROLINA - All the honors, remembrances and tributes have helped the family of late North Carolina Hall of Fame coach Dean Smith cope with their grief in the months since his death.
“I don’t think we could’ve asked for more support from Chapel Hill, from the university, from fans all over, from fans from different institutions,” Smith’s widow Linnea said Wednesday. “It’s been very gratifying. It helps. It certainly helps.”
She spoke after a news conference announcing that the United States Basketball Writers Association is creating an award named after Smith. It will go to anyone associated with college basketball who “embodies the spirit and values represented by Smith.”
USBWA executive director Joe Mitch said that could mean a coach, player, administrator or an official — a designation that president Pat Forde of Yahoo Sports said was meant to be “very open-ended” in finding someone who makes an impact both in the sport and away from the court.
Smith retired in 1997 as the winningest coach in Division I history and was known for his stands on social issues such as racial equality and an opposition to the death penalty. He died in February after years of declining health.
The Smith family has long kept a low profile, though Smith’s son, Scott, attended Wednesday’s announcement along with Linnea Smith and current Hall of Fame coach Roy Williams in the campus arena bearing Smith’s name — the site of his public memorial.
“It’s my first time back to the Smith Center in a while, so it’s kind of bringing up a lot of feelings,” Linnea Smith said. “But I think we’re overwhelmed by so many good wishes, and so many people and organizations wanting to honor him with naming awards or other things for him. So it’s just been very, very special.”
The USBWA will present the award here shortly before each basketball season and hold a public banquet to honor the winner. Banquet proceeds will go to the Dean E. Smith Opening Doors Fund, which aids low-income students in attending college and those pursuing advanced degrees in education and social work.
“This is a way the basketball writers can say we’re going to take time to acknowledge people beyond wins and losses,” Scott Smith said. “And I think that’s something Dad would be proud of.”