Dean Smith is dead

There are few things about sports I know anything about. Dean Smith taught me important lessons.

For those too young or didn’t care, Dean Smith was the basketball coach at University of North Carolina. TV was regularly televising games in the 1970s long before Cable TV – so the telecast on Free TV had to be paid for by advertisers and getting people to the games to buy fuzzy dice for the rear view mirror on their pickup trucks.

UNC was (is) part of the Atlantic Coast Conference. Dean Smith’s rival over at NC State was aggressive with trying to steal the ball on the transition – they had a really short guard named Monte Towe – who was only 5’7″ but ran circles around the other players. He was so short and fast the 7 foot tall players imported from the third world couldn’t even see him down below. He also could shoot from long range into the basket over and over. Practice matters, not just being a freak of nature or taking pituitary growth hormones as a teenager.

Dean Smith really wanted the shot clock. If you were trying to catch up from behind, the other team would just stall – passing the ball back and forth, killing time and limiting the number of transitions and ball stealing opportunities. The only way to catch up was to deliberately foul and hope the other team missed their free throws.

The ACC/NCAA wouldn’t budge – this was amateur basketball, not the NBA. The TV audience and its revenue was unimportant – what mattered was teamwork, good sportsmanship and the integrity of the game, along with getting a well balanced college education for the players!

So Dean Smith decided he was going to force the NCAA to his way of thinking. He starting abusing the four corners offense, which was brilliant to achieve his goal. Four players would stand at the four corners of the court and toss the ball back and forth endlessly without any intent of taking a shot. The 5th player would run aimlessly between the other team’s players, who were typically playing a zone defense. The offense can hold the ball for only five seconds – unless the defense didn’t closely guard the player – forcing the defense to not huddle under the basket and join the players at the corners

There was no obvious way to oppose the four corner offense. If you tried to play man to man, it left the entire area under the basket empty. One pass to the 5th player and it was an easy basket. If the 5th defender tried to chase the ball for a steal, that left the 5th offensive player completely unguarded

So this went on for the entire season, maybe longer – games would end with a final score like 7-5. The announcers couldn’t contain their anger – there was nothing to describe. This was even more annoying to the radio broadcasters. TV advertisers were not happy. Other than watching for the novelty, it was killing the audience. I loved it!

Eventually the NCAA relented and added the shot clock. Maybe someday we’ll end the fraud and just start paying the college players and end the pretense it is about a college education.

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