By Adam Lucas
February 9, 2015
As anyone knows who has dealt with the death of a loved one, there are times you think you might never laugh again. There are also times you laugh when you thought you might cry, and cry when you thought you might laugh.
Monday night at Top of the Hill, less than 48 hours after the death of Dean Smith, was a little bit of all of those. Officially, it was the Roy Williams Live radio show hosted by Jones Angell. Really, though, it was a group therapy session for the dozens of Tar Heel fans in attendance and the thousands who listened on the Tar Heel Sports Network and online.
Sometimes, these shows can be celebratory, especially coming off a big win. This one wasn’t. This one was quieter, with a large round of applause for Williams when he walked in the room, but otherwise a larger than normal dose of hugs among fans who just wanted to share a little bit of what they all knew each other had felt over the past two days.
Sometimes you just want to turn the lights out and be alone, but eventually you have to go back out again, and that’s what this Monday night was intended to do.
Angell had set exactly the right tone by preparing a series of audio clips that combined play by play radio calls of great Smith victories with audio from the head coach’s postgame press conferences after those games.
That provided the perfect soundtrack for what felt a little like a family gathering. There were a few tears, as when Williams opened the evening by telling the crowd, “I’m 64 years old, and every day I want to do the things I think would make Dean Smith proud.”
That included telling one of the evening’s callers, former Carolina point guard King Rice, how proud Smith would be of Rice’s maturation, going from an occasionally rough-and-tumble college student to a successful college head coach. Rice said he got the news on Sunday when he was headed to shootaround with his Monmouth team, and after talking to Williams, got a call from Larry Brown. “He said he wanted me to know how proud Coach Smith would be of me,” an emotional Rice said. “Because he had faith in me when I was a kid, now I get the opportunity to be a good husband and a good dad.”
The highlights came when Williams interacted with the night’s guests and callers, which included Eric Montross, Antawn Jamison, John Swofford, Phil Ford and King Rice. It was almost like eavesdropping on private conversations between Tar Heel legends. At one point, Jamison said, “I get down on my knees every night and thank God I made the smartest decision of my life to come to Carolina.”
“I’m going to tell you something,” Williams interjected. “The love you have for Coach Smith, he has that same love for you.”
In addition to the tears, there were an equal number—if not more—of stories that prompted laughter, the exact kinds of happy memories it felt like everyone in the room needed.
Williams related a story about the battle to get Smith to allow the Smith Center to be named after the legendary coach. Smith wanted it named after all his players; once he was persuaded that naming it for him would honor every one of his teams, he relented.
But the building quickly became better-known as the Dean Dome.
“I’ve lived with all of the stuff about my big nose,” Williams said Smith told him, “but I do have hair.”
Everyone in the room, it seemed, had a Smith impression, and before the hour-long show was over, most of them had tried it out on their tablemates. Even Williams offered his version of Smith’s familiar voice when telling a story about Ford’s legendary dive across the finish line at the mile run before his freshman year.
In fact, there were so many stories that an hour wasn’t enough to tell them all. As the radio show signed off, Williams asked his audience, “Do you want to hear one more story?”
The answer, of course, was yes. And so Williams told the crowd about some advice Smith relayed just before Williams became a head coach. “He told me that I took the losses so hard as an assistant that he was worried about me as a head coach,” Williams said. “He would always say, ‘The sun is going to come up in the morning.’”
Williams received the news of Smith’s death in a text at 11:19 p.m. on Saturday night. He went for a pre-dawn walk on Sunday morning, and was crossing the bridge at the 18th fairway of the Chapel Hill Country Club just before 7 a.m. That’s when he saw it—the sun coming up.
“Look at that,” Williams said to himself. “The man is dead, and he’s still right.”