Having a system has its advantages and disadvantages. You knew they were always going to reverse the ball, that they were never going to shoot too quickly. But every now and then he'd suck you into defending his system and surprise you. When they beat us in the Final Four in 1981, they just turned Al Wood loose.
I later found out that he'd had someone come in to scout his team, and that person had told him, "Your guys are easy to guard because you make them easy to guard." Evidently he took that advice and shook things up. To take someone's advice to that extreme, at that time of year, shows he's not as inflexible as people might think. That was brilliant.
BREAKING THROUGH, 1982-1997
"We are going to determine who wins this game"
After Larry Miller's arrival, the Tar Heels would never again finish lower than third in the ACC standings. Smith would guide them to 11 Final Fours, including at least one in four different decades, and two NCAA titles.
To be sure, each championship came with the help of an opponent's blunder in the dying seconds—in 1982, Georgetown's Fred Brown threw the ball to Worthy by mistake, costing the Hoyas a shot at beating the Heels; and in 1993, Chris Webber of Michigan was charged with a critical technical for calling a timeout when his team had none left. But on both occasions the Tar Heels stood in cool counterpoint: In '82 they got the game-winning jump shot from Jordan, who was then only a freshman, and in '93 they husbanded their timeouts and played with prepossessing calm.
ROY WILLIAMS, assistant coach, 1978-88:
Against Georgetown in '82, when Coach Smith called time with 32 seconds left, I didn't like the looks on our faces. For the first time I thought we could actually lose the game. But he told the team, "We're in great shape. I'd rather be in our shoes than theirs." He said it so confidently that I had to sneak a peak at the scoreboard to make sure it said Georgetown 62, North Carolina 61. Then he said, "We are going to determine who wins this game." And he grabbed Michael and said, "Knock it down."
When our guys broke the huddle, the looks on their faces had changed 180 degrees. The way he talked to them had more to do with us winning the national championship than anything else that happened that season.
MATT DOHERTY, forward, 1981-84:
In a team meeting once we were going over a trapping defense, and he referred to "the farthest point down the court." Then he stopped and said, "You know why I said 'farthest,' not 'furthest?' Because far, F-A-R, deals with distance." That's an English lesson I got with the basketball team, and I've never forgotten it.