On the night Kansas won its first NCAA men’s basketball championship, Dean Smith stepped onto the floor for just 29 seconds. It was, in many ways, a forgettable span of time.
On that night in Seattle in 1952, on the floor of the Hec Edmundson Pavilion, the Jayhawks prepared to celebrate as the final seconds ticked off the clock. Coach Phog Allen was set to claim his first NCAA title. All-American Clyde Lovellette would be selected Most Outstanding Player.
It was, as you might expect, pretty easy to overlook the junior reserve from Topeka, enjoying a few seconds of mop-up duty in the final minutes. And for years, they did.
In the official box score, there was no record of Dean Edwards Smith stepping onto the floor in an 80-63 victory over St. John’s. Which, if you knew Smith during his days at Kansas, wasn’t all that surprising.
“If you were around the program then, he was pretty nondescript player,” Max Falkenstien, the legendary Kansas broadcaster, said on Sunday afternoon.
Smith, the legendary North Carolina coach and titan of the profession, died on Saturday at the age of 83. But before Smith became synonymous with North Carolina basketball, the four-corners offense and the early days of Michael Jordan, he was better known as “Smiles,” the gregarious leader of Kansas’ scout team in the early 1950s.
“I thought of Dean as a man who wanted to know how to coach basketball,” Lovellette said.
A native of Emporia, Kan., Smith graduated from Topeka High, where a young Falkenstien once broadcast his basketball games. At KU, Smith lived the typical life of a college athlete in he early ’50s. He became a member of the Phi Gamma Delta fraternity. He roomed with a friend named Bill Bunten, who would one day become the mayor of Topeka. He majored in math. And he spent time as a catcher on the KU baseball team.
According to Falkenstien, legendary Kansas football coach Don Fambrough once joked that Smith would have been a great football player, too, “if he just would have given up that crazy sport of basketball.” But it was on the Jayhawks’ basketball team, playing for Allen and assistant coach Dick Harp, where Smith found his calling. Smith rarely saw action in games; he averaged just 2.0 points per game in 1951-52 before scoring 1.9 points per game as a senior in 1952-53. But Smith made up for the lack of playing time at practice.
During games, Smith would usually take a seat near the end of the bench, letting the starters and top reserves sit closer to Allen and Harp. But as the substitution patterns began, Smith would often slide into the seat next to Harp, who would one day join Smith’s staff at North Carolina in the 1980s. Other times, Smith would jot down stats and keep tabs on the structure of the Kansas offense and defense.
“He was a statistician,” Lovellette said.
Years after the 1952 title game, with technology improved and communication easier, somebody from Kansas called the NCAA office, inquiring about the official box score from that night in Seattle. To this day, Falkenstien isn’t sure if Smith was behind the push, or whether it was a sports information officer from Kansas who simply wanted to rectify the error.
“They contacted the NCAA and told them they made a grievous error in that omission,” Falkenstien said.
The error was corrected. The name was added. And nearly 53 years later, the name is still there:
Dean Smith: 0 points, 0 fouls, 0 field goals, 0 field-goal attempts.