I was on WFAE, the local public radio station in Charlotte, for an hour today with John Kilgo, David Chadwick, Mick Mixon and Paul Cameron. Mike Collins, the host, was asking us for various Dean Smith stories. Everyone in that room had a pretty deep knowledge of the Carolina basketball program, but no one had heard one of the stories Kilgo told before.
Kilgo, remember, was the co-author of Dean Smith's official memoir , the longtime host of his TV show and was very close to the legendary coach, who died Saturday at the age of 83. We were talking about the cruel irony that Smith -- who had one of the most amazing memories and minds anyone had ever seen -- had slowly deteriorated mentally for many years because of what his family has described as a neurocognitive disorder.
Kilgo said that one of the stories Smith didn't let him publish in his book was this (and I'm paraphrasing a little): In Smith's final game as the Tar Heel coach, in the NCAA Final Four in 1997, UNC was losing to Arizona late in the game. In a huddle, Smith told point guard Ed Cota to commit a quick foul against a certain Arizona player. Cota did, quickly, and before long there was another timeout.
But then Smith, as he told it later to Kilgo, snapped at Cota in the huddle. "What did you do that for?" the coach asked Cota.
"Because you told me to, Coach," came Cota's reply, according to Kilgo.
Kilgo said Smith would later tell him this was the first time his vaunted mind had failed him, and that he knew then that ultimately he would never coach another basketball game.