Brad Frederick played for North Carolina in Dean Smith’s final season as head coach in 1997. He was also an assistant under Bill Guthridge – going to two Final Fours in the process – and is now the Director of Basketball Operations under Roy Williams.
Frederick, needless to say, is a Tar Heel through and through. Which is why news of Smith’s death this past Saturday was so jarring.
“Going back to Saturday night, we played at Boston College and got a call from Coach Smith’s son, Scott, late (that) night,” Frederick began on CBS Sports Radio’s After Hours with Amy Lawrence. “Ever since then, it’s kind of been a whirlwind. The thing with Coach Smith was he had been sick for quite some time, and so it was a very difficult time for everybody around. Because obviously anybody that has memory loss or is in that state, it’s difficult to see. One of the things with Coach Smith was he was so sharp with his memory, so it was certainly tough.
“But as Coach Williams has said, everyone tried to prepare (themselves) for this, but reality hits when it actually happens. And it’s certainly difficult for everybody. But the last couple days have been just a whirlwind of support from the basketball community – the former players calling in to offer their support, other coaches, other players. And certainly the UNC campus community has been great in reaching out to show their support for Coach Smith.”
Frederick said that Smith’s family is having a private funeral on Thursday. Numerous people in the basketball community are expected to attend, including Bill Self, Billy Donovan, and Mike Krzyzewski.
Smith’s family even received a phone call from President Obama.
“That was special to the family that he took the time to call,” Frederick said. “Just kind of a wide range of people.”
Frederick was asked what Smith meant to him personally.
“He was unbelievable,” Frederick said. “I wanted to get into college coaching, so for me, the opportunity to learn from Coach Smith drove me to come to North Carolina. I wanted to learn from him. I went into the experience thinking that I would learn so much about basketball, and I certainly did – how he conducted the program, how he did things technically, X’s and O’s.
“But what I learned was he was so much more valuable off the court in how he ran the Carolina basketball family, how he cared for his former players, how he constantly stayed in touch with everyone and just made the experience of Carolina basketball a family atmosphere. He just did so much work for so many people and tried as hard as he could to stay out of the spotlight. That was the thing that really struck me.
“That last season that he coached, the ’97 season, he set the all-time wins record at the time, which was passing Adolph Rupp at (876). He was so apprehensive about being around the spotlight from that. When he set the record, he allowed players to hug and he raced off the court. That was probably the thing that struck me the most about him – the way he handled himself.”