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  • Bill Chastain

Fitting Four Corners Fairwell

You had to know what you were watching to appreciate what North Carolina did Saturday at the Dean Dome.

A blast from the ACC basketball past came roaring home in the Tar Heels’ first possession against Georgia Tech. If you squinted your eyes you could almost see Phil Ford at the point. The All-America guard is wearing those high-top Carolina blue chucks. Dean Smith is barking the signals from the bench. Yes, the Heels were running Smith’s famed four corners offense. And never has there been a more fitting or imaginative tribute.

JordanSmithWorthy1 Dean Smith with former players James Worthy and Michael Jordan to his right. Photo by Zeke Smith

Smith died Feb. 7after years of dealing with Alzheimer’s. His legacy is such that North Carolina named its 22,125 basketball arena after him in 1986–and he hadn’t even retired at that point.

Excellence brought disdain for Smith. Fans of other teams on Tobacco Road complained about Smith always getting his way with the officials. Virginia coach Terry Holland even named his dog Dean because he whined a lot, ostensibly like Smith.

Want to talk about taking the air out of the ball? Smith’s four corners offense made the Patriots “Deflategate” look like child’s play.

Smith’s strategy: Position the offense at the four corners of the offensive half court. Hold the ball and occasionally have players make cuts to the basket. If no easy shot presents itself, simply get the ball back to the point guard.

Memorable during that era–which prompted a shot clock to be implemented in college basketball–was the Feb. 24, 1979 Duke-Carolina game. Using their four corners, the Heels trailed 7-0 at the half.

Talk about a bathroom break’s best friend. You leave your seat and Carolina is holding the ball. When you come back they’re still holding the ball. You ask your friend: “Did I miss anything?”

His response: “Yes, five minutes.”

Both teams scored 40 points in the second half in a 47-40 Duke win.

Saturday the Heels went to the four corners and executed the play perfectly in a rout of the Yellow Jackets. Carolina coach Roy Williams, who had been an assistant under Smith, got emotional after the play and the Dean Dome exploded. Carolina fans are a knowledgeable group. They recognized what they were seeing.

I still remember watching hundreds of ACC games on the old Jefferson Pilot Network when I was in college. This was before expansion of the league. The old ACC felt more like family. You knew who all the players were. At the ACC Tournament, opposing players were wildly cheered by all when they made their last appearance as a senior.

If you were rooted for another team, Smith was the villain, but one you respected. If you beat Smith’s Heels–or even played them a close game, you had accomplished something. Smith was and still remains Carolina royalty.

Saturday’s four corners brought all that back. Pretty sweet moment. Even for a Georgia Tech fan.

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