In the 1950s, Dean Smith, a math major and assistant coach to Frank McGuire at UNC, moved three decades ahead of his time when he wrote that “points per possession” played as the key stat—the entire basis for every basketball stats innovation from Dean Oliver’s Basketball on Paper to www.kenpom.com to my own www.valueaddbasketball.com measurements of players.
Vince Carter’s 20-foot jumper for the Memphis Grizzlies on January 29 gave Smith-coached players 332,066 points in the NBA. The NBA stats for all 52 of his players are listed at the bottom of the article.
The Wall Street Journal today quoted Dean Oliver, considered the godfather of modern basketball stats due to the 1988 book, as saying he did not realize until after writing the book that Smith had already discovered it three decades earlier.
His innovations in understanding how basketball games are won was coupled with his incredible innovations on the court such as the 1-3-1 zone, four-corners offense, huddling before free throws to plan how to box out opponents and not give up a rebound, and many others. But even Smith learned in his first year of head coaching that you need quality players—as he suffered the only losing record of his 36-year career because the first of his 52 future NBA players had to play for UNC’s freshmen team.
McGuire, the older brother of the coach who would defeat Smith in the 1977 title game, left Smith with his first future NBA player in Billy Cunningham, whom he had met after taking over from McGuire as head coach at Chapel Hill in the Fall of 1961. According the NBA Encyclopedia Cunningham “was all skin and bones, a freckle-faced redhead with a clumsy, pigeon-toed gait,” and Smith remembers thinking, “Oh my God. How in the world can this kid play ball? He can’t even walk.”
NCAA rules at the time made Cunningham play on UNC’s freshman team that first year, where he scored 21 points and grabbed 13 rebounds a game while the varsity squad fell one game below .500. In his first year playing for Smith, Cunningham had 27 rebounds in one game against Clemson en route to three dominating years (career more than 24 points and 15 rebounds per game at UNC) and went on to be ranked one of the Top 100 players in the history of the NBA by Basketball Reference while going to All-Star games and winning titles with the 76ers as a player and later as their coach. A Breitbart Sports analysis of other stats at Basketball Reference is the basis for the table at the bottom of the story of all of Smith’s NBA players.
Smith would recruit 51 more players that he would mold into NBA players, including Bob McAdoo, Sam Perkins, Rasheed Wallace, and, of course Michael Jordan, who referred to Smith as “a second father” today in a statement.
Smith’s final team in 1996-97 included 2nd team All-American Antawn Jamison (19.1 points, 9.4 rebounds), Vince Carter (13.0, 4.5) Shammond Williams (14.1, 3.3, 153 assists), and a young Makhtar N’Diaye (1.8, 1.6). All four went onto play in the NBA, with Carter being the last active. That season Smith’s Tar Heels were edged out by Mike Krzyzewski’s Duke and Tim Duncan’s Wake Forest to finish 3rd in the ACC but 4th in the country. It was the 33rd straight season he had finished in the top three of the very tough ACC.
Those four delivered Smith’s final win in the 1997 Elite 8, when he destroyed Louisville 97-74 to make his 11th Final Four, matched only by John Wooden (12) and Krzyzewski (11).
Smith’s last 31 seasons his UNC teams reached 8th or higher in the AP poll every year, and finished ranked in all but two of those seasons—winning the national title twice. The following are the NBA stats for the 52 players who played under Smith. Carter is the last one active, and he was injured after the January 29th game.
|Dean’s Players in NBA||332066||118284||67395||21716||11704|