College Hoops: Smith says he's happy Knight will break his record

Published 12:00 am Friday, December 8, 2006

By Aaron Beard

Associated Press

CHAPEL HILL — Dean Smith never seemed comfortable with all the attention that came with becoming the winningest men’s basketball coach in Division I history. That’s why the former North Carolina coach didn’t sound too broken up about preparing to hand that mark to Bob Knight.

“I’m going to cry about that,” Smith said with a smile Friday.

Knight led Texas Tech past Louisiana Tech on Wednesday night to earn his 876th victory, moving him into a tie with Kentucky coach Adolph Rupp for second place on the career list. That left him three shy of tying Smith — the Hall of Fame coach who won two national championships in 36 seasons here — for the record.

Knight will seek victory No. 877 at home Saturday afternoon against Centenary.

The 75-year-old Smith largely has stayed in the background since retiring in October 1997 with a record of 879-254 with the Tar Heels. He held a rare news conference Friday to address Knight’s pursuit of the record, an event that also happened to coincide with former assistant and current Tar Heels coach Roy Williams’ pursuit of his 500th career win Saturday against High Point.

“If you can remove coach Smith, there’s no question in my mind that I’ve copied more things from Bob Knight than anyone else,” Williams said.

Smith said Knight is “well-deserving” and “a tremendous coach,” and also remembered him as an excellent recruiter. He recalled a story of how they both were pursuing a player who ultimately chose to play for Knight.

“I said, ‘You better not go in there. They don’t like you,”‘ Smith said. “The next thing I know, he calls me and said (the family) quickly changed their mind. He’s really sensational in the home. … I was there first and he got him.”

Smith also said that the wins record probably means more to the players, recalling the way his players celebrated after North Carolina beat Colorado in the 1997 NCAA tournament to give Smith his 877th win.

“But still, it’s something that we do it for the team,” Smith said. “When they’re excited, that’s why we’re in this field. I’m sure it’s that way with Bob Knight. It’s never one of his goals and certainly was never one of mine.”

As for Knight’s oft-criticized antics and behavior, Smith said he thought Knight’s coaching abilities would be remembered most.

“All of it’s on coaching, I think,” Smith said. “He’ll always be known as the coach — coach Knight.”

Across the country, former UCLA coach John Wooden also was talking about Knight. The 96-year-old coach who won 10 national championships called Knight “one of the outstanding teachers of the game of basketball that the sport has had.”

“Unfortunately, some of his methods have brought him some bad publicity,” Wooden said. “A lot of people will talk about that more than what he has done. They overlook the fact that practically all of his players graduate. His methods, just as General Patton’s, were different, but wouldn’t you want General Patton on your side in a time of war?

“I have the utmost respect for Bobby Knight. I just disagree with his methods. That doesn’t make mine right and his wrong at all.”