Nov. 11, 2015
Chapel Hill, N.C. -- When the United States Basketball Writers Association (USBWA) established the Dean Smith Award and thought about its inaugural recipient, it was fairly obvious the recipient would be legendary Georgetown Hall of Fame Basketball Coach John Thompson Jr.
The Dean Smith Award will be presented annually by the USBWA to an individual in college basketball who embodies the spirit and values represented by the former University of North Carolina coach.
Thompson was a longtime friend of Smith, who passed away at the age of 83 in February. The pair coached together during the Olympics in 1976 and are forever remembered after their embrace following North Carolina's win over Georgetown during the 1982 NCAA Championship game.
"I said you hit my soft spot (when told of the award)," Thompson said. "I cannot say no to anything that is associated with him or his actions or what he stood for. And I'd rather eat a bug than attend things like this.
"I appreciate it that you think, in any way, that my name can be mentioned with this man. That's the biggest lie I've heard in my life. He was special, very special."
Master of Ceremonies Bill Raftery introduced current North Carolina Head Coach Roy Williams, as well as former Georgetown players Brendan Gaughan and Eric "Sleepy" Floyd.
"Coach Smith loved that man," Williams said of Thompson. "John Thompson said one time that Coach Smith shared with him the greatest gift you can give and that's the gift of knowledge. And that's something I've never forgotten. And Coach Thompson is the same way.
"I agree with someone who said he may not necessarily have liked having an award named after him, but there's nobody that Coach Smith would be more proud of to be the first recipient than Coach John Thompson."
Gaughan, who walked on to the Georgetown basketball team in 1990s and currently drives on the NASCAR Xfinity Series, and Floyd, the all-time leading scorer in Hoya history, spoke of their memories of Thompson.
"How does one do justice to the life of John Thompson?" Gaughan said. "And when I read what this was about, it became easier. This award is about John Thompson. His dedication to the well-being and lives of his players, managers and staff is second-to-none. His desire to fight for the causes he believed in is the stuff of legends. He never judged anyone by where they came from. He guided us all. He took time in each of our lives and pushed us.
"Coach cared about the lives of his players way above their basketball skills. In today's society, people pay a lot for so-called life coaches. If you ask any of his players, from 1975, 1985 or 1995, we had the original life coach."
"It's an honor and privilege to be here," Floyd said. "People always asked me, since I grew up in North Carolina, how I ended up in D.C. and out of ACC country, and I always say, 'Have you ever met Coach Thompson?'
"Once you meet the man and talk to him and he challenges you, the decision is very easy. The life lessons I learned under him were amazing. And they were lessons that I have carried with me for the rest of my life."
In presenting the award to Thompson, USBWA member Pat Forde of Yahoo! Sports.com, said there was no one more fitting.
"John Thompson was very much in the Dean Smith line of making an impact in his player's lives off the court," Forde said. "He just seemed like the perfect first winner of this award."
Inducted into the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame in 2006, Thompson retired in 1999 with a 26-year record at Georgetown of 596-239. His 1984 team won the NCAA Championship, and he took the Hoyas to three Final Fours and 19 NCAA tournament appearances. He was one of Smith's closest friends in coaching, an unofficial "pupil" of Coach Smith's dating to North Carolina's recruitment of one of Thompson's players while he was coaching at St. Anthony's High School in Washington, D.C.
"There was no one in basketball I loved or respected more than Dean Smith," Thompson said. "There was never anyone like him."