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Remembering Dean Smith — Behind The Scenes With Lefty Driesell and Charlie Scott

No one competed with the late, great North Carolina basketball coach Dean Smith more than former Maryland head coach Lefty Driesell — going back to the days when Lefty coached at Davidson before he came to College Park.

They competed in games, and they competed for players — one in particular, a historic player named Charlie Scott, who would become the first black scholarship athlete at North Carolina in 1967. He should have been playing for Lefty at Davidson.

I sat down last year and did some extensive interviews with Lefty. Here is what he told me about Dean and Charlie Scott, who remains close to Lefty, particularly when Smith suffered from dementia in his final years:

“Charlie calls me a lot now. He says I’m his coach now, you know, because Dean had dementia. His son plays at Ohio State. I’ve talked to his son once or twice. He wanted me to talk to his son. I heard about Charlie, someone called me and said, ‘Lefty, there’s a kid over here named Charlie Scott who can really play, an African-American kid, who can really play.’

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“So I went to see him play against Hillside in Durham, where John Lucas played. I tell you, Charlie could play. He was a great player. He was at Lawrenceburg Institute. He was second in his class. At Davidson we had an early admission. It’s hard to get into Davidson. If you were a real good student with high college board scores, you could apply early, September of your senior year or whatever. If you got accepted, then you didn’t have to wait until March. You had to be an outstanding student.

“Charlie applied for early admission and got in. You had to put $100 deposit down to make sure you were going to come. He did, and he hung around my team. We were good. We were probably ranked higher than North Carolina. I think we were second and they were third, or vice versa. He hung around my players all year long. He came to all our games. But after people heard about him, after we signed him, they started sneaking in there…not just Dean, but Wake Forest had him for a visit…the principal at his school I heard, was the one who pushed him toward North Carolina. So that’s where he went.

“Charlie wound up beating us in the Elite Eight on a last second shot. I probably never would have left Davidson if I had Charlie there. North Carolina lost to UCLA and Lew Alcindor. Charlie was kind of upset because Dean ran the four corners the whole game, and Charlie didn’t like that. Or they held the ball, I don’t know.

“I always liked Charlie. He would tell me, if it wasn’t for you coach, nobody would know me, because I was the first one that spotted him, signed him and everything, and then people started watching him play.”

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