Dean Smith on Jordan: 'He'd listen closely to what the coaches said and then go do it.'

CHAPEL HILL -- Dean Smith, ever the coach, remembers what happened in the immediate aftermath of Michael Jordan's title-clinching shot over Georgetown in 1982 just as vividly as the shot itself.

"Georgetown turned it over because Michael got back on defense and made a play in the passing lane," said Smith, describing the infamously errant toss that denied the Hoyas a final shot. "Freddy Brown threw the ball to James Worthy because Michael jumped in front of the guy he was trying to pass to."

Smith was speaking in a modest first-floor office in the imposing 21,750-seat campus arena that bears his name. He won 839 games and two national titles during his 36 years as the Tar Heels' coach, and All-Americans and future NBA stars were as much a staple of Carolina basketball as tobacco was of Carolina agriculture.

With those wry, twinkling eyes and the distinctive nose, Dean Smith remains the face of Carolina basketball 12 years after he stepped aside as the coach. Asking him to rank his stars would be like asking him to rank his grandchildren. Not going to happen.

"One thing about Michael that stood out was how hard he worked," Smith said, sipping a Diet Coke. "We expected he'd get better because of that, and he did, year after year. A player with that kind of talent who works as hard as Michael did has a chance to do great things, and he was smart about it. He'd listen closely to what the coaches said and then go do it."

The Jordan display in the Carolina Basketball Museum contains two letters from Smith suggesting things MJ should work on in the off-season. There is no mention of the Georgetown shot in the 1982 letter, or of his first-team All-America recognition in 1983's. Just eight ways to become a better ballplayer in each.

The best ever? Smith's smile suggests silent affirmation.

"He certainly belongs in the Hall of Fame," he said. "I don't know that anybody ever combined the physical and the mental sides with the effort the way Michael did. Tiger Woods, maybe."

Smith's advice to his former pupil

Near the end of the 1982-83 school year, UNC coach Dean Smith wrote a letter to Michael Jordan, detailing parts of his game he should work on over the summer. For instance, he advised: "Shoot the ball the same way each time, the same arc. ... In pick-up games, try to be a point guard, working on your dribbling and starting the ball low. ... Don't always reach for the ball but contain your man." In conclusion, Smith wrote, "Michael, if you do improve on these items we mentioned, you will be a much better basketball player. ... In your daydreaming, picture us winning it all in Seattle!"