Dan Veazey was on the bench when Carolina was 8 points down with 17 seconds to go. Dave Hart was there when Michael Jordan hit the shot before it became "The Shot."
Both are iconic moments in the collective memory of the Carolina Nation. Yet, those are not the stories that spring to mind when Veazey and Hart reminisce about their time as team managers under Dean Smith and his longtime assistant coach, Bill Guthridge.
Veazey, a Hendersonville physician, tells about the time Coach Smith secured a near-impossible-to-get seat for a huge game for his mother, hours before game time. Hart, a financial adviser in Asheville, recalls how the NCAA gave the team 22 national championship watches after that 1982. Counting players, coaches, trainers and managers, the winning team totaled 23 people. The next day, Smith called Hart into his office.
"Coach Smith thanked me for all the work I had done and handed me a box saying, 'You were as much a part of this team as anyone else, and I want you to have this." I opened it to find his national championship watch!'"
Veazey and Hart, who graduated eight years apart (1976 and 1984), had a lot in common without knowing one another. Veazey, a graduate of Hendersonville High School, and Hart, who graduated from Asheville High School, were both Morehead scholars who spent four years on the Carolina bench and at practice every day for roughly six months of the year. Decades later, they initiated an effort to contact all the team managers from the Smith-Guthridge era, 1961-2000. (Guthridge succeeded his mentor as head coach, leading the Tar Heels from 1997 until 2000.)
Their efforts produced a compilation of 36 remembrances, some brief but some running several thousand words. (Other team managers with Henderson County connections were the late Joe Youngblood, Donna Johnson and former West Henderson High School principal Jan Webster. Mary Youngblood was a UNC manager after the Smith-Guthridge era.)
Attention to detail
The remembrances start with Smith's first home game as head coach, in the old Woollen Gym, on Dec. 2, 1961. Smith had seemingly planned every detail. The pregame meal. The dress code. The visitors locker room. The shootaround. The warmups.
But when the referee asked Coach Smith for the game ball, it became apparent that his airtight attention to detail had failed him.
"I could tell by the look on Coach Smith's face that with all of his attention to all of the plans he had forgotten about having a game ball," recalled team manager Elliott Murnick. "He turned to me and said, 'Elliott, go get me a good, clean ball that we can use as a game ball.'"
The 67 pages of memories that the managers wrote include game situations here and there but like Veazey and Hart the managers over the 40-year span were much more likely to remember an act of kindness or selflessness by Smith, a life lesson they've never forgotten or an episode that cemented their attachment to the Carolina Way as taught by Dean Smith.
"Folks who follow Carolina basketball and even to an extent folks in North Carolina I think kind of know they're class individuals but unless you have legitimately spent time with them and watched them operate any appreciation that you have for them falls far short of the reality," Hart said.
Smith awarded Medal of Freedom
Smith was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in November for his contributions not just to sport but to civil rights. A degenerative brain disorder has prevented the 82-year-old retired coach from appearing in public; his wife, Dr. Linnea Smith, accepted the award at the White House ceremony and stood in for him again on Saturday when UNC honored him at halftime of the Kentucky game.
"I think the project really got started because most people that have been around Coach Smith and Coach Guthridge have become grateful and at some point you want to thank them in more tangible ways," said Veazey, who is a physician. "We knew we all had some great stories."
The notebook of stories could be published some day, Veazey says. A year ago, the managers presented the collection, titled "The View from the Bench," to Guthridge and Smith.
'Planting a seed' in the huddle
Veazey served as a basketball manager under Coach Jim Pardue at HHS, and was on the bench when the Bearcats won the state championship in 1972. He applied for the same job once he got to Chapel Hill. When they interviewed candidates, Smith and Guthridge focused more on academics more than sports; they wanted to make sure student managers could handle what amounted to a fulltime job while keeping their grades up.
In the legendary Carolina comeback over Duke in 1974, Veazey stayed focused on the index cards that carried essential stats.
"The manager's job during the game doesn't change whether we're ahead, behind, playing great, playing poorly," he said. "I was more involved with how many timeouts do we have left. Coach would depend on the managers, not the clock."
Walter Davis hit the long jumper that sent the game into overtime, and UNC won.
"It is true, next practice Coach Smith took the ball over to Walter and said, 'Shoot it again. Let's see if you can do it again.' And he couldn't," Veazey said.
The story reminded Hart of the greatest comeback he saw as a manager.
Virginia, ranked no. 3 and led by the 7-4 center Ralph Sampson, traveled to Chapel Hill for a huge game against the top-ranked Tar Heels on Feb. 10, 1983.
"Prior to games against Virginia, Coach Smith sometimes had managers out playing defense with brooms in their hands swatting at balls to prepare our team for the reach and leaping ability of Sampson," Hart said.
The Virginia game was not going well. The Cavaliers led by 16 points with 8:43 to go.
"They were killing us," Hart said. "I remember (Smith) called a timeout. I have to be honest and say I don't remember if I heard this, or (heard it) in talking to the players after the game ... I feel like I heard it. I do remember thinking at the time, he is so calm, most coaches would have been just blasting them — 'you're not playing, wake up, get into the game.'
"He said, 'Look at the clock. We've got seven minutes. Nobody in this arena or watching this game on TV thinks we can win it. Wouldn't it be awesome to come back and plant a seed of doubt in Virginia, and at least get them thinking, They might beat us.' Instead of being negative, he planted a positive seed of, 'Wouldn't it be something to come back and win this game?'
"So they go out and they begin, finally, to go out and play basketball, and you could actually see it begin to get into Virginia's head. Because we made enough of a run that they were panicked. Jordan makes the incredible steal, we go on to win, and that was the loudest thing I ever heard at Carmichael. I could have been yelling at you that close and you would not have heard I was saying."
'Dean Smith Time' — 10 minutes early
Eight points down and 17 seconds to go. A 16-point run to win a game by a point. Those stories seem like pure sports lore.
When the managers look back, their stronger memories are of the things that happened off the court. They saw the coaches day to day, in a thousand situations, that they say exemplified character and humility in ways that made a difference in those around them forever.
"I would have paid money to be a part of what I had just experienced for free and would carry fond memories of the experience with me for the rest of my life," Hart said of the Final Four in 1982. "This was Coach Smith's first national championship, yet he chose to give the one tangible prize to a kid who never scored a point and who could easily have been replaced by most any student on campus. That single gesture so typifies the man, a coach who cares more about people than wins and team more than self. I can think of no person more suited for creating the greatness that is Carolina basketball, and we were so fortunate to have had him at the head of our program.
"Forty years later, I am still amazed at how much my life has been affected by the faith Coach Smith and Coach Guthridge placed in me by asking me to be a part of their basketball family. My life continues to be influenced by the character of these men. I still have my watch set to DST — Dean Smith Time which means if you aren't ten minutes early, you are late! They often inspired me by example to think of others before myself."
The two Dannys
Veazey and Hart, who are good friends now, became associated in the mid '80s because of their similar background.
"Some time in the middle of my senior year, Coach Guthridge called me Danny. I'm thinking, 'well, OK.' He did it again. And Coach Smith happened to be with us. And he looked at him like, 'Bill, have you lost your mind?' He called me Danny so many times by accident that finally Coach Smith or somebody explained we had a manager from the mountains (eight years earlier) that was a Morehead scholar and did a really great job, and that's who he's referring to you as. Then he had done it so much, he started calling me Danny on purpose, and it was half to cover up the fact that he was doing it half the time by accident. So I had been hearing about Danny Veazey before I ever met him."
'Not about me' — and it wasn't
When Veazey and Hart read the news about Smith receiving the Presidential Medal of Freedom, they talked about whether Smith would have wanted to receive it. Personal recognition, they said, meant little to him.
"He's the only person I've ever been around who, when he said, it's not about me, he meant it," Veazey said. "It's about the assistants, it's about the players, he truly believed it and he meant it. There's not any false modesty at all."
"And I think the public felt like it was false modesty," Hart added. "The Duke fans and the State fans, I think they felt like he can't be that good. But he was."
Yes, the school's basketball arena is named the Dean E. Smith Center, and commonly referred to as the Dean Dome.
"He was willing to concede the Smith Center because I think he truly was convinced that was for his team and his players and his coaches that worked for him," he said. "That Smith Center represents the basketball family of Carolina. This was an individual award. I think if he had (accepted it) it would have been based upon the issues he was credited for in terms of breaking down the racial barriers in Chapel Hill. Maybe he could have been talked into that."
But if Smith was modest, his players and managers revered him.
Veazey recalled that it fell to him to make sure practice was not disrupted by any outside interference.
"We came out to practice one day and the stage (at Carmichael) had been set up for a Fleetwood Mac concert that night," he recalled. "In the middle of our practice, this fellow came out, got up onto the stage and started to practice and tune his drums. Coach Smith sent me up onto the stage to inform the drummer of this fact, where upon the drummer asked me if I knew who he was. I said, 'No, I don't, but (pointing to Coach Smith) Do you know who he is?'"
Forty years later, the two managers cherish the memories and the association with Smith and Guthridge they say shaped their lives for the better. They're uniquely qualified as reporters of their legacy because of their role and their access.
"We viewed their work from the open windows of practice and games, from the open doors of road trips and all of the hours and days between," they say in the introduction to "The View from the Bench."
"It was a truly a blessing to be a part of it," Veazey added, "and then you add the lessons we've learned and relationships we've had. I can't think of a single negative part of the experience we had. Most jobs, most schools, most relationships have something that's negative about them. I don't have the experience like David had of winning the national championship but to me that's not even a negative because the experience of being there is so overwhelming."