When Dean Smith passed away on Feb. 7, it was a sad day for the North Carolina Tar Heels and a sad day for all of college basketball. Donald Williams, who played for Smith from 1992 to 1995, knew that his former coach had been sick for quite some time. And yet, he couldn’t believe the news.
“I think when he first got sick, it touched us all. It was a sad situation,” Williams said on CBS Sports Radio’s The DA Show. “But to see him pass away, you never wish that on anyone, but you kind of (thought) Coach Smith was going to be here forever. So when we heard that he passed away, it was still shocking to us – even though we knew he was sick.”
Prior to his passing, Smith arranged to have a letter and a $200 check sent to each of his former players, instructing them to go out to dinner and have a meal on him.
“When I first got the check, I was shocked,” Williams said. “And then to see it was from him, it just reminded me of what kind of great person he was and what kind of human being he tried to teach us to become. It just made us reflect. It’s not surprising coming from him, but just the timing of it, it was real shocking. It made us think of him.”
Williams hasn’t used the check yet, but he will soon – mainly because his daughters have some birthdays coming up.
“It’s funny because my daughters, they’ve seen the story on the news,” Williams said. “So they was asking me about the check (and wanting to go to dinner).”
Between the upcoming dinner and the Final Four, this is a time of great reflection for Williams, who led North Carolina to a national title in 1993. He was named the tournament’s Most Outstanding Player and scored 25 points against Michigan’s “Fab Five” in the national championship game.
“It’s a great time for college basketball and a great time to reminisce,” Williams said. “A lot of people always remember that game.”
Williams shot 8-of-12 from the floor – including 5-of-7 from three-point range – and was a perfect 4-of-4 from the line.
“I was feeling good throughout the tournament,” Williams said. “I was hoping that they would concentrate inside on George (Lynch) and Eric (Montross) – and they did.”
Lynch and Montross still combined for 28 points, but Williams’ game-high 25 put the Tar Heels over the top. Chris Webber had 23 points and 11 rebounds for Michigan, but he also infamously called timeout in the final seconds – even though the Wolverines didn’t have any left. Webber received a technical foul, and North Carolina iced the game at the foul line.
It was Smith’s last national title.
“It was special throughout that season,” Williams said. “That was one of our goals. We was trying to win for Coach Smith. For that team to do it – we had great seniors on that team – and just to do it for Coach Smith made that win and that championship more special.”