Dean Smith's Coaching Tree Displays Incredible Reach Across Decades

C.J. Moore@@CJMooreHoopsCollege Basketball National Lead WriterFebruary 9, 2015

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Basketball lost one of its most influential leaders Saturday night when Dean Smith died at the age of 83.

It has been nearly 20 years since Smith roamed the sidelines at North Carolina, but his coaching tree and its branches will continue to go on forever.

The current Associated Press Top 25 features five teams with ties to Smith.

No. 1 Kentucky is coached by John Calipari, who started his coaching career as an assistant at Kansas under Larry Brown. Brown played for Smith at UNC and is the coach of current No. 23 SMU. Bill Self, coach of No. 8 Kansas, also started his career under Brown at Kansas as a graduate assistant.

15 Mar 1997:  Coach Dean Smith of the North Carolina Tarheels gives instructions to his players during a playoff game against the Colorado Buffaloes at the Lawrence Joel Coliseum in Winston-Salem, North Carolina.  The Tarheels won the game 73 - 56 giving
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North Carolina, currently ranked No. 12, is coached by Roy Williams, who spent 10 years as an assistant to Smith. No. 17 Maryland is coached by Mark Turgeon, who like Smith, played at Kansas. Turgeon played for Brown and then was an assistant at KU under both Brown and Williams.

No current head coach in the NBA has direct ties to Smith, but three coaches feed from his tree. San Antonio coach Gregg Popovich was an assistant at Kansas under Brown, and two of Popovich's former assistants, Atlanta's Mike Budenholzer and Philadephia's Brett Brown, are now NBA head coaches.

Other great professional coaches who played for Smith include Billy Cunningham, George Karl and Doug Moe.

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Smith coached in 11 Final Fours and won two national titles, in 1982 and 1993.

PETE LEABO/Associated Press

Coaches with connections to Smith (and I'm probably missing a few) have coached in 12 Final Fours, won three national titles, coached in 14 NBA Finals and won seven NBA championships.

His contributions to the game—the secondary break, four corners offense, using analytics in basketball, just to name a few—have played a part in many more championships and how the game is played and coached today.

"I'd like to say on behalf of all our players and coaches, past and present, that Dean Smith was the perfect picture of what a college basketball coach should have been," Williams said in a statement.

Even Smith's biggest rivals understood his place in the college basketball coaching pantheon. 

"Dean possessed one of the greatest basketball minds and was a magnificent teacher and tactician," Duke head coach Mike Krzyzewski said in a statement, via The Raleigh News & Observer's Laura Keeley. "All of his players benefited greatly from his basketball teachings, but even more from his ability to help mold men of integrity, honor and purpose."

Self also sent out his thoughts on Smith's overall impact on the game of basketball:

Bill Self @CoachBillSelf

We lost a great man in passing of Coach Smith last night. No one has impacted our game more and with total class. Great coach but better man

It speaks to how respected Smith was as a basketball mind that so many in the basketball community felt the need to weigh in and pay their respects to the man. 

He influenced too many to count. He called how he believed the game should be played the "Carolina Way."

But really, it was the "Smith Way."

David Longstreath/Associated Press

James Naismith believed that basketball was not a game that needed to be coached, and legendary Kansas coach Forrest "Phog" Allen set out to prove that theory wrong. Allen was known as the "Father of Basketball Coaching."

Smith played for Allen at Kansas, and no coach who learned under Allen—not even Kentucky's Adolph Rupp—has had more reach than Smith.

And with a tree that has branches continuing to grow, it's hard to imagine a day when the game of basketball will not have a coach with some kind of tie to Dean Smith.

C.J. Moore covers college basketball for Bleacher Report. You can follow him on Twitter @CJMooreBR.

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