When I was an assistant under coach Dean Smith, he would take our team to practice in front of the inmates at Central Prison in Raleigh, N.C. It was an eye-opening experience for our young men and a way to show those behind bars that they were not forgotten.
That was so coach Smith, who died Feb. 7 at 83. A champion coach, for sure, but foremost a teacher, a deeply human individual who placed a premium on social justice and lifelong learning–and one of the most extraordinary men I’ve ever known. He was a mentor to many, certainly to me. Michael Jordan called him a second father. He was a man of conviction who spoke out and took action where he saw injustice, particularly in race relations.
Tar Heel fans loved him for his basketball accomplishments at the University of North Carolina, and there were many over the 36 years he was head coach. His players loved him for teaching them to be men. I loved him for his gifts of knowledge, loyalty, support and compassion.
To all of us, his lessons live on each and every day.
Williams is head coach of the men’s basketball team at the University of North Carolina
This appears in the February 23, 2015 issue of TIME.
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