Former NBA All-Star Antawn Jamison was born in Shreveport, Louisiana, but he grew up in Charlotte, North Carolina, in the 1980s and 1990s. Which means he knew the weight that the words “Dean Smith” carried.
Well, when Jamison was a sophomore at Providence High School, his coach approached him on game day and told him that someone very special would be in attendance that evening: Coach Smith.
Jamison, still two years away from becoming a McDonald’s All-American, was instantly a nervous wreck.
“If anybody knows about college basketball – but especially in the state of North Carolina – you know the impact of hearing that guy’s name and knowing that he’s coming to see you play,” Jamison said on The Doug Gottlieb Show. “So I was a wreck the whole day. He walked in and the whole gym just gets quiet – right in the middle of the game. I just knew then my life wouldn’t be the same.”
Jamison played for North Carolina from 1995 to 1998, leading the Tar Heels to the Final Four in his final season in Chapel Hill.
“I’m glad I was smart,” Jamison said. “I remember the first time we talked, he was sitting down talking to me and my parents, just saying, ‘I can’t promise you that you will play next year or that you will make it to the NBA. But there’s a couple things I can promise you: If you come to my program, you’re going to get an education, and you’re going to leave a better man . . . than you are coming in.’”
Jamison’s parents were hooked. So was Jamison. Sure, he would’ve loved to have been guaranteed playing time as a freshman. He would’ve loved to have been guaranteed a starting spot. But for him, all that mattered was a chance to play for Coach Smith, who passed away Saturday at the age of 83.
“As a player and as a kid, you’re just kind of like, ‘I want to play,’” Jamison said. “But just sitting down talking to Coach Smith, just thinking about the impact that he’s had not only on my life, but the many people you’ve been hearing about in the last 24 hours – you don’t realize (how influential he was) until you actually get the opportunity to sit back and reflect. I have four kids now. And just the things that I’m teaching them, the things that I tell them, it’s like, Coach Smith told me that.”
Coach Smith also taught Jamison – who was named National Player of the Year at UNC in 1998 and played in the NBA for 16 seasons – the importance of humility. He taught him the importance of hard work. He taught him that basketball wouldn’t last forever.
“It’s amazing what he’s done for me,” said Jamison, now an NBA analyst. “And I tell people, other than my mother and father, he’s been the most influential person (in my life). Yesterday, it felt like my father had passed. It was tough for me. But (I’m) definitely blessed that the man up above sent him in my life. I wouldn’t know where I would be at right now (without him). I wouldn’t know how life would be if it wasn’t for the things that he taught me as a player – but most importantly as a person and human being.”