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February 10, 2015

Cliff Ellis on his own memories of Dean Smith

So many around the college basketball world have chimed in this week with their thoughts on the passing and legacy of legendary North Carolina basketball coach Dean Smith, who died Saturday night at the age of 83.

Coastal Carolina coach Cliff Ellis has more than a few memories of his own, both on and off the court, from coaching against Smith's Tar Heels while leading Clemson for 10 years, and he shared a few of those Monday evening after practice.

"Off the court, I was able to see him when he was healthy. He was starting to go down, but he was in Charlotte, Larry Brown was coaching the [NBA] team and I went over to watch them practice and he was there and we had a great visit. But it was a year or so before that, we were on a Nike trip and he and I got to play golf. I think Bobby Cremins was in the group, perhaps Jim Calhoun -- it seems like that was the foursome, we had a great time -- but that night Linnea and Dean, myself and Carolyn, Nike put on an event and the Four Tops and the Temptations were there and the four of us sat together. Of course they know my love for music, but Dean got a kick out of that. He was just having a great time. That's how I'll remember him off the court.

"On the court what I'll remember is the first ACC meeting we had was in Myrtle Beach and we were at The Library (the restaurant downtown). I was new, and he came over and he knew everything that I had done at South Alabama. He said, 'Oh, I saw your game, I did this, did that.' We probably spent an hour and a half talking, and he made me feel very, very comfortable the first time that I got to be at an ACC [function], before we played a game. He made me feel very comfortable, welcomed me to the league and I will never forget that.

"He was an innovator. He did a lot for the game. His health had gone down, but the game of basketball lost an innovator, a guy that was a pioneer in many, many things and we're going to miss him."

For more on Smith's legacy, here's ESPN's write-up: http://espn.go.com/mens-college-basketball/story/_/id/12296176/dean-smith-former-north-carolina-tar-heels-coach-dies-age-83

| Ryan Young, ryoung@thesunnews.com

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