Brendan Haywood never played under legendary coach Dean Smith, but he was recruited by the man and a part of what was the last great team that Smith assembled. In 1997-98 Brendan Haywood was a freshman center at Chapel Hill, the first year that Bill Guthridge took the reins.
Haywood's role on that team was limited. The Tar Heels, led by consensus Player of the Year Antawn Jamison went 34-4, finished the regular season ranked number one, won the ACC tournament, and made the Final Four. They had a guy named Vince Carter on the team, too. Dean Smith's impact on the team, though, was immeasurable. He had assembled the players and was a Tar Heel for life.
Fear the Sword asked Haywood about the impact Smith had on his life:
"Dean Smith was a major part of my life. He recruited me. He sat me down, told me what it would take to become an NBA player in terms of my diet and preparation. Coming into college I was overweight at 320 pounds. He would, even when he wasn't around, he would always tell me certain things to do to improve, certain things that he saw from games. When I was in the pros, he would write me little notes about games, when I played well, even then things I could do to get better."
I admitted to Haywood that even though I had followed those North Carolina teams, I had no idea about Smith's record battling for civil rights. He responded:
"People don't understand that he was one of the first ... he had black people on his team when it wasn't the cool thing to do and treated that player like an equal ... and that's big too because a lot of people say they will do the right thing but everybody won't do it. There's a lot of pressure and you can do the wrong thing."