Newspaper article The Topeka Capital-Journal

Long before Becoming Coaching Great, Dean Smith Starred at Topeka High

Newspaper article The Topeka Capital-Journal

Long before Becoming Coaching Great, Dean Smith Starred at Topeka High

Article excerpt

Before he won 879 games and two national championships at North Carolina, before he became a coaching icon and Basketball Hall of Famer, even before he won a national title as player at Kansas, Dean Smith was renowned for his athletic achievements.

At least he was here in Topeka.

On Sunday, the college basketball world mourned the passing of Smith, 83, who died Saturday night in Chapel Hill, N.C. Here in Topeka, sorrow was mixed with reflection -- memories of a simpler time nearly seven decades ago when a teenaged Smith first earned his sporting reputation as a "fiery backliner" and "Trojan sparkplug."

Smith was born Feb. 28, 1931 in Emporia and spent his formative years there before moving to Topeka with his family the summer before his junior year of high school. It didn't take him long to make his presence felt on the fields and courts located in the shadows of the state capitol.

Smith was a three-sport standout at High, playing quarterback for the Trojans' football team, guard for the basketball team and catcher for the baseball squad. Former Topeka mayor Bill Bunten, a 1948 High graduate and former teammate of Smith's, recalled that last May while dedicating a plaque at High in Smith's honor.

"Dean was a fine all-around athlete," Bunten said.

Not surprisingly, some of Smith's most notable prep feats came in the sport he later revolutionized with his implementation of the "Four Corners" offense and defensive strategies.

Smith not only helped Topeka High reach the Class AA basketball tournament in 1948 and 1949, he played a starring role his senior season. He was at his best March 11, 1949, when he scored 20 points in a 46-41 regional victory against Lawrence that guaranteed the Trojans a berth in the state tourney.

The following excerpt of High's victory, written by Topeka Daily Capital sports editor Stan Emerson, was published March 12, 1949:

"A crowd of some 3,000 customers saw the Trojans build up a light first-half lead and continually beat down Lion threats to garner the decision thanks mostly to a guy named Smith. …

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