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Light Blue Reign: How a City Slicker, a Quiet Kansan, and a Mountain Man Built College Basketball's Longest-Lasting Dynasty

Light Blue Reign: How a City Slicker, a Quiet Kansan, and a Mountain Man Built College Basketball's Longest-Lasting Dynasty

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by Art Chansky, Dean Smith (Foreword by)

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Includes new chapter on the surprising 2009-2010 season

The inside story of how one of the most successful college basketball programs in the nation was built

The 2009-10 NCAA college basketball season marked the 100th anniversary of North Carolina basketball. The UNC Tar Heels have won two NCAA championships since 2005, and own more victories over the last


Includes new chapter on the surprising 2009-2010 season

The inside story of how one of the most successful college basketball programs in the nation was built

The 2009-10 NCAA college basketball season marked the 100th anniversary of North Carolina basketball. The UNC Tar Heels have won two NCAA championships since 2005, and own more victories over the last half-century than any other college team.

But it wasn't always that way.

For most of the first 50 years the team existed at UNC, the sport was an afterthought. But that all changed in 1952 with the arrival of Frank McGuire. When Roy Williams and the Tar Heels won the 2005 and 2009 national championships, they could thank Frank McGuire and his protégé, Dean Smith, for starting the tradition of triumph. Art Chansky, who has covered UNC basketball for more than 30 years, constructs an intimate narrative of how three dramatically different coaches built the longest-lasting dynasty in college basketball.

The banners of those teams hang in the rafters today, warming the hearts of all those who have worshipped UNC's Light Blue Reign over the last fifty years—and counting. Part history, part centennial celebration, Light Blue Reign is not simply about one team's victories—it's about the dedication, passion, and love for a sport that players and fans of any loyalty will understand.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
The University of North Carolina basketball team, 2009 national championship winners, owns more victories over the past 50 years than any other college team. In this history, UNC alum and veteran sportswriter Chansky (Blue Blood) explains how the Tar Heels got there through the well-researched stories of three disparate coaches. Until the arrival of coach Frank McGuire in 1953, the big men on UNC's campus were football players. A well-coiffed Irish-Catholic charmer from the streets of New York City, McGuire set high standards for his players on and off the court, leading the Tar Heels to a 32-0 season en route to the 1957 national championship. Dean Smith (a liberal Baptist from Kansas) and Roy Williams (a broken-home survivor from the Appalachian Mountains who recently published his own memoir) continued the winning tradition, and the relationship among all three continued to grow until McGuire's 1994 death. Drawing on published and personal interviews with coaches, players and fans, Chansky is well-read but far from impartial, and presumes his readers feel the same; accordingly, this should make an ideal gift for any Tar Heels alum.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
From the Publisher
“As with all of Chansky's books, this one is well-researched and highly anecdotal. Chansky knows UNC basketball as well as anyone, and his storytelling gift brings the characters in his books to life.” —The News & Observer (North Carolina)

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Baker & Taylor, CATS
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Light Blue Reign

How a City Slicker, a Quiet Kansan, and a Mountain Man Built College Basketball's Longest-Lasting Dynasty

By Art Chansky

St. Martin's Press

Copyright © 2009 Art Chansky
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-4299-4313-0



THREE men were born a thousand miles and thirty-seven years apart, into three different regions, refinements, and family resources. They were as uncommon as a city slicker, a quiet Kansan, and a poor mountain man could be. Yet they shared some values that, innately, made them similar.

Their overlapping story began early in the twentieth century in a place called Hell's Kitchen, or close to it, where a ten-story tenement provided refuge from the streets of New York.

The Greenwich House was the tallest building in the neighborhood and was a testament to the burgeoning population in lower Manhattan. A settlement house for mostly Irish and Italian immigrants, it also served as a de facto community center because its playground attracted children from all over the neighborhood melting pot.

On this particular spring day in 1926, youngsters played basketball on the asphalt, dribbling and shooting a soft, leather ball into a metal rim that hung from a dilapidated wooden backboard. After a scrum under the basket, the game stopped and the fighting started. Lots of pushing, shoving, and swinging until a tall black man with long slender fingers ran toward the boys and pulled one of them out by his shock of red hair.

"I didn't show you how to use that punching bag for basketball games," the man said to the boy. "It was for protection, not to settle arguments in the yard."

The boy, tall and lithe, with an angular jaw and dimpled chin, nodded and went back to the game, knowing a little more about when to fight and when to back off.

Born on November 13, 1913, Frank McGuire grew up fatherless in Greenwich Village, the youngest of thirteen children, and had to figure it out for himself. He had only two older brothers and one, sickly Robbie, lived barely into his thirties. His other brother, William, died in his forties after working for two New York newspapers. McGuire's ten sisters spanned almost twenty years in age; the last (and second-youngest child), Anne Evelyn, died in 2008 at ninety-six. The traits of toughness, roguish charm, and loyalty that characterized McGuire's life, some of which he passed on to his protégés, were more a matter of survival than anything else on the streets of New York City. Perhaps because McGuire was a "narrowback" — an Irishman born in America — and the son of an Anglo mother, he felt a kinship to all backgrounds, races, and religions.

Robert McGuire, a strapping traffic cop and one-time amateur boxer, had died in 1915 when the infected needle of rabies serum he took after being gnawed by a bulldog gave him fatal yellow jaundice. That tied two-year-old Francis Joseph McGuire to the hip of his mother, Anna, whose monthly police pension of $25 and the daily wages of her older children working down at the waterfront somehow supported the family.

Despite the hardship, Anna McGuire still liked to browse through Macy's and Gimbels. Although she was unable to buy anything, she exposed Frank to fancy clothes. He also had those twelve older siblings to look up to when they left the house and came back with stories of where they had been and what they had done. He listened and learned, eventually embodying both the independent and nurturing natures of them all.

McGuire, the street urchin, knew there was more to life than his two-story brownstone on West 11th between Bleecker and Fourth Avenue, where his brothers and sisters slept three or four to a bedroom before they were old enough to go off on their own. Young Frank spent hours out of the house, too, just never far from home.

The Irish-Italian neighborhood was rough, but nothing like Hell's Kitchen, his father's old beat, thirty blocks north. The worst prank Frank and his chums pulled off was stealing sweet potatoes from the corner store to roast them in the street fires the bigger boys built to stay warm in the winter.

"I grew up on the sidewalks of New York City," McGuire told Sports Illustrated in 1957, "and you had to get along with all kinds of people. You had to get along with them or fight them. We did considerable getting along and considerable fighting."

The local policemen, many of whom knew Robert McGuire and looked after Frank, were the real-life role models and, in McGuire's case, the father figures. For most of his early childhood, McGuire figured he would follow his father and become a flat-foot. It wasn't glamorous, but the cops cared about people, watching over them and never seeming to want anything in return.

The rich and famous — like heavyweight boxing champion Gene Tunney and Tammany Hall boss Carmine DeSapio, both raised just down the street — were the preferred idols, living dreams unattainable for most kids who read the headlines on the newsstands about screwball pitcher Carl Hubbell of the New York Giants, big Babe Ruth of the Yankees, and Notre Dame coach Knute Rockne, who had revolutionized college football with the forward pass and the famous Four Horsemen.

McGuire's circle was mostly Irish and Italian with a few Jews. His best friends remained so for life, including Jack LaRocca and Joe Powell (whose son played on one of McGuire's teams); Danny Patrissy, who went on to own restaurants in Little Italy; and Harry Gotkin, whose family stayed entangled with McGuire's coaching career. He also chummed with a kid named Jimmy Cannon, who went on to be a legendary sports columnist in New York.

Another one of his good friends, Bill O'Brien, became New York police commissioner and gave McGuire what he always called a "passport" in the city whenever he returned to visit and recruit. McGuire kept a lifelong fascination with the New York City police and knew more about how the department worked than many of the cops. His heritage and contacts made McGuire comfortable among both "kings and commoners."

African-Americans were unwelcome in McGuire's neighborhood and could not get any work at the waterfront when the longshoremen hired extras at what then was the world's largest port. But teenaged Frank was intrigued by Jack Johnson, a black boxing champion who married a white woman, and influenced by a tall, black cartoonist for the local Amsterdam News named Ted Carroll, a director of the Greenwich House who became his first mentor.

Years later, those early curiosities forged a color-blind coach, who had black players on his teams at St. John's and then lobbied the UNC administration to let him recruit what might have been the school's first minority player, Philadelphia schoolboy sensation Wilt Chamberlain. But Chamberlain could not gain admittance to UNC, instead going to Kansas. Their paths would cross again to form another lifelong friendship.

Long before he pulled young Frank out of that playground fight, Ted Carroll's race balanced McGuire's exposure to all-white, Catholic grade school St. Veronica, where thanks to Carroll's tutoring he made the football, basketball, and baseball teams. On weekends, McGuire spent hours playing ball at Greenwich House (where he took his first shower bath) and his mother let Carroll take him to the Polo Grounds for Giants games and to see basketball and boxing at the original Madison Square Garden. The Garden made such an impression on McGuire that he considered it a sacred shrine for the rest of his life.

About that time, Carroll began training his young friend on the punching bag, telling him he could use that skill some day. McGuire had to be a street fighter, for sure, but he also talked his way out of a lot of jams. He developed the silver tongue that eventually charmed mothers and fathers and churned up opponents and referees while rarely having to raise his voice. At home, he was very much a momma's boy, helping Anna chop wood by candlelight during the Great Depression and learning, above all, that family came first. She was proud of her baby boy, but knew neither the range of talent he had nor the network of friends and acquaintances he was making. In fact, he was already forming some longtime bonds with people who turned out to be the fathers and uncles of his future players.

After he graduated from St. Veronica, Anna wanted Frank to extend his parochial school education at Xavier High. Xavier was an all-male military school of a thousand students run by Jesuit priests, and McGuire not only attended Mass daily but also wore a uniform and drilled every afternoon after Latin class. This sort of regimen became part of McGuire's fabric, too, and seemed to conflict with what was later a flashy lifestyle.

Al McGuire (no relation), a former player who became a famed coaching contemporary, said that people would see McGuire walk into the hotel at 8:00 a.m. and assume he was returning from a night on the town when in fact he had attended an early morning Mass. Those days at Xavier instilled a deep sense of faith in Frank McGuire.

The private school required tuition, which was tough following the stock market crash of 1929, but Anna McGuire and her children (including Frank, who worked weekends on the docks) scraped up the money to keep him at Xavier and continue shaping his life.

Every time McGuire later strutted regally onto the basketball court as the St. John's head coach, his family credited his stride and posture to those afternoons of marching maneuvers. Late into his life, even as arthritis racked his body, McGuire stood up straight and had the gait of royalty. It was as much a part of his appearance as the expensive silk suits he had tailored in his native New York.

But his days at Xavier gave McGuire as much substance as style. He found out that people differed in backgrounds and thus their opinions, and that it did not necessarily make them wrong.

"One of the big things we learned was that we should respect everybody," McGuire recalled years later, "and I have tried to carry that philosophy with me throughout my life."

McGuire became a three-sport athlete at Xavier, a right end on the football team, what was then called "lead" guard in basketball, and a pitcher in baseball. Despite the widespread popularity of the fall and spring sports, McGuire's preference was a basketball game that bore little resemblance to the one he later coached to unprecedented heights. The rules at the time held that a center jump followed every made basket. He figured if his team had the tallest player or best athletes, it could control the game by keeping the ball on their end of the court, thereby increasing their chances to score and win the next center jump.

The meticulous way his St. John's and Carolina teams would protect the ball came from those early days when little contact was allowed and the team ahead went to the line on every foul. This made the lead paramount in basketball of the late 1920s. Players perfected the underhand free throw to capitalize on these situations. Whether his teams played fast or slow through the years, they always treated the ball like gold and made more free throws than their opponent. This was the game he learned to love as an all-city guard at Xavier, a game played below the rim with little of today's physical mayhem.

The Xavier coach in all three sports was Marty O'Malley, an Irish charmer but a stern disciplinarian from the streets of Boston who had attended Holy Cross College. More than a father figure, O'Malley was McGuire's next mentor, turning him on to coaching and guiding his life perhaps more than any other individual.

That O'Malley insisted on discipline, proper dress, and decorum, while coaching his teams to be tough competitors, gave McGuire the blueprint for his own career. Never knowing his father growing up, McGuire could have become an uncaring, win-at-all-cost coach, but instead he counseled players throughout his life and treated them like sons. O'Malley became a friend forever, was there in 1977 when McGuire entered the Naismith Hall of Fame, and actually outlived his protégé, well into his nineties.

McGuire flourished at Xavier as one of the school's hall of fame athletes, and he captained all three sports as a senior. He developed a standstill two-handed set shot, but what he loved most was when the other team had the ball and he could steal it or get the rebound. At 6', he was hardly the biggest player, but he was atypically aggressive, earning the nickname "Elbows" from his teammates, which was no surprise to anyone who watched McGuire's college teams play years later.

Basketball remained far behind in popularity when McGuire graduated from high school in 1931. Only the year before, the rules changed to allow an opponent to take the ball out of bounds following made free throws. Critics who claimed the game had grown stale were unsatisfied until the jump ball after every field goal was scrapped before the 1937–1938 season.

McGuire was actually better known for the other two sports. During a sterling senior year at Xavier, he had attracted attention from the football coaches at Georgetown and from several minor league scouts for the Brooklyn Dodgers. However, he was paying the most attention to the charismatic basketball coach at St. John's named Buck Freeman.

On February 28, 1931, about the time McGuire decided to turn down Georgetown for St. John's, a baby boy was born to Alfred and Vesta Edwards Smith in Emporia, an east Kansas railroad town. Dean Edwards Smith was the youngest of two children, baby brother to sister Joan, and the son of dedicated teachers, devout churchgoing Baptists, and fiercely loyal family members.

The Smiths lived in a stucco house they built for $3,600 on tree-lined Washington Street in a town of about twelve thousand residents, many of whom were connected by the two teachers colleges where they worked and studied. Education in Emporia somewhat insulated an already frugal family from the Great Depression, which was ravaging nearby farmers and faraway cities.

Alfred Smith coached football, basketball, and track at Emporia High, and Vesta began her own teaching career with English classes at the high school. She eventually became a superintendent at the county level. Together, they earned nearly $5,000 a year, which was far above the average household income of a devastated nation that had reached a 25 percent unemployment rate before embattled President Herbert Hoover lost his office to Democrat Franklin Delano Roosevelt in 1932.

When Dean Smith was three years old, his father fielded the first integrated basketball team in Kansas scholastic history. However, midway through what looked to be a championship season, he was asked to cut black forward Paul Terry, the team's sixth man. The Eastern Kansas Athletic Conference threatened to throw Emporia out of the league, and when confronted, Alfred Smith gave Principal Rice Brown two choices. "They drop us and we'll find other schools to play," Smith told Brown, "or I'll quit and you can have someone else put Terry off the team."

One upcoming opponent, where Emporia was scheduled to play the next week, sent a Western Union telegram warning Alfred Smith to "leave the Negro boy at home or don't come." Not only did Paul Terry make the trip to Chanute, Kansas, he helped Emporia win a tough game against a team starring Ralph Miller, who went on to glory as a player at Kansas and a Hall of Fame coaching career at Wichita State, Iowa, and Oregon State.

"Afterward, I learned the situation Coach Smith was in," Terry told an Emporia Gazette reporter years later. "Young people don't think of things like that, but I understand now that he put his job on the line by having me on his basketball team. My being on the team meant there was going to be one white boy who didn't make it."

At the state tournament level, however, Alfred Smith had no choice but to leave Paul Terry at home or his entire team would be disqualified. Emporia won the 1934 state championship with Terry still listed on the roster, but it wasn't exactly the same as if he had been there. Terry went on to Kansas State Teachers College and played on all-black intramural teams. He remained in Emporia, married, and raised eight children, all of whom were accepted to college, with three playing Division I college basketball. He lived in the same house and ran a successful dry-cleaning business until he retired in his early eighties.

Dean Smith heard about Paul Terry as he grew up and, later, watched his father take further action against racial injustice. Once, as a grade-schooler traveling with his dad to a tournament in Lawrence, Smith and the Emporia team stomped out of the Jayhawk Hotel because the restaurant refused to serve their next black player, Chick Taylor, one of several African-Americans Alfred Smith was to coach in all three sports. These were lessons that later put Dean Smith, the Midwesterner, on the same page with McGuire, the city slicker, with regard to integrating their basketball teams.

Smith's father was a gentle man but a consistent disciplinarian. He suspended four starters for a big game against Plainview for breaking curfew by attending a dance the night before the game. Son Dean was essentially the players' mascot, sitting on their laps on the way to games and never telling his father when they smoked. He did not understand the suspension, but he learned another lesson when the eligible players banded together and pulled off a one-point victory over Plainview.

"I think it was the most animated I ever saw my father over a game," Smith wrote in his autobiography, A Coach's Life. In their coaching careers, both father and son believed that a good team — be it theirs or their opponent's — was most dangerous at the game after losing one of its star players.


Excerpted from Light Blue Reign by Art Chansky. Copyright © 2009 Art Chansky. Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Meet the Author

Art Chansky is a veteran journalist and the author of three books on UNC basketball, including Blue Blood. He is also a sports marketing executive who developed an all-sports competition between Duke and Carolina called the Carlyle Cup. He lives in Chapel Hill with his family.

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