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Final goodbyes to Dean Smith

CHAPEL HILL, N.C. -- Fans, former players and coaching colleagues gathered Sunday to honor the late Dean Smith.

The school held a public memorial service for the retired Hall of Famer in the campus arena bearing his name, drawing thousands of fans to pay their respects to the coach whose career made him not only the face of the university and a coaching innovator but also a civil-rights advocate.

The consensus among the 11 people who offered remembrances was that the mild-mannered and private Smith would not have liked all the attention.

"If he could have anticipated this gathering today, I think there's a good chance he might have said 'don't do it,'" Rev. Dr. Robert Seymour, Smith's longtime pastor and friend told the crowd. "This gathering not for Dean, this gathering was for us. He didn't need it, but we needed it."

For North Carolina's current coach, Roy Williams, the ceremony marked the moment to turn the page from grieving Smith's death on Feb. 7 at the age of 83 to celebrating the life he led and the lessons he taught.

Williams told the story of how Smith put his players' first and when a player was in his office he would have all phone calls held. Williams did the same thing -- even though former President George H.W. Bush was once on the other end of the call.

Williams spoke for about 20 minutes using two of Smith's trademarks during the course of his speech.

"What to say about coach Smith right now is a celebration for me because it's been hard," Williams said. "I said it the best way I could yesterday at the start of the game."

Williams then held up four fingers, which signaled the Four Corners offense Smith made famous. Carolina ran it on the first possession of their 89-60 win against Georgia Tech on Saturday.

Williams concluded his time by asking everyone to engage in another Smith trademark.

"Everybody has negatives, everybody has pluses, coach Smith had more pluses than anyone I've ever known," Williams said. "Let's raise our hands and point and thank him for the assist."

The service attracted former UNC players and coaches such as Larry Brown, Kenny Smith and J.R. Reid, as well as longtime Smith assistant and successor Bill Guthridge, who received a standing ovation.

Atlantic Coast Conference commissioner John Swofford, who worked as athletic director here during Smith's tenure, and former Texas and UNC football coach Mack Brown also attended.

A few of Smith's former rival coaches also paid their respects. Former Georgia Tech coach Bobby Cremins and N.C. State coach Les Robinson came. Former Georgetown coach and friend of Smith, John Thompson, was scheduled to speak, but Williams said he had to cancel because of illness.

John Thompson III, the current coach at Georgetown, represented his dad and family but did not speak.

The floor of the Smith Center where the basketball court normally occupies was instead full of chairs for former players, the current team, special guests and their families. The speakers included a roll call of players who have retired jerseys in the rafters: Billy Cunningham, Antawn Jamison, Phil Ford and Brad Daughtery.

That's why when Mickey Bell, a former walk-on who played from 1972-75, was asked to speak by Williams he thought it was a mistake.

"I had the same thought that you did when you saw the list of speakers today," Bell said. "Why Mickey Bell? ... Roy reminded me coach Smith gave equal treatment to every player from a walk-on to a superstar."

Fans had gathered outside the Smith Center long before doors opened, with lines stretching around the arena more than an hour before fans could enter -- a scene that former Smith player Serge Zwikker documented with photos before entering the building.

Fans were also able to sign guest books with their memories of Smith once inside the arena, books that will be presented to Smith's family.

"I think for most everyone it's not about seeing this on television, we all have some kind of special reason deep inside of us (to attend)," said Greg Bullard, a lawyer and UNC graduate who drove from Lumberton. "Dean is Carolina."

The family held a private church service for Smith last week.

ESPN.com's C.L. Brown and The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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