If only Dean Smith could have been part of it.
Billy Hayes, whose Figure 8 Films in Carrboro is one of the best-kept secrets in this community, unveiled his latest documentary this week at Silverspot. It is the story of Morgan Wootten, a high school basketball coach in suburban Maryland who was every bit the Dean Smith of his time.
Wootten was well-known to all basketball coaches for the last four decades of the 20th century, as he guided then-tiny DeMatha Catholic to a record number of victories while producing some of the greatest players and coaches to grace the game. He had a backcourt of Sidney Lowe and Derrick Whittenburg, who went on to star at N.C. State and, thus becoming a Carolina connection. Whittenburg was a driving force behind this film, as he was the story of Jimmy V.
Watching the 90-minute doc, I could not keep Dean Smith off my mind. Not because our late Hall of Fame coach was mentioned often or because Roy Williams talked about meeting Wootten when he was a young high school coach in the mountains of North Carolina. It was more because Wootten and Smith were great friends, and kindred spirits with great love of the game.
Wootten developed teams with kids who learned to play the right way, teaching fundamentals from the ground up and preaching that the team as a whole was more sacred than any one individual, no matter how big a star. The film had interviews from the last six years, before Coach Smith died but after he grew too ill to participate, and footage as far back as the 1960s. Wootten is 86, the same age Smith would have been.
Wootten was the first high school coach below the Mason-Dixon Line to integrate his program, as Smith did in the throes of the Civil Rights Act, the Voting Act and the turbulent desegregation era of this country. Wootten brought his wide-eyed high schoolers to Brazil for a tour in the ‘70s and kept winning all the way through his retirement in 2002. It was another great film by local Billy Hayes and because of Dean Smith, in absentia, appropriately debuted in Chapel Hill.
Find or buy the film on line. It will move you and make you think of Coach Smith, as it did me.