Most Maryland Terrapins fans weren’t smiling when Duke claimed its fourth NCAA title on April 5, but maybe they should have.
Although the Blue Devils are considered public enemy No. 1 to the fellow Atlantic Coast Conference member Terrapins, there’s still a reason for Marylanders to cheer for the newest champs.
Upper Marlboro, Md., native Nolan Smith is a starting guard for the Blue Devils and one of the main reasons they’re now officially the best team in the country. Smith scored 13 points to help Duke edge Butler, 61-59, for the title, while simultaneously accomplishing a goal he has carried with him for years.
Smith is the son of former NBA player Derek Smith, who won an NCAA title himself with the University of Louisville in 1980. Smith died of a sudden heart attack at age 34 when Nolan was only 8 years old. Since then, Nolan has modeled much of himself after his father, and even applies Derek’s characteristics to his game on the basketball court.
“I take a lot of his game, his passion and the way he approached every game,” Smith recently told media. “It makes me feel good, when I take the court, I look down at my tattoo (which he dedicated to his father and reads, ‘Always Watching’). I know he’s always with me, every game.”
Nolan told reporters there’s no better way to honor his father than winning a national title.
“That’s the motivation,” Smith said. “That’s what I’m going to carry with me.”
Nolan made that honor official when he won the championship in the same state that his father captured his in three decades earlier. Now he will now carry with him a miracle of coincidence that some may consider predestined fate.