Dean Smith and Morgan Wootten: Two Teachers, Two Legends

By Jack Limpert

Dean Smith was born in Kansas on February 28, 1931.

Morgan Wootten was born seven weeks later in North Carolina on April 21, 1931.

Smith coached at the University of North Carolina from 1961 to 1997, winning 897 games and two national championships.

Wootten coached at DeMatha Catholic High School, just outside Washington, D.C. in Hyattsville, Maryland, from 1956 to 2002, winning 1,274 games and many local championships.

When Dean Smith died Saturday night, the Washington Post said, “On Sunday, Dean Smith was remembered as a teacher, mentor, adviser, and coach—and that was probably just the way he’d have preferred it.”

Morgan Wootten?

In the late 1980s, while editing The Washingtonian, I had lunch with Bob Ferry, general manager of the Washington Bullets—later renamed the Wizards because of the high crime rate in the nation’s capital. Ferry’s two sons, Danny and Bob Jr., played for Wooten at DeMatha. Danny went to Duke and the NBA, Bobby almost went to North Carolina but instead went to Harvard.

At lunch Bob talked about going to Bobby’s college graduation in 1985. He went out to dinner with his son in Boston and asked about life at Harvard, starring in basketball and doing well in the classroom. He asked Bobby who his favorite teacher was.

Bobby said the best teacher he ever had wasn’t at Harvard. The best was Morgan Wootten, who taught history at DeMatha High School when he wasn’t in the gym.
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From a 1999 Baltimore Sun story: “Bob Ferry remembers when coach Dean Smith was recruiting Bobby for North Carolina, writing letters and obviously regarding him as a prime prospect. Then came a rather subdued yet forthright letter from Smith. He mentioned that he had signed Michael Jordan and, that being the case, it would affect the playing time Bobby could expect, but that they would still like to have him. The Ferrys respected the direct but polite message from Smith….”

Headline on a Washington Post story on January 29, 2015: “The day DeMatha basketball toppled Power Memorial: 50 years ago, the Stags beat Lew Alcindor in a high school game for the ages.”

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