Only seven hours before he was about to receive the ultimate honor of having an arena named for him while he is still alive and coaching, Dean Smith tried to hush the hype over Saturday's meeting between his undefeated, No. 1-ranked North Carolina team and undefeated, third-ranked Duke.
"It's not that big a game," Smith said this afternoon. "Qaddafi doesn't care who wins."
But there will be 21,426 watching North Carolina's first home game in the Dean E. Smith Student Activity Center, after 20 years of playing in 10,000-seat Carmichael Auditorium.
In another game Saturday, 15th-ranked Georgetown plays at Seton Hall at noon. Today, the Hoyas announced that Victor Morris, a junior forward who has played in only five games this season and previously left school on a one-year leave of absence, has withdrawn from the university.
Also in the Washington area, Navy and American play at Fort Myer at 7:30 p.m.; Richmond visits George Mason for a Colonial Athletic Association game at 8 in Patriot Center; George Washington, coming off its overtime loss at West Virginia, visits Duquesne at 8, and Howard plays rival Morgan State in Baltimore at 8.
North Carolina's Student Activity Center was named in honor of Smith tonight at a lavish, $500-a-head ceremony put on by the UNC department of athletics to raise $100,000 for the arts and sciences.
Smith fought having the building named for him and was emotional about it when the subject came up in an afternoon news conference. "It's never been a goal of mine to have a street, an arena or a bathroom named after me," he said.
As the questions continued, Smith, who usually handles questions more smoothly and diplomatically than most politicians, stammered and said he really didn't want to talk about it any further.
"I don't like the word 'Smith,' " he finally joked. "Dean Dome? No, that's worse. It makes it sound like I'm bald."
Playing Guilford in the Smith Center opener would be a big enough deal around here. But playing rival Duke, from 20 minutes down the road, makes the game a cataclysmic event.
Even Smith said, "This reminds me of the times we played Virginia with Sampson."
You'd have to go back even further to find the last time there was such a big game between two North Carolina schools -- maybe to 1974, Smith agreed, when David Thompson's North Carolina State teams provided the Tar Heels with a storied rivalry.
No such dominant player as Sampson or Thompson will take the state-of-the-art court Saturday at 1:30 p.m. (WJLA-TV-7), but the teams will be playing for the No. 1 ranking in the nation.
North Carolina (17-0, 3-0 in the Atlantic Coast Conference) brings along its No. 1 ranking, but Duke's season has been more impressive in many ways. The Blue Devils (16-0, 4-0) have beaten St. John's, Kansas, Alabama-Birmingham, North Carolina State, Maryland, Virginia, Wake Forest and St. Joseph's in the Palestra by 21 points.
The team's top three offensive players -- all-America guard Johnny Dawkins, center Mark Alarie, and swing man David Henderson -- are shooting an average of 58 percent from the field.
Even without a legitimate post player, the Blue Devils' scrambling, pressing defense is forcing opponents into 21 turnovers per game. Duke, weak on the boards in recent years, is even outrebounding opponents by seven per game.
"People have said with justification that Duke should be the No. 1 team," Smith said. "They've been tremendous of late."
North Carolina has been pretty close to tremendous much of the season, too. But the Tar Heels and Blue Devils have gone about it in different ways.
The Blue Devils -- specifically Dawkins, Henderson, Alarie and point guard Tommy Amaker -- are very quick but not very big. The perimeter is theirs.
The Tar Heels are primarily an inside team. It would be surprising if North Carolina didn't try to use its size to force a half-court game that would best utilize four players 6-10 or taller.
The game appears to provide one of the best ACC matchups in two seasons. The players, however, are a little concerned that the hype over the high rankings and the new arena will take precedence over the contest.
"The hype is overshadowing the game," North Carolina center Brad Daugherty said. "It's so early in the season, this won't mean much later on."
Daugherty said he thinks the Tar Heels, who have practiced only eight times in the Smith Center, will miss Carmichael.
"It's not the same advantage," Daugherty said. "It's going to be kind of like a road game for us, too. It will be just as odd for us to go out there as it will be for them."
As both teams went to practice this afternoon, workers were still putting the final touches on the $34 million octagonal double-decked, domed building, in which not one of the baby blue chairs -- there are no bleachers -- is more than 150 feet from the floor. Those who donated $250,000 will be seated in the first four rows in permanent chairs the size of thrones.
Duke Coach Mike Krzyzewski joked that North Carolina selected his team for this memorable game the way some football powers select homecoming teams to beat up. But Duke beat Carolina in Carmichael last year for the first time in 19 years.
Kelly Lane scored 20 points and guard Jody Thornton added nine points and 12 assists to lead the Eagles (11-4) to a 79-70 victory over the Midshipmen (7-7) at Cassell Center. American used a 10-2 first-half spurt to lead, 40-31, at halftime and never trailed again.