Patrick Ewing is now the associate head coach of the Charlotte Hornets, working in a state where he once considered attending college before an ill-timed recruiting visit and some words from Dean Smith fortified his decision to play for John Thompson at Georgetown.

Smith, who died at 83 late Saturday night, won two national championships and is the NCAA’s fourth all-time winningest coach but was also a social activist who helped integrate the Atlantic Coast Conference by recruiting Charlie Scott in the late 1960s. But when Ewing, who starred at Cambridge Rindge and Latin School (Mass.), made his official visit to Chapel Hill, a Ku Klux Klan rally was held near campus and essentially ended any chance that Smith would be able to team Ewing with his other star recruit, Michael Jordan. The next morning, Smith let Ewing know that he understood if he played elsewhere – but also advised him to play for Thompson. At the time, Ewing had also considered UCLA.

“We were sitting down having breakfast and he told me, if I chose not to come to North Carolina, go to Georgetown,” Ewing said in a recent interview. “I’m not going to say that played a part of a role in me going to Georgetown, but I thought it was very nice of him to say that. Dean Smith, I’m not sure how many championships he’s won, but when you talk about Dean Smith, North Carolina, he’s definitely a legend in the college game.”

Smith would win his first national title against Georgetown in Ewing’s freshman season in 1982. In that national final, North Carolina’s first four field goals all came on goaltending calls against Ewing, who was instructed by Thompson to not let any shot touch the rim. “I laugh at people who talk about goaltending. You had James Worthy. You had Michael Jordan. Whether they goaltended or not, they don’t miss layups. That’s the dumbest thing I ever heard,” Thompson said, when asked about that title game. “Even if it’s goaltending, the player is very much aware of it. People said that like he was giving them baskets. He wasn’t goaltending jump shots. He was goal tending layups – and a couple of them, I didn’t even think was goaltending. Probably was my fault.”

Jordan made the game-winning jumper and Georgetown’s Fred Brown inexplicably threw the ball to Worthy on the ensuing possession. But while celebrating the victory, Smith walked over to embrace the disappointed Thompson.

“Dean Smith was a great coach. He and Coach Thompson were very good friends. I thought it was good” Smith supported Thompson, Ewing said. “I thought any other schools that I would’ve visited, I would’ve got a good education there, but the main reason I chose Georgetown was Coach Thompson. I thought that being a young black kid who in just listening to a black man who back then, spoke the way that he spoke, the way that he carried himself, it was someone I could emulate.”