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Duke star Nolan Smith hoping to repeat championship feat of late father, Louisville star Derek Smith

Nolan Smith drives in for a shot during the second half of Duke’s semifinal win over West Virginia on Saturday. Smith has averaged 20.7 points in the past four tournament games.

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Nolan Smith drives in for a shot during the second half of Duke’s semifinal win over West Virginia on Saturday. Smith has averaged 20.7 points in the past four tournament games.

INDIANAPOLIS — In a downtown hotel room, he will stare at the ring resting in his hand.

He will put in ear buds, turn up the volume on a song written long before he was born and for just a few minutes this afternoon, Nolan Smith will try to imagine what it was like here in 1980.

For it was in this same city, in this same tournament, that his father, Derek Smith, won that national championship ring with Louisville 30 years ago. And now Smith will try to do the same this evening with Duke.

"I think about him now, and I just smile. I've done that every day since we've been here," Smith said Sunday. "When I look at that ring, the one piece of advice I always remember is my dad telling me to play every game like it's your last. And in the NCAA Tournament, that's true."

Derek Smith, who went on to a nine-year NBA career, was an assistant coach with the Washington Bullets in 1996 when he died at age 34 from a heart defect while on a cruise with his wife and children.

Nolan had just turned 8 years old when his father passed away, so his memories are limited. Many of the gaps are filled in by his mother, Monica Malone, who let him borrow Derek's championship ring when the tournament began.

"My mom is the one who made the connection with Indianapolis at the beginning of the year," Smith said. "She said something to me about heading down the same path my dad did if we could make it all the way to the Final Four."

Smith is one of the major reasons Duke has made it to tonight's championship game, along with Jon Scheyer and Kyle Singler. The three have provided Duke with nearly 70 percent of its scoring this season.

"Obviously, you've been hearing all year about the big three from Duke," Butler guard Ronald Nored said. "They're three great players. They can all shoot it."

Smith, a 21-year-old junior, has been shooting it better than ever in the tournament. In the past four games he has averaged 20.7 points and has shot 47 percent (32-of-68) from the field. And if the 6-foot-2 guard feels the pressure of being one step — and about 10 blocks — away from his father's greatest accomplishment, he has never let it show.

"He's really a happy kid. He's a good kid. His mom is one of the best ever," Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski said. "Monica has done a great job in raising him to where he still has a love for his father, his memory, and wants to emulate his father, but it's not like a burden. Not like, 'Oh I don't have him anymore.' He honors him on a day-to-day basis.

"Therefore, honoring him in this Final Four is not something new. He's done it day to day."

And, for at least one more day, he will continue repeating the first tune on his playlist. The Kenny Loggins song This is It was adopted by television networks as a theme for NCAA Tournament coverage long before One Shining Moment.

It was the song played at the end of the 1980 tournament and was written, ironically, about Loggins' father, who was facing serious medical problems at the time.

"It's all there for me," Smith said. "Following my dad's footsteps is the best way I can honor him."

John Romano can be reached at

Duke star Nolan Smith hoping to repeat championship feat of late father, Louisville star Derek Smith 04/04/10 [Last modified: Sunday, April 4, 2010 11:53pm]
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