WILMINGTON, N.C. – Dean Smith was a popular man on Thursday.
From his seat on the floor at midcourt, the former North Carolina coach took turns watching the Charlotte Bobcats practice and chatting with numerous old friends as a special guest of coach Larry Brown.
It was the second straight day the 79-year-old Smith took in a training camp workout, one of the few times he's been seen since his family announced in July that he has a "progressive neurocognitive disorder" that affects his memory.
"It's great," said Brown, who had dinner with Smith Wednesday night. "It's great seeing him."
Wearing a golf shirt, slacks, sneakers and with a Tar Heel blue jacket draped over his leg, Smith sat next to his son, Scott. The Hall of Fame coach was seen chatting with former rival coach Cliff Ellis, now at Coastal Carolina, and numerous other coaches and basketball officials watching the practice.
Smith didn't speak to reporters.
"He looks good and we just went back about old times," said Ellis, once Smith's rival when he coached at Clemson. "We talked a lot about golf because we're both avid golfers. I told him, 'You were one of the toughest that I've ever had to deal with as far as just teaching the game.'
"I let him know how much I really loved him and how much competing against him meant and still means to me."
Ellis said Smith looked "very alert." While he was moving slowly, he was steady and smiled as he talked to players and coaches.
Smith won 879 games and two national titles at North Carolina before his retirement in 1997. Brown was on Smith's first team at the school in 1961-62 and they have remained close.
Brown said that when Smith last attended Bobcats training camp in 2008, he told Brown he wasn't sure Charlotte could win the Atlantic Coast Conference. Since then the team has made numerous trades and former Smith player Michael Jordan became majority owner.
So does Smith think the Bobcats can win the ACC now?
"I'm not commenting on that," Brown said, smiling.