WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. - The North Carolina players plotted their strategy with four seconds to play. Shammond Williams suggested Dean Smith be showered with ice. Antawn Jamison, it was alleged, proposed a Gatorade shower.
The Tar Heels considered hoisting their coach off the floor upon the occasion of his 877th victory. Then they thought better of it.
''I didn't think it was a good idea,'' Jamison said. ''Coach Smith probably would have taken it out on us in practice.''
Smith surpassed Kentucky's Adolph Rupp as college basketball's winningest coach with Saturday's 73-56 NCAA Tournament victory over Colorado, and insisted that decorum be the order of the day.
Outside the Joel Coliseum, a student held up a cardboard sign offering to trade his brother for a pair of tickets to the historic game. Inside the arena, however, it was business as usual. The Carolina coach has discouraged focus on his record, preferring to compete for today instead of posterity.
''It never had been a goal of mine,'' Smith said of Saturday's career achievement. ''It hasn't been at any point. I'm not that type of goal-oriented. We've won 26 games now. We'd like to win 27, and that's my goal.''
At 66 years old, Dean Smith is still more about now than he is about numbers. Another man might have spent the closing minutes of Saturday's rout lost in a nostalgic reverie, but Smith was too busy coaching.
''He's an unbelievable competitor,'' said Bill Guthridge, Smith's assistant of three decades. ''You got to the end of the game and he was mad at the first group for not getting shots. ... The only way he would acknowledge (the record) would be for the players who have been on the great teams through the years. He doesn't believe coaches' records should be kept. He's very vehement about that.''
It's mighty hard to stay humble after 877 victories, but Dean Smith managed to keep his craggy head on remarkably straight Saturday. He has won two NCAA championships and 17 conference titles, but perhaps his greatest triumph has been conquering his ego.
If surpassing Rupp meant anything significant to Smith, he never let on. His strongest reactions Saturday related to the game at hand, and he made a point of thanking reporters who inquired about the game and not its historical import. Most men show more emotion upon finding a hole in their sock than the Carolina coach conveyed upon his crowning achievement.
He made the record-setting stoicism of Cal Ripken Jr. seem like Sally Field at the Oscars. Perhaps he's aware of some secret Lexington laboratory in which Rupp's remains are being cloned. Or perhaps he sincerely sees himself as a teacher and not the main attraction.
''We've had 200 lettermen, and 98 percent have graduated and almost half have gone on to graduate school,'' he said. ''I've been fortunate to have had some great players, some good players who became better and some who helped the team and didn't play a lot. They all share in this moment. If there is such a thing as this moment.''
Whatever it was - a moment, or a monument - it was an event that attracted generations of Carolina players. Michael Jordan did not make it - the Chicago Bulls had a previous engagement against Atlanta - but George Karl, Mitch Kupchak and Sam Perkins all showed up. Tickets were so scarce for the second-round Tournament game that scalpers sought as much as $2,000 per seat. Whether Smith wanted to admit it or not, this was one very big deal.
For a half, Colorado threatened to spoil Smith's party. The Buffaloes took a 31-30 halftime lead that looked larger because Carolina guard Vince Carter had left the game with a groin pull. A kid in the brass section of the Colorado band held up a sign proclaiming, ''Rupp's Still The Greatest.''
''If we had played better,'' Colorado guard Chauncey Billups lamented, ''(Smith) could have gotten the record next year.''
But the Tar Heels returned for the second half with a sense of urgency. They quickly converted their rebounding dominance into scoring runs of 13-2 and 11-2, to secure the victory. All that was left at the end was to secure the ball.
This task fell to 7-foot-3 Serge Zwikker, who ran across the floor at the final buzzer to take the ball from Colorado's Rick Brownstein, who had dribbled away the last few seconds. A female security guard chased after Zwikker, asking for the ball, but the senior center chose to give it to his coach.
''I just happened to get there first,'' Zwikker said of his sprint for the souvenir. ''It was the first time I won the 40-yard dash.''