Nolan Smith's mother, Monica Malone, reminded him what was at stake Sunday before the most important game of his life.INDIANAPOLIS – The text from Duke guard
If you win, you go back to Indy, where your father played for a championship.
For months, Smith had looked forward to competing in a regional final for the right to play in the Final Four in Indianapolis. Before the game against Baylor on Sunday, he watched as ESPN replayed a feature that first aired last year about him and his father, Derek Smith, who died tragically at age 34 of a heart attack in 1996, when Nolan was 8 years old.
Thirty years ago in Indianapolis, Derek Smith helped Louisville defeat UCLA, 59-54, to win the NCAA title. Wiley Brown, Smith's close friend and teammate, remembers Smith stepping forward for the first time at that Final Four to share team leadership duties with high-scoring Darrell Griffith.
"He started telling the guys what they needed to do," Brown said. "'We've got an opportunity. We can't mess this up. So get your rest. Eat right. Let's start focusing on winning a championship.' And that defined the rest of his career at Louisville. He became a leader."
Nolan Smith has a DVD of that game against UCLA and has watched it many times. He has noticed the fearless, determined look in his father's eyes.
On Sunday, fans in Houston saw that same look in the eyes of Derek's son.
Earlier, that morning, he sent out a note on Twitter. "This one is for you Dad!!" it read. "I love you!"
Buoyed by his desire to honor his father, Nolan Smith played perhaps the best game of his life.
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