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Stan Van Gundy on Sekou Smith: ‘We lost a great one’

The first question Tuesday afternoon was related to basketball and what his team focused on during an hour-plus practice, but Stan Van Gundy understandably didn’t want to discuss hoops or what’s happening on the court. Just prior to New Orleans’ team workout, the first-year Pelicans head coach learned that former Turner Sports colleague and friend Sekou Smith had died Tuesday, after Smith contracted the coronavirus recently. Smith was 48.

“It’s really hard to sit here and talk about basketball games when we just lost one of the best people that I’ve ever been around,” Van Gundy said of the NBA writer and TV analyst. “Just a great, great person who cared about other people. Great sense of humor, a positive, upbeat guy, extremely intelligent.”

Van Gundy first met Smith when the latter was a newspaper sportswriter. Van Gundy worked with him during the 2019-20 season on a weekly NBA TV studio show.

“It just hit hard,” Van Gundy said of hearing the news. “For all of us, this COVID thing has been painful, to say the least, but when you lose somebody you know, admire and respect, and who’s young, it’s really, really hard. This thing is so scary and has brought so much grief to so many people. There are a lot of people in Atlanta grieving a great man today.”

Among his many accomplishments and contributions to the NBA, Smith wrote a popular “Sekou’s MVP Ladder” article for NBA.com, a feature Smith discussed during segments on NBA TV. Van Gundy shared a story of how much Smith enjoyed the interaction with fans generated by the column, even if it wasn’t always positive toward him.

“He would share the messages he got from fans on social media, and it was just hilarious,” Van Gundy said. “People would go after him (via social media) all the time. He had such a great way with his fans on social media, because I think he’s somebody that took his job seriously, but never took himself that seriously. He understood that what we’re doing is in the entertainment business, and he had fun with it. Any of us who had the opportunity to know him or work with him, it was a joy. We lost a great one today.”