Former Tar Heels forward George Lynch says he has plenty of great memories of his four years at North Carolina -- including playing in two Final Fours and winning the 1993 national championship.
But his fondest (and most impactful) recollection comes from his first official day on a college court.
“My first practice, Coach [Dean] Smith made me run the Smith Center with a weight vest on because I didn’t box out,’’ Lynch said during a recent phone interview, laughing. “I’ll never forget that.”
“I guess I learned my lesson because I was one of the top rebounders when I left.”
Indeed, Lynch -- a defensive workhorse who set UNC’s career record for steals and trailed only Sam Perkins in rebounds when he became a first-round draft pick in ‘93 -- is now trying to pass those fundamentals on to the next generation of players.
After a dozen seasons in the NBA, and a volunteer year under former Tar Heels coach Matt Doherty at SMU several seasons ago, Lynch is now the strength and conditioning coach for men’s basketball at UC Irvine.
“I started to do camps with my high school coach, and then I continued to do summer camps, in every city I was playing in,’’ Lynch said. “… I love being with kids that really have a passion to play the game. So I try to contribute what made the game successful for me; I try to give back. And hopefully, one of these young college players will pick that up and put it in their game.”
Even on the West Coast, he said, playing for UNC has helped him with that goal.
“Any time somebody plays a high caliber of college basketball, or played in the pros, a lot of the kids like to emulate that,’’ he said. “And they like to hear your stories. For the players here at UC Irvine -- men's and women’s players -- they see me here, and they see what’s attainable. They see that if you make the commitment as a student-athlete, you can reach your goal -- whether it’s playing in Europe, playing in the NBA, you can get there. Jeremy Lin [of the New York Knicks] is a great story of someone that just kept working, and put the time in, the hard work and determination, and he never gave up.”
Lynch, who still ranks third on UNC's career list for rebounds (1,097) and is second in career steals (241), said he’d like to get back to the East Coast eventually. And the father of three would like to work his way up the coaching ladder.
“I just want to share some of the ideas that Coach Smith taught me as a college player,’’ he said. “I think watching some of the kids play college basketball today, the team concept is lost; they don’t play with the passion, emotion that it takes to win at the college level. I just like to contribute in that way.”
And he won’t hesitate to strap a weight belt onto one of his players if they don’t box out.
“Oh, yeah,’’ he said, laughing. “If I’m ever a head coach and I’m calling the shots, fundamentals will be a big part of the game.”
Follow Robbi Pickeral on Twitter at @bylinerp.