On the day Temple basketball coach Fran Dunphy was honored as American Athletic Conference coach of the year, he used the moment to pay tribute to someone he considered a true hero: Wil Smith, who died of cancer last month at age 46.

Dunphy accepted the award Thursday. Temple (22-9) will play Memphis in an AAC quarterfinal Friday in Hartford, Conn.

This is the Owls' second season in the AAC. They went 9-22 in their inaugural campaign.

Dunphy, who has 499 career wins, met Smith at a coaching clinic. Smith was the head girls' basketball coach at the Berkshire School in Sheffield, Mass.

When Dunphy found out that Smith would make a 41/2-hour trip for chemotherapy treatments in Philadelphia, he wanted to help him. Dunphy is one of the leaders in the local Coaches Vs. Cancer campaign, and he told Smith the organization could help provide free lodging and other provisions when he came to Philadelphia for his treatments.

Smith's response was inspiring. "He told me [by e-mail] his only concern was 'I will take up a room for somebody who can't afford it as much as I can,' " Dunphy said.

"He is a heroic guy, Wil Smith, and I couldn't accept this award, certainly on behalf of our staff, university, and players, without talking about somebody who meant so much to me," Dunphy told the crowd. "He inspired me as a human being. . . .

"For me to meet Wil Smith, that topped my college basketball career more than you will ever know."

Dunphy said he was humbled by the coaching award but wanted to share Smith's story.

"It's just a remarkable story," Dunphy said. "He was such an inspiring person and I wanted to tell others about him."

- Marc Narducci