Over the next year, artist Opie Otterstad will paint a portrait of the head coach who has won the National Collegiate Athletic Association basketball championship every year since 1939.
The NCAA commissioned Otterstad, the United States Sports Academy’s 2006 Sport Artist of the Year, to do 74 paintings in all. During an announcement of the art project at the Final Four in New Orleans, Otterstad revealed the first completed painting of former North Carolina Tar Heels coach Dean Smith as the coach looked on.
Smith is pictured cutting down the nets—a basketball tradition—after guiding his team to a 63-62 victory over Georgetown for the national title 30 years ago, which was played in the Superdome in New Orleans. North Carolina’s Michael Jordan made a last-second shot for the first of two Tar Heel championships under Smith, whose 1993 team also won the national title.
“It’s a big project,” says Otterstad, who donated a black and white sketch of the Smith portrait to the Academy’s American Sport Art Museum and Archives. “I’ll have to do about a painting and a half a week. It’s taking up a whole year.”
Once Otterstad has finished painting each coach by April 2013, the 2-foot by 3-foot portraits will go on display at the National Collegiate Basketball Hall of Fame in Kansas City. The NCAA also plans to sell posters and prints of Otterstad’s pieces.
Otterstad says the NCAA first became interested in him doing an art project for the organization after he did a 50th anniversary painting for the California Angels that had 36 panels total.
“I’ve been on the NCAA’s radar for a while,” says Otterstad, who also has commissions from Major League Baseball and other sports teams and organizations.
Otterstad already has begun meeting and interviewing the college basketball coaches who are still living. Recently, he met with Florida Gators basketball coach Billy Donovan and former Villanova Wildcats coach Rollie Massimino, while in Florida for baseball’s spring training. Donovan’s Florida teams won back-to-back championships in 2006 and 2007 and Massimino’s Villanova team pulled off one of the greatest upsets in history by beating Georgetown 66-64 in 1985.
Otterstad says he wants to capture the essence of the winning coaches with unique and original works. He isn’t interested in copying any past images that were done.
“I don’t want someone to say, ‘Oh yeah, I loved that photo,’” he says.
In addition to the painting, the NCAA has hired an official photographer/research assistant to chronicle Otterstad’s progress on the paintings. The NCAA then plans to create a coffee table book about the yearlong project.