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Dean Smith dies at 83

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Updated 10 months ago on
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Legendary North Carolina basketball coach Dean Smith died Saturday night in Chapel Hill, N.C. He was 83.

With 879 victories in 36 years on the bench with the Tar Heels, Smith is fourth on the all-time wins list in college basketball, including two NCAA national championships and 11 Final Four appearances.

The school released a statement Sunday from Smith’s family. Smith was with his wife and five children when he died “peacefully” at his home.

“We are grateful for all the thoughts and prayers, and appreciate the continued respect for our privacy as arrangements are made available to the public. Thank you,” Smith’s family said in the statement.

Smith’s program produced some of the most recognizable NBA talent in the history of the sport, including Michael Jordan, and several of his players went on to become coaches or executives in the sport. Most notably, Larry Brown, George Karl and current Lakers general manager Mitch Kupchak.

“It’s such a great loss for North Carolina — our state, the University, of course the Tar Heel basketball program, but really the entire basketball world,” said current Tar Heels coach Roy Williams, who spent 10 years as an assistant under Smith. “We lost one of our greatest ambassadors for college basketball for the way in which a program should be run. We lost a man of the highest integrity who did so many things off the court to help make the world a better place to live in.

“He set the standard for loyalty and concern for every one of his players, not just the games won or lost. He was the greatest there ever was on the court but far, far better off the court with people. His concern for people will be the legacy I will remember most.

“He was a mentor to so many people; he was my mentor. He gave me a chance but, more importantly, he shared with me his knowledge, which is the greatest gift you can give someone.”

Smith was honored with the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President Barack Obama in 2013. His wife, Linnea, accepted on his behalf. The family had announced in 2010 that Smith suffered from a neurological disorder impacting his memory.

“Last night, America lost not just a coaching legend but a gentleman and a citizen,” President Obama said in a statement released later Sunday. “When he retired, Dean Smith had won more games than any other college basketball coach in history. He went to 11 Final Fours, won two national titles, and reared a generation of players who went on to even better things elsewhere, including a young man named Michael Jordan — and all of us from Chicago are thankful for that.

“But more importantly, Coach Smith showed us something that I’ve seen again and again on the court — that basketball can tell us a lot more about who you are than a jumpshot alone ever could. He graduated more than 96 percent of his players and taught his teams to point to the teammate who passed them the ball after a basket. He pushed forward the Civil Rights movement, recruiting the first black scholarship athlete to North Carolina and helping to integrate a restaurant and a neighborhood in Chapel Hill. And in his final years, Coach Smith showed us how to fight an illness with courage and dignity. For all of that, I couldn’t have been prouder to honor Coach Smith with Medal of Freedom in 2013. Michelle and I send our thoughts and prayers to his wife Linnea, to his family, and to his fans all across North Carolina and the country.”

Raised in Kansas, where his father was a high school teacher and basketball coach, Smith played at Kansas for legendary coach Phog Allen after earning an academic scholarship. He was on the 1952 team that won the national championship. He was hired as an assistant coach at North Carolina in 1958, the year after the Tar Heels went undefeated and won the title. He was hired as UNC head coach in 1961.

Smith stressed team and morality. He was never investigating for wrongdoing or violations of NCAA rules and spoke out against segregation when he recruited New York high school star Charlie Scott, who would become the first black superstar in the Atlantic Coast Conference in the 1960s. Scott

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