Former UNC coach Smith to receive freedom medal

Aug. 08, 2013 @ 10:36 PM

Former North Carolina coach Dean Smith is one of 16 people who will receive the Presidential Medal of Freedom this year.

Smith retired in 1997 after 36 seasons with the Tar Heels as the winningest coach in NCAA men's history with 879 wins. He won two national championships, reached 11 Final Fours and won 13 Atlantic Coast Conference tournament titles. He also directed the U.S. men's basketball team to a gold medal in the 1976 Summer Olympics.

The award, created five decades ago by President John F. Kennedy, is the highest honor the U.S. bestows on civilians for contributions to society. This year's recipients, announced Thursday by the White House, include Oprah Winfrey and former President Bill Clinton.

In a statement, coach Roy Williams — who spent 10 years as an assistant to Smith — said his mentor "built a first-class program that positively impacted our society and community in many, many ways."

"Everyone who loves college and ACC basketball and the University of North Carolina is indebted to him," Williams said. "But more than basketball, it was his social conscience that has left even greater marks on our society and will be paying dividends for generations."

Smith, 82, has kept a low profile since his family revealed in 2010 that Smith had a "progressive neurocognitive disorder that affects his memory." In a statement, Smith's family called the award "an extraordinary honor."

"We also know he would take this as an opportunity to recognize all the young men who played for him and the assistant coaches who worked with him, as well as the University," the family said.

Smith joins UCLA's John Wooden as the second men's college basketball coach to receive the award.

"This is an incredible honor that is well deserved by one of the most successful, honorable and remarkable men I've had the privilege of knowing," said ACC commissioner John Swofford, who served as UNC's athletic director from 1980-97. "Dean is so many things to so many individuals and his reach stretches far beyond the sport of basketball."

Copyright 2013 The Associated Press.