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Longtime North Carolina basketball coach Dean Smith, 83, dies

CHAPEL HILL, N.C. - 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 bask...

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Former University of North Carolina player and NBA standout Michael Jordan (L) kisses former University of North Carolina head coach Dean Smith during a ceremony honoring the 1957 and 1982 national championship teams at halftime of the NCAA basketball game between North Carolina and Wake Forest University in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, in this file photo taken February 10, 2007. REUTERS/Ellen Ozier/Files

CHAPEL HILL, N.C. – 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.

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“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.”

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.”

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 was drafted and played in the NBA for the Suns.

When Smith retired in 1997, he held the NCAA record for wins. He appeared in five national title games and NCAA championships in 1982 and 1993. North Carolina won at least 20 games in each of his final 27 seasons and made 23 consecutive appearances in the NCAA tournament.

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