Sports figures pay tribute to UNC legend Dean Smith on Twitter

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Dean Smith

Dean Smith

CHAPEL HILL, N.C. — Legendary University of North Carolina head basketball coach Dean Smith died Saturday evening at the age of 83, according to the University of North Carolina’s official athletics website.

“Coach Dean Smith passed away peacefully the evening of February 7 at his home in Chapel Hill, and surrounded by his wife and five children,” the Smith family said in a statement to UNC. “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 coached the Tar Heels from 1961 to 1997, tallying a record of 879-254 in those 36 seasons. He also won two national championships, in 1982 and 1993, and many of his young charges went on to become some of the greatest players in pro basketball history, including Michael Jordan, James Worthy and Vince Carter.

He is often mentioned in the same breath as former Indiana and Texas Tech coach Bobby Knight, Syracuse’s Jim Boeheim and longtime rival Mike Krzyzewski of Duke, all of whom are considered among the greatest men’s college basketball coaches of all time.

Sports Illustrated named him its Sportsman of the Year in 1997, and he was inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in 1983.

Smith was also a hoopster in his own right and, with his 1952 championship as a Kansas Jayhawk, is one of only two men to win college basketball championships as a coach and player. (Knight is the other.)

In 2013, Smith joined former President Bill Clinton and entertainer Oprah Winfrey as Presidential Medal of Freedom recipients. The White House cited his success as a coach but also noted, “Ninety-six percent of his players graduated from college. Mr. Smith has also remained a dedicated civil rights advocate throughout his career.”