The hoops community is mourning the loss of legendary college basketball coach Dean Smith. The Hall of Fame coach died “peacefully” at his North Carolina home Saturday night, ESPN reported Sunday. Smith was 83.
In 36 years (1961-1997) as the head coach of the University of North Carolina, Smith led the Tar Heels to two national championships (1982 and 1993), 11 Final Four appearances and 17 ACC titles. When he retired in October 1997, he was the NCAA’s most-winning coach with 879 victories. Smith most famously coached Michael Jordan from 1981-1984, before he went on to the NBA and became an international icon.
Jordan and many more from the basketball community reacted Sunday to Smith’s loss.
"Other than my parents, no one had a bigger influence on my life than Coach Smith," Jordan said in a statement, as reported by ESPN. "He was more than a coach — he was my mentor, my teacher, my second father. Coach was always there for me whenever I needed him and I loved him for it. In teaching me the game of basketball, he taught me about life. My heart goes out to Linnea and their kids. We've lost a great man who had an incredible impact on his players, his staff and the entire UNC family."
UNC’s current coach, Roy Williams, echoed similar sentiments about Smith.
"I'd like to say on behalf of all our players and coaches, past and present, that Dean Smith was the perfect picture of what a college basketball coach should have been," added Williams, who also served as Smith’s assistant for 10 years at UNC. "We love him, and we will miss him."
Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski, who has become the NCAA’s most-winning coach and whose Blue Devils battled Smith’s Tar Heels through the years, said the legendary coach was truly one-of-one.
"We have lost a man who cannot be replaced,” Krzyzewski also told ESPN. "He was one of a kind, and the sport of basketball lost one of its true pillars. Dean possessed one of the greatest basketball minds and was a magnificent teacher and tactician. While building an elite program at North Carolina, he was clearly ahead of his time in dealing with social issues.
"However, his greatest gift was his unique ability to teach what it takes to become a good man,” Coach K added. “That was easy for him to do because he was a great man himself. All of his players benefited greatly from his basketball teachings, but even more from his ability to help mold men of integrity, honor and purpose. Those teachings, specifically, will live forever in those he touched."
Smith’s health had declined in recent years with his family saying back in 2010 that he was losing memory. Smith is survived by his wife, Linnea, son Scott and daughters Kristen, Sharon, Kelly and Sandy, in addition to several grandchildren.
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(Photo: Gerry Broome, File/APPhoto)