Dean Smith, a Pioneer on and off the Court, Passes Away

Coach Dean Smith, a giant in college basketball, died last weekend at age 83

The sport of basketball lost a great last weekend.

Legendary coach Dean Smith died Saturday at his home in Chapel Hill, NC. He left behind his wife and five children. He was 83.

Smith coached the University of North Carolina men's basketball team from 1961 to 1997, leading the Tar Heels to 11 Final Fours, 13 ACC tournament titles and two national championships.

For all his success on the court, he did plenty of great things off the court.

Smith was a pioneer of integration in college athletics, recruiting the University of North Carolina’s first black scholarship athlete, Charlie Scott, in 1966. He was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President Barack Obama in 2013.

"While Coach Smith couldn’t join us today due to an illness he is facing with extraordinary courage, we also honor his courage in helping to change our country," President Obama said in his opening remarks that day in 2013.

Smith’s family said in 2010 that he was dealing with a condition that was causing him to lose his memory, reports the Associated Press. Memory loss is a symptom of dementia and Alzheimer’s but can also be part of normal aging process. The exact nature of Smith’s illness was unclear.

Former players and coaches have been reminiscing about Dean, who they say was a great man who helped shape their lives. Smith kept in contact with many players after they left North Carolina.

"We lost one of our greatest ambassadors for college basketball for the way in which a program should be run,” said UNC coach Roy Williams in an interview with The Daily Tar Heel. “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.”