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Washington -- Former UNC head basketball Coach Dean Smith is among this year's recipients of the 'Medal of Freedom' award, the highest award possible for a civilian.

UNC released this information about the former head coach after learning he would be receiving the award:

Smith, 82, led the Tar Heels to 879 wins and two NCAA championships in a 36-year head coaching career that spanned from 1961 to 1997. At the time of his retirement following the 1997 Final Four, Smith held the record for most coaching wins by a Division I men's basketball coach.

"This is an extraordinary honor," says Coach Smith's family. "We were touched by those who asked for the recognition and by the President's decision to give an award to Dean for his work both on and off the court. We know he would be humbled to be in the company of President Clinton, United States senators, scientists, entertainers, the great Hall of Famer Ernie Banks and the other distinguished Americans who are receiving the award. 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. Again, this medal is a tremendous honor."

A champion of civil rights, human rights and academic achievement in addition to being one of the premier basketball coaches in American sports history, Smith joins former UCLA coach John Wooden as the second college men's basketball coach to receive the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

ESPN named Smith one of the seven greatest coaches of the 20th Century, Sports Illustrated named him Sportsman of the Year in 1997, he was inducted into the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame in 1983, the North Carolina Sports Hall of Fame in 1981, was an inaugural member of the National Collegiate Basketball Hall of Fame in 2006 and joined the International (FIBA) Basketball Hall of Fame in 2007. James Naismith, John Wooden, Oscar Robertson and Bill Russell joined Smith in the first class of the College Basketball Hall of Fame.

Smith also has received the Arthur Ashe Award for Courage at the ESPYs, the National Good Sportsmanship Award in 2011 and became the first recipient of the Mentor Award for Lifetime Achievement, given by the University of North Carolina Committee on Teaching Awards for "a broader range of teaching beyond the classroom."

Smith's notable coaching highlights include:
• Leading Carolina to the 1982 and 1993 NCAA?championships and the 1971 NIT title.
• Under Smith, the Tar Heels won at least 20 games for 27 straight years and 30 of his final 31. No coach in history produced that many consecutive 20-win seasons.
• Carolina was ranked in the final Top 10 of both the Associated Press and coaches' polls each year from 1981-89. That nine-year run is the second-longest streak of Top 10 finishes in history, exceeded only by UCLA's 13-year string from 1967 to 1979.
• Smith's teams finished the season ranked No. 1 in at least one of the two major polls four times (1982, 1984, 1993 and 1994).
• Smith's teams were also the dominant force in the ACC. The Tar Heels under Smith had a record of 364-136 in ACC regular-season play, a winning percentage of .728.
• The Tar Heels finished at least third in the ACC regular-season standings for 33 successive seasons. In that span, Carolina finished first 17 times, second 11 times and third five times.
• Carolina won 13 ACC Tournaments under Smith.
• His teams played in 11 Final Fours.
• Smith's teams made 23 consecutive appearances in the NCAA Tournament.
• In his last 31 years, Smith led the Tar Heels into the NCAA Tournament 27 times.
• Carolina reached the Sweet 16 of NCAA play each season from 1981-93. That 13-year streak is the second longest in Tournament history to a 14-year stretch by UCLA from 1967 to 1980.
• More than 95 percent of Carolina basketball lettermen earned their degree.

"Coach Smith set a standard of excellence on and off the court by which coaches and athletic departments have modeled themselves for decades," says Director of Athletics Bubba Cunningham. "The Presidential Medal of Freedom is a rich reward for someone who put teaching young people the game of life as important as the sport of basketball. On behalf of the University of North Carolina I wish to congratulate Coach Smith and his family and express our appreciation to President Obama for recognizing Coach Smith with such a prestigious award."

Born February 28, 1931, in Emporia, Kan., Dean Edwards Smith grew up as the son of public school teachers. He graduated from Topeka High School in 1949 and went to the University of Kansas on an academic scholarship. He played varsity basketball and baseball and freshman football for the Jayhawks. He was a member of Jayhawk basketball teams that won the NCAA title in 1952 and finished second in 1953.

Smith was an assistant coach at Kansas to Phog Allen and Dick Harp, then served in the U.S. Air Force as a lieutenant. Smith served for three years as an assistant basketball coach under Bob Spear at the United States Air Force Academy. In 1958, Frank McGuire asked him to join his staff at Carolina as an assistant coach. Smith served as an assistant under McGuire for three years before McGuire resigned to become head coach of the NBA's Philadelphia Warriors in the summer of 1961. At that time, Carolina Chancellor William Aycock tapped the 30-year-old Smith to become UNC's head coach.

From the White House:

Once a year the sitting President awards the 'Medal of Freedom'. It is the Nation's highest civilian honor, presented to individuals who have made especially meritorious contributions to the security or national interests of the United States, to world peace, or to cultural or other significant public or private endeavors.

This year marks the 50th Anniversary of the Executive Order signed by President John F. Kennedy establishing the Presidential Medal of Freedom, as well as the first ceremony bestowing the honor on an inaugural class of 31 recipients. Since that time, more than 500 exceptional individuals from all corners of society have been awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

Thursday,the White Houseannounced the sixteen recepients who will receive the awards at the White Houselater this year. President Obama said, "The Presidential Medal of Freedom goes to men and women who have dedicated their own lives to enriching ours. This year's honorees have been blessed with extraordinary talent, but what sets them apart is their gift for sharing that talent with the world. It will be my honor to present them with a token of our nation's gratitude."

The following individuals will be awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom:

Ernie Banks
Known to many as "Mr. Cub," Ernie Banks is one of the greatest baseball players of all time. During his 19 seasons with the Chicago Cubs, he played in 11 All-Star Games, hit over 500 home runs, and became the first National League player to win Most Valuable Player honors in back-to-back years. He was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1977, his first year of eligibility.

Ben Bradlee
Ben Bradlee is one of the most respected newsmen of his generation. During his tenure as executive editor of The Washington Post, Mr. Bradlee oversaw coverage of the Watergate scandal, successfully challenged the Federal Government over the right to publish the Pentagon Papers, and guided the newspaper through some of its most challenging moments. He also served in the Navy during World War II.

Bill Clinton
President Clinton was the 42nd President of the United States. Before taking office, he served as Governor and Attorney General of the State of Arkansas. Following his second term, President Clinton established the Clinton Foundation to improve global health, strengthen economies, promote health and wellness, and protect the environment. He also formed the Clinton-Bush Haiti Fund with President George W. Bush in 2010.

Daniel Inouye (posthumous)
Daniel Inouye was a lifelong public servant. As a young man, he fought in World War II with the 442nd Regimental Combat Team, for which he received the Medal of Honor. He was later elected to the Hawaii Territorial House of Representatives, the United States House of Representatives, and the United States Senate. Senator Inouye was the first Japanese American to serve in Congress, representing the people of Hawaii from the moment they joined the Union.

Daniel Kahneman
Daniel Kahneman is a pioneering scholar of psychology. After escaping Nazi occupation in World War II, Dr. Kahneman immigrated to Israel, where he served in the Israel Defense Forces and trained as a psychologist. Alongside Amos Tversky, he applied cognitive psychology to economic analysis, laying the foundation for a new field of research and earning the Nobel Prize in Economics in 2002. He is currently a professor at Princeton University.

Richard Lugar
Richard Lugar represented Indiana in the United States Senate for more than 30 years. An internationally respected statesman, he is best known for his bipartisan leadership and decades-long commitment to reducing the threat of nuclear weapons. Prior to serving in Congress, Senator Lugar was a Rhodes Scholar and Mayor of Indianapolis from 1968 to 1975. He currently serves as President of the Lugar Center.

Loretta Lynn
Loretta Lynn is a country music legend. Raised in rural Kentucky, she emerged as one of the first successful female country music vocalists in the early 1960s, courageously breaking barriers in an industry long dominated by men. Ms. Lynn's numerous accolades include the Kennedy Center Honors in 2003 and the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award in 2010.

Mario Molina
Mario Molina is a visionary chemist and environmental scientist. Born in Mexico, Dr. Molina came to America to pursue his graduate degree. He later earned the Nobel Prize in Chemistry for discovering how chlorofluorocarbons deplete the ozone layer. Dr. Molina is a professor at the University of California, San Diego; Director of the Mario Molina Center for Energy and Environment; and a member of the President's Council of Advisors on Science and Technology.

Sally Ride (posthumous)
Sally Ride was the first American female astronaut to travel to space. As a role model to generations of young women, she advocated passionately for science education, stood up for racial and gender equality in the classroom, and taught students from every background that there are no limits to what they can accomplish. Dr. Ride also served in several administrations as an advisor on space exploration.

Bayard Rustin (posthumous)
Bayard Rustin was an unyielding activist for civil rights, dignity, and equality for all. An advisor to the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., he promoted nonviolent resistance, participated in one of the first Freedom Rides, organized the 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, and fought tirelessly for marginalized communities at home and abroad. As an openly gay African American, Mr. Rustin stood at the intersection of several of the fights for equal rights.

Arturo Sandoval
Arturo Sandoval is a celebrated jazz trumpeter, pianist, and composer. Born outside Havana, he became a protégé of jazz legend Dizzy Gillespie and gained international acclaim as a dynamic performer. He defected to the United States in 1990 and later became an American citizen. He has been awarded nine Grammy Awards and is widely considered one of the greatest living jazz artists.

Dean Smith
Dean Smith was head coach of the University of North Carolina basketball team from 1961 to 1997. In those 36 years, he earned 2 national championships, was named National Coach of the Year multiple times, and retired as the winningest men's college basketball coach in history. Ninety-six percent of his players graduated from college. Mr. Smith has also remained a dedicated civil rights advocate throughout his career.

Gloria Steinem
Gloria Steinem is a renowned writer and activist for women's equality. She was a leader in the women's liberation movement, co-founded Ms. magazine, and helped launch a wide variety of groups and publications dedicated to advancing civil rights. Ms. Steinem has received dozens of awards over the course of her career, and remains an active voice for women's rights.

Cordy Tindell "C.T." Vivian
C.T. Vivian is a distinguished minister, author, and organizer. A leader in the Civil Rights Movement and friend to the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., he participated in Freedom Rides and sit-ins across our country. Dr. Vivian also helped found numerous civil rights organizations, including Vision, the National Anti-Klan Network, and the Center for Democratic Renewal. In 2012, he returned to serve as interim President of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference.

Patricia Wald
Patricia Wald is one of the most respected appellate judges of her generation. After graduating as 1 of only 11 women in her Yale University Law School class, she became the first woman appointed to the United States Circuit Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia, and served as Chief Judge from 1986-1991. She later served on the International Criminal Tribunal in The Hague. Ms. Wald currently serves on the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board.

Oprah Winfrey
Oprah Winfrey is one of the world's most successful broadcast journalists. She is best known for creating The Oprah Winfrey Show, which became the highest rated talk show in America for 25 years. Ms. Winfrey has long been active in philanthropic causes and expanding opportunities for young women. She has received numerous awards throughout her career, including the Bob Hope Humanitarian Award in 2002 and the Kennedy Center Honors in 2010.


Reaction to Smith making the list:
U.S. Senator Kay Hagan (NC) issued the following statement after the White House announced that Dean Smith, former head basketball coach for the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, will be awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the highest distinction bestowed upon a citizen.

"As one of the greatest coaches of the 20th century, Dean Smith revolutionized the game of basketball and brought enormous pride to North Carolina during his 36 years leading the Tar Heels. But while he brought us glorious moments on the court, Dean Smith will forever be known for the sense of equality and justice that he instilled in his players and fought so hard to advance in basketball, in collegiate athletics and in the country as a whole. As a high school athlete, he successfully lobbied for the desegregation of the varsity basketball team, and after becoming the head coach at UNC, he brought the first African-American scholarship athlete to Chapel Hill, future NBA All-Star Charlie Scott.

"Dean Smith has been a champion for justice his entire life. He taught us all to be a little braver and a little better. And this Presidential Medal of Freedom recognizes what we have long known: North Carolina and this country are a little braver and a little better because of Dean Smith." Hagan's Letter to President Obama asking him to consider Smith for the Medal of Freedom.

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