Health concerns prevent Smith from attending White House ceremony
CHAPEL HILL, N.C. -- The wife of former North Carolina basketball coach Dean Smith says he will not attend the Presidential Medal of Freedom ceremony at the White House next week.
In an interview with WNCN in Raleigh, Dr. Linnea Smith said efforts were under way to figure out how to get her husband to the presentation on Nov. 20, but she added that traveling is hard for Smith and "it's just really something beyond his ability right now."
It was in 2010 that the family revealed that Smith is suffering from a "progressive neurocognitive disorder that affects his memory."
Smith, who is in the Basketball Hall of Fame, won 879 games during his 36 years in Chapel Hill and led the Tar Heels to two national championships. He will be represented at the ceremony by his long-time coaching assistant, Bill Guthridge, current UNC coach Roy Williams, his wife and three of his five children.
In August, the White House announced that Smith would be among 16 people who President Barack Obama will honor. Also being recognized are former President Bill Clinton and media mogul Oprah Winfrey.
"I'm sure it's a pinnacle. He's always struggled a little bit with recognition," Linnea Smith said. "He always felt a little bit uncomfortable being singled out for awards. He would use it as a time to call attention to those involved in the basketball program or those on the staff who worked with him.
"He felt like, as a public figure, it was easier to single him out for an award," she said. "But he appreciated and knew that other people contributed just as much to some of his achievements."