RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) -- The family of North Carolina coaching great Dean Smith says the 79-year-old Hall of Famer is dealing with memory loss.
The family sent a letter to former players and coaches Saturday, providing details about Smith's health after generally declining to comment for privacy reasons. Smith's condition was described as a "progressive neurocogniitive disorder that affects his memory."
Smith retired in 1997 after 36 seasons in Chapel Hill as the winningest coach in Division I men's basketball with 879 victories, a mark passed a decade later by Bob Knight at Texas Tech.
Smith won 13 Atlantic Coast Conference tournaments, reached 11 Final Fours and won the NCAA championship in 1982 and 1993.
From the Family of Dean E. Smith:
"Our dad is almost eighty years old, so it's expected that he might show signs of aging. After spending an entire lifetime without a visit to the hospital except to see players and friends, he had to undergo two procedures in the past three years: a knee replacement surgery and a repair of an abdominal aortic aneurysm. But what other people may have noticed - and what has been speculated about recently in the media - is that our dad may not remember quite like he used to. It's a stark contrast, because he is widely known for remembering a name, a place, a game, a story - it's what made other people feel like they were special, because our dad remembered everything.
"Coach Smith wanted to keep his professional and personal life separate. But as we all know, the personal and professional life can sometimes overlap, and we understand that many fans, former players, and friends are concerned about his well-being. In trying to balance our dad's wishes and the genuine concern so many people have for Coach Smith, we want to update you about his health, but ask that you respect his privacy. Our dad has a progressive neurocognitive disorder that affects his memory. So now, he may not immediately recall the name of every former player from his many years in coaching, but that does not diminish what those players meant to him or how much he cares about them. He still remembers the words of a hymn or a jazz standard, but may not feel up to going to a concert.
He still plays golf, though usually only for nine holes instead of eighteen. He still attends some sporting events -you might see him in the stands at his grandson's baseball game. He has difficulty traveling long distances to see the Heels on the road, but he insists on watching all Carolina basketball games on television and cheers as hard as he can for Coach Williams and the team.
"Although some of the ways he experiences daily life have changed, he still cherishes his many relationships with Carolina basketball, his family and his friends.
"Throughout his career, he has always preferred the spotlight be on the Carolina basketball program and the University, rather than himself. We hope that you will understand and respect his wishes. Thank you for your consideration and well wishes for our dad."