Roy Williams: Dean Smith struggling with memory loss - WNCT

Roy Williams: Dean Smith struggling with memory loss

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CHAPEL HILL, N.C. -

North Carolina head basketball coach Roy Williams said former coach Dean Smith is struggling in his battle with cognitive disorder.

When asked how Smith is dealing with the disease, Williams said, "He will still have some good moments, but it's a very cruel disease."

"The memory loss is cruel because we are talking about the guy who had the best memory of anyone I have known in my entire life." 

Williams, in an interview with WNCN Tuesday, said Smith had such an incredible memory he could meet someone in an airport and remember details about their brief encounter.

"[Smith would] then see that guy five years later at a service station and the guy would say, 'Coach, I met you at the airport.' And Coach would say, 'You were going to St. Louis and I was going to New York.'"

Smith's family revealed in July 2010 that the Tar Heel legend had developed a "progressive neurocognitive disorder that affects his memory."

At the time of his retirement in 1997, Smith was the winningest coach in men's basketball history while winning two national championships and appearing in 11 Final Fours. He still finds time to stop by the arena bearing his name in the heart of campus.

Williams spoke of a birthday tradition he shared with Smith since he returned to Chapel Hill 10 years ago. The two coaches share cake and ice cream in Williams' office to celebrate Smith's Feb. 28 birthday.

"So, this year at the end of February, he came up and he was in my office for about an hour and a half. People kept coming in and coming in," Williams said. "He was struggling, but he had one of those moments of clarity and said something to me.

"I had to sort of turn around and walk out for a minute."

Williams said Smith doesn't always recognize him when they meet now.

"Sometimes he does, sometimes he doesn't," Williams said.

In a short encounter just a month ago outside the Smith Center, Williams said he caught a moment of clarity from Smith. Williams was leaving for a run, so he asked Smith if he wished to join.

"Why? I don't think I will, but you go right ahead," Smith said jokingly.

"Those are the moments you live for right now," Williams said. "[Smith] was the best guy who has ever been on a basketball court and far, far, far better off the court.

"There's never been anyone like him."

Smith will receive the Presidential Medal of Freedom Nov. 20.

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