WILMINGTON, North Carolina – UNCW men’s basketball coach Buzz Peterson has always considered North Carolina coaching icon Dean Smith to be presidential in stature. Barack Obama just made it official.

President Obama announced Thursday that Smith will be among those who will receive the Presidential Medal of Freedom. The medal is the nation’s highest civilian honor and according to the White House is given 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.”

Smith, 82, piloted UNC’s team from 1961-97 and was the winningest coach in college basketball history when he retired.

Peterson heads into his fourth season on the bench with the Seahawks and credits much of his coaching philosophy and success to Smith.

“When I was being recruited, I had heard so much about him,” Peterson reflected. “Playing for him was a real honor. You learn so much more than just basketball. You learn to discipline your life in the right direction.

“We all had so much respect for Coach Smith. We always wanted to bust our butts for him and give 100 percent. He was extremely trustworthy…you could trust Coach Smith with anything.”

Before entering the coaching ranks, Peterson enjoyed an outstanding playing career in Chapel Hill. He played four seasons for Smith from 1981-85 and helped lead the Tar Heels to a 115-22 record and four Atlantic Coast Conference championships. He was a member of the 1982 national championship team, where he played with future NBA stars Michael Jordan, James Worthy and Sam Perkins.