Legendary North Carolina Coach Dean Smith, who took his college basketball team to two NCAA championships, always coaxed the best out of his players. Now, a month after his death, he has issued one final ‘thank you’ to every full-time player who ever hit the court for him.

Trustees of Smith’s estate mailed out $200 checks to 180 players with an accompanying letter that read, “enjoy a dinner out compliments of Coach Dean Smith.”

Michael Jordan with Dean Smith (Zeke Smith, 2007, CC)

Player Brad Daugherty said on ESPN that he would ignore the coach’s orders to spend the money on dinner out: “Nope, I’m going to get it matted and framed, and stick it on my wall so I can look at it every day.”

Buzz Peterson, a teammate of Michael Jordan’s when they played for Smith, was in awe of the gesture, according to ESPN. “I saw the check, and was like, ‘You’ve got to be kidding me. This is unbelievable that he would do this for us.'”

Smith was known for teaching his players to show respect for others during his 36 years coaching at UNC. And Coach Smith respected his players, pushing them to succeed in their studies just as they succeeded on the court. While the average graduation rate for NCAA Division I basketball players was 70% in 2013, student athletes who played for Smith had a 96.6% graduation rate over the course of his career.

And the lessons of respect he taught still resonate with his former players.

Serge Zwikker, who played for Smith from 1993-1997 said the $200 check is unlike any other money he has received.

“I don’t think I can cash this,” he told ESPN. “If anything, I will donate it to a good cause.”track teen helps competitor

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Smith, who died February 7 at the age of 83, was a giant in basketball circles. In addition to one of the most impressive records in NCAA history, the four-time National Coach of the Year led the U.S. basketball team to a Gold Medal in the 1976 Olympics, earned a place in the Basketball Hall of Fame and was remembered for contributions to the Civil Rights movement. He was buried at Old Chapel Hill Cemetery on the UNC campus.

(WATCH the video below from WNCN) – Story tip from Mike McGinley

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