Tubby Smith discusses Kentucky departure upon election to UK Hall of Fame

jtipton@herald-leader.comAugust 20, 2013 

UK coach Tubby Smith holds the net after defeating Duke 86-84 in the NCAA South Regional Final in St. Petersburg, FL Sunday March 22, 1998. Photo by Frank Anderson | Staff

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When Tubby Smith left Kentucky for Minnesota in 2007, he said the move would take him where he was wanted. On Monday, in reacting to the announcement that he will be among this year's inductees into the UK Athletic Hall of Fame, he offered a clarification.

"I didn't mean it that way," he said when reminded of the inference that UK did not want him to remain as basketball coach. He noted the distinction between feeling wanted and feeling needed. It was not necessarily that he felt unwanted by UK. After 10 seasons as Kentucky coach, he sensed that Minnesota had a greater need for his talents.

"I tell recruits it's just as important to be needed as wanted," Smith said. "You have to make that determination. How much are you valued? ...

"I always felt comfortable (at UK). It was just time for a change. I miss the folks there."

But another consideration led Smith to move his success-everywhere coaching career to the next stop.

"You don't want to be where you're tolerated," he said, "but where you're celebrated."

Smith is starting anew at Texas Tech after being fired at Minnesota earlier this year. "There's a shelf life everywhere," he said.

At Tech, Smith follows another former UK coach, Billy Gillispie. Of course, Minnesota hired Richard Pitino, the son of yet another former UK coach, to replace Smith.

"A strange scenario," he said. "(Texas Tech) is a good opportunity for me. I can use my whole skill set."

As UK coach, Smith guided the program to the 1998 national championship. Three of his other teams advanced to the NCAA Tournament's Elite Eight. His teams won five Southeastern Conference regular-season titles and five league tournament titles. The marriage of Smith and UK basketball was mutually beneficial.

"When you've been at Kentucky, people see you in a different light," he said before adding, "I was able to make a positive contribution to that program."

That contribution will be recognized when UK inducts its new members of the Hall of Fame on the weekend of Sept. 27 and 28.

Other members of this year's UK Hall of Fame class are basketball icon Rex Chapman, football lineman Oliver Barnett, women's basketball player Leslie Nichols, track athlete and later coach Press Whelan, and tennis star Jesse Witten.

Smith reflected on his time as Kentucky coach (1997-98 through 2006-07) with a mix of gratitude and wonderment. Aside from the victories and defeats, it's where he coached one son, Saul, and against his two other sons, G.G. and Brian.

It's also where he learned from two Naismith Basketball Hall of Famers: first as an assistant coach to Rick Pitino and later as the man entrusted by C.M. Newton to run the program.

"I learned you have to be very patient," he said. "Patience has been one of the key things. Good things don't happen on impulse. It's a process. I learned that at Kentucky."

Smith gushed about being inducted into UK's Athletic Hall of Fame.

"I was ecstatic," he said of learning the news from UK Athletics Director Mitch Barnhart. "I was more than overwhelmed. I just really feel honored. ... It's a tremendous honor. I certainly appreciate the people on the (selection) committee, Mitch Barnhart and all the wonderful fans."

But Smith could not promise to attend the induction ceremony. It will be on a football weekend, a time when basketball coaches like to bring in prospects for a recruiting weekend. Tech has a prospect coming in that weekend.

"I'm hoping I can (attend UK's ceremony)," Smith said. "But you know what? I have a job to do here."

Jerry Tipton: (859) 231-3227. Twitter: @JerryTipton. Blog: UKbasketball.bloginky.com.

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