UK Men's Basketball

Going home takes Tubby Smith to Kentucky for golf, alma mater for basketball

Tubby Smith posed with High Point President Nido R. Qubein when Smith was introduced as the school’s new basketball coach. Qubein was a senior at High Point when Smith was a freshman in 1969-70.
Tubby Smith posed with High Point President Nido R. Qubein when Smith was introduced as the school’s new basketball coach. Qubein was a senior at High Point when Smith was a freshman in 1969-70.

Returning home is a recurring theme in Tubby Smith’s life these days.

Playing in the Barbasol Championship Pro-Am at Keene Trace in Nicholasville on Wednesday will be a homecoming of sorts as he was the University of Kentucky’s basketball coach from 1997-98 through 2006-07. In that 10-season span, UK won five Southeastern Conference regular-season championships, five SEC Tournament titles and the 1998 NCAA Tournament.

“We felt we did right by Kentucky,” Smith said in a telephone conversation last week. “We gave it our best effort. And I think we represented that program and that university the right way.”

And, the consistently gracious Smith added, “John Calipari has taken it to another level.”

A longer-lasting homecoming involves the latest stop in Smith’s coaching career. After being fired as Memphis coach this spring, he took the coaching job at his alma mater, High Point.

“I was planning on taking some time off,” he said of the surprising move. “You’re a little bitter and you’re hurt when you get fired.”

Then his eldest son, G.G. Smith, resigned as coach at Loyola (Maryland). High Point welcomed the idea of a father-son combination on its coaching staff.

The Smith-High Point ties are strong. The school’s president, Nido R. Qubein, had been a senior at High Point when Smith was a freshman in 1969-70. And with Smith a long-time supporter of High Point, the two were well acquainted.

Two years ago, Smith and his wife, Donna, donated $1 million toward the building of a new arena. High Point’s current home court, the Millis Athletic Convocation Center, has a capacity of 1,750. The planned $120 million Qubein Arena, which is scheduled to open in the 2020-21 season, will seat 4,500. Its court will be named for Tubby and Donna.

No doubt High Point made Smith feel wanted. When he left UK in 2007, he said he wanted to go where he was wanted.

Still, well-meaning coaching colleagues had doubts about Smith’s intention to move to High Point, which had a final Ratings Percentage Index of No. 274 last season.

“A lot of coaches said to me, ‘Coach, why don’t you wait? They’ll be a lot of jobs open,’” Smith said. “I said, ‘You know what? I’m not about that. I don’t need to prove anything else.’

“I’m happy where I am. So we’ll be fine.”

Even his son, G.G., reminded his father that being High Point’s coach meant riding a bus to road games.

“I can’t remember the last time I went to a game on a bus,” Smith said. “G.G. said, ‘Dad, are you sure you can handle that?’ I said, ‘I’ll tell you what’s going to happen, son. You’re going to take the bus. I’ll meet you there.’”

Smith laughed as he re-told the exchange.

A future Kentucky-High Point game?

“There’s been talk,” he said. “We’d love to play them again.”

During his time as UK coach, the Wildcats played High Point three times. He also scheduled games against High Point when he was coach at Minnesota and Texas Tech.

“It helps recruit players (to say), ‘We’re going to play in Rupp Arena,’” Smith said. “I never thought I’d be on this end of it, but, hey, here I am.”

Fore!

Former UK Coach Tubby Smith had a good answer when asked last week if he played a lot of golf.

“Well, I’m calling from a golf course right now,” he said. Smith was at The River Golf Club in North Augusta, Ga. He had just finished playing in a charity event that also included such college coaches as Roy Williams, Frank Martin, Gregg Marshall and Bruce Pearl. All were in the area for the Peach Jam recruiting hoopalooza.

Smith did not sound like an avid golfer. A 14-handicap player, he downplayed his ability.

“I’m not much of a golfer,” he said. “As you get older, a lot of these guys’ games improve. Mine seems to be deteriorating.”

Besides Smith, other celebrities expected to play in the Barbasol Championship Pro-Am include Matt Jones, Rick Dees and John Michael Montgomery.

Tickets for the PGA event range from $30 to $40 depending on the day. General parking is $10 per day at Keeneland with a shuttle service to the course. Tickets can be purchased at www.BarbasolChampionshipKy.com.

Rupp and Red

Frank Ramsey, who died at age 86 last Sunday, played for arguably the most renowned coaches in college and NBA basketball history: Adolph Rupp of Kentucky and Red Auerbach of the Boston Celtics.

In an interview four years ago, Ramsey compared how Rupp and Auerbach conducted in-game huddles during timeouts. Auerbach dealt with adult men, many of whom were military veterans, husbands and fathers. Coach and players were almost peers.

“We’d call a timeout and he’d say, ‘What do you think we ought to do?’” Ramsey said of Auerbach. “Everybody would have a say. And then he’d say, ‘Do this.’”

As Kentucky’s coach, Rupp dealt with college students in a dictatorial fashion.

“When Adolph called timeout, you kept your mouth shut,” Ramsey said. “He’d say, run ‘five’ or run ‘seven.’ Something like that.”

The UK players’ input consisted of saying, “Yes, sir,” Ramsey said.

In the beginning

Hall of Fame sportswriter Bob Ryan lamented how time can dull the legacy of great players.

“Unfortunately, it’s the old timers only that remember him,” Ryan said of Frank Ramsey. “You have to remind them of the way this whole thing got started.”

Of course, “this whole thing” is the Celtics’ dynasty. Ryan, who worked for the Boston Globe, wrote a history of the franchise. Ramsey was an important figure in the birth of the dynasty. In what he called a “small burst of activity,” Ryan said the Celtics selected Bill Russell and Tom Heinsohn in the 1956 NBA Draft. That also was the year Ramsey, a first-round pick in 1953, joined the Celtics upon the completion of his post-college military service. All three became Hall of Famers.

Ramsey made the winning basket in Game 7 of the 1957 NBA Finals, the 125-123 double-overtime victory that gave Boston the first of its 11 championships in a 13-year span.

‘A real departure’

As a NBA player in the late 1950s and early 1960s, Frank Ramsey regularly signed a blank contract. The Celtics’ owner, Walter Brown, “filled in the amount when he got around to it,” Ramsey said. “He was fair. He was honest.”

Cliff Hagan, Ramsey’s running mate at UK and lifelong friend, called this “a real departure” from today’s negotiations featuring agents, restricted and unrestricted free agency and NBA contracts worth millions of dollars.

Made for TV?

Though always an interested fan, Frank Ramsey did not attend many UK home games later in life. To go to a game required a nine-hour chunk of time: a three-hour drive from his Madisonville home to Lexington, another three hours for the game and dinner, and a final three hours for the return drive.

“I can sit here in my living room (and watch the game),” he said. “And, hell, if they’re playing bad, I’ll switch channels.”

Feedback

Florida’s leading scorer last season, Jalen Hudson, was among the many players who entered this year’s NBA Draft and then withdrew his name.

When asked on a recent SEC teleconference about the feedback Hudson received from the NBA, Florida Coach Mike White laughed before answering.

“Like a lot of guys in this league, I’m sure he heard a lot of the same things he got from his current (coaching) staff,” White said. “But I think it just hits home a little more for these young people when the information is coming from the highest level. When it’s coming from the NBA.”

Hudson must be a better defender and rebounder, plus play with “more of an edge,” White (and presumably NBA people) said.

Leap to conclusion

Florida freshman Keyonte Johnson caused a stir last week when his vertical leap was measured at 41½ inches.

Chris Harry, a senior writer for Florida’s athletic website, said it was the highest leap the team’s strength coordinator, Preston Greene, had seen in maybe 20 years.

Johnson’s jump brought to mind Hamidou Diallo’s 44½–inch vertical leap at the 2017 NBA Combine. The second-highest jump ever measured at a Combine led some to leap to the conclusion that Diallo would defy the normal bounds of basketball as well as gravity as a Kentucky player.

Alas, the game is more than a basketball decathlon rewarding the highest leap, fastest sprint and best artistic expression. Diallo acknowledged his struggles last season. He averaged 10 points and made 42.9 percent of his shots (33.8 percent from three-point range).

Harry tried to temper enthusiasm generated by Johnson’s leap. “That’s a good thing, and a really cool thing,” he wrote, “but not much more than that.”

Harry quoted the subdued reaction of Florida assistant coach Darris Nichols. “Means he can jump high,” Nichols said.

Happy birthday

To Shai Gilgeous-Alexander. He turned 20 on Thursday. ... To Bernard Cote. He turned 36 on Thursday. ... To Antwain Barbour. He turns 36 on Tuesday. ... To retired CBS broadcaster Verne Lundquist. He turns 78 on Tuesday. ... To Tennessee Coach Rick Barnes. He turns 64 on Tuesday. ... To Bam Adebayo. He turns 21 on Wednesday. ... To Derek Anderson. He turns 44 on Wednesday. ... To John Pelphrey. He turns 50 on Wednesday.

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