“Tubby” Smith recognized for years of UK basketball success

By Lindsay Travis
sports@kykernel.com

Orlando “Tubby” Smith, former UK men’s basketball coach and 1998 NCAA National Champion, caps off the 2013 inductee class for the UK Athletics Hall of Fame.

In his time at UK, Smith won prolifically.

“The thing that sticks out with me is his consistency over his 10 years,” said Tony Neely, a UK media relations director who participated in the voting. “Every year we won a lot of games.”

Smith is the only coach in UK history to win an NCAA National Championship in his first year of coaching.  Also in his first year at UK, Smith won the SEC regular season championship and the SEC Tournament.

Smith and the 1998 team set a new NCAA record that year for the most wins by a coach in his initial season at a school with 35 wins, according to Tom Wallace’s “The University of Kentucky Basketball Encyclopedia.”

Smith won 76 percent of his games during his 10 years at UK.

Smith reflected on his first season in the Bluegrass fondly.

“That team that won the national championship was obviously pretty memorable,” Smith said.

Smith noted the significance of other season beyond his first national championship.

“I thought the team that won 26 in a row was an excellent team, with Chuck Hayes, Gerald Fitch and Erik Daniels,” Smith said. “I thought that was a pretty special group.”

That team, from 2002-03, had the best winning streak in the nation with the 26-game run during the 100th season of UK  basketball.

Smith also led the Cats to one national championship, five SEC regular season championships and five SEC Tournament championships during his tenure.

Smith was a three-time Associated Press SEC Coach of the Year, a two-time Coaches SEC Coach of the Year, and three-time National Coach of the Year in 1998, 2003 and 2005.

“He took players who had outstanding ability and was able to make them very sound, fundamental players as well,” Neely said. “I think he had a knack for coaching and guiding players.”

Smith also remembered one particular performance by Tayshaun Prince.

The game was against the University of North Carolina at Rupp Arena on Dec. 8, 2001, and Prince made five 3-pointers in a row to put the Cats up 15-10 in the first few minutes of the half.

The last trey Prince drained from near the center of the court.

“That was an incredible display,” Smith said. “I thought that was something that gave you a sense of ‘Wow.’”

Smith also reflected on his lasting personal impact on UK basketball.

He remembers the plans then-Athletics Director C.M. Newton discussed with Smith prior to hiring him at UK.

“Coach Newton never really talked about being the first black coach. He said, ‘Well you know, Tubby, these people don’t see black or white, they see W’s and L’s,’” Smith said. “Kentucky was going to win, it didn’t matter who ran the program.”

Smith said he felt like he was part of changing the culture at UK.

“I was, I think, a leader in some respect,” Smith said. “But to be the head coach there and be the first African-American coach, that was pretty special.”

Smith sees the honor of the Hall of Fame as a reflection of his team’s accomplishments.

“It wasn’t about me,” Smith said.  “I’ve had the good fortune of continuing Kentucky’s tradition — one of the greatest college basketball programs ever. I feel very fortunate and blessed to have been a part of it.”

To Smith, this recognition stands as his part in continuing the success and tradition of UK basketball.

“That’s what it means to me,” Smith said. “It’s a very humbling award.”