Tubby Smith

High Point coach Tubby Smith reacts during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game against Michigan State, Wednesday, Dec. 29, 2021, in East Lansing, Mich. Michigan State won 81-68.

Tubby Smith belongs in the Rafters of Rupp.

The former Kentucky and current High Point coach will finally receive the recognition he deserves when a jersey is retired in his honor Friday prior to his team’s contest against the Wildcats.

One of his predecessors — current Kentucky coach John Calipari — will be cheering him on loudly when Smith stands on center court at Rupp Arena for the first time since he was last introduced as Kentucky’s coach at the end of the 2006-07 season.

“We wanted this moment for him,” Calipari said Wednesday night. “The job that he did, part of it is you want guys like him and Coach (Joe B.) Hall to really understand how appreciated they are by our fanbase. What they did while they were here, winning national titles, doing it with class, Tubby deserves to be in the rafters.”

 

Sitting in a seat that Adolph Rupp once occupied and made legendary, Smith won a national championship in his first season at the helm in 1998, the final leg of a successful run that included two national titles and a runner-up finish in a three-year period from 1996-98. 

In his first season, Smith, the first black men’s basketball coach in school history, was tasked with replacing Rick Pitino, who revived a program that had fallen on hard times when the program was placed on probation and barely escaped the proverbial death penalty following recruiting violations during the 1988-89 season.

Using holdovers and key players from the 1997 squad, Smith followed the blueprint established by Pitino and led the Wildcats to their seventh national championship.

It’s been more than 14 years since Smith bolted the Bluegrass for Minnesota, followed by a brief stint at Memphis, before settling at High Point, his alma mater. As expected his teams have been competitive and he has given his all for a program that gave him c chance as a player and led to his career profession.

 

Following Kentucky's 83-56 win over Missouri Wednesday night, Calipari cautioned Smith's squad, who lost to Michigan State 81-68 on Wednesday night, won't be an easy task.

"Don't think, oh, this is just another pushover game," he said. "No, it isn't. And you all know how good a coach he is. You know what kind of defensive coach he is. Elbows and blocks and physicalness. He's got two really good guards. One scores 21 a game and the other shoots threes at 45% and he lets them go." 

 

Much like former Kentucky coach Joe B. Hall, Smith has been more appreciated by the fan base since leaving his post and history suggests that Smith will be remembered as one of the best coaches in school history.

“The biggest thing is I want is that he and his wife and the kids to understand that this place, these fans, this school, this state, absolutely appreciate what he did while he coached here,” Calipari said.

The school is doing the right thing for a coach who did things the right way during his tenure as coach of the Wildcats.

Gametracker: High Point at Kentucky, noon, Friday. TV/Radio: SEC Network, UK Radio Network.

Keith Taylor is sports editor for Kentucky Today. Reach him at Keith.taylor@kentuckytodaycom and via twitter at keithtaylor21.

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