South Carolina's Kelley defends Smith

One talented Southeastern Conference player doesn't understand the criticism being directed at Kentucky coach Tubby Smith.

One talented Southeastern Conference player doesn't understand the criticism being directed at Kentucky coach Tubby Smith.

South Carolina's Tre Kelley, one of the SEC's best guards, has strong words for those who are blasting the UK coach and calling for his dismissal.

"That's senseless and a shame that people would even say things like that. This guy wins every year," said Kelley. "He sends a team to the NCAA Tournament every year. It is never a problem for him to win.

"They have lost a couple of games the last two years they shouldn't have, but that happens. Tubby will still be one of the great coaches when he finishes his career. For people to be talking about him getting fired as the coach at Kentucky, that's wrong. "He is one of the best coaches in the country, and has been since he got to Kentucky. He has SEC championships. He has a national championship. For people to say that is just wrong. He proved to whatever doubters he had -- and I don't think he should have any -- that he is one of the best coaches in the country."

So other players across the SEC respect the Kentucky coach?

"You have to respect him because of the intensity he brings to the game. He jumps those kids when they are not playing well and they always respond. You want a coach like that," Kelley said.

Kelley has been one player Smith has consistently praised for the way he plays. Kelley says that has meant a lot to him because of his respect for Smith.

"I don't really read the newspapers much, but it is an honor for coach of that magnitude to talk about you like that. It means a lot," Kelley said. "That is a guy who will be an icon, if he's not already, in college basketball. It was an honor to play against him for four seasons and an honor for him to talk about me in the positive level he has. I won't ever forget that."

Don't count Kelley among those, either, who believe UK might not return to a position of prominence in the SEC or on the national level.

"Kentucky is still going to be a powerhouse no matter what. They should always get good athletes and good basketball players," Kelley said. "The competition in the SEC, in regards to the other teams, is a lot better now and those teams also get good recruits because of the SEC's reputation. The talent is catching up with UK, but UK will definitely be a team for the next 20 to 25 years that remains a marquee team. That is not going to change.

"Kentucky is not that far away this year from having had a great season. They just lost too many close games. Coach Tubby Smith is a great coach. He will get them back to being so good that nobody can beat them."

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