Minnesota coach Tubby Smith may have been the least effective coach at the Kingwood Tournament this weekend, not because he has suddenly lost the ability to evaluate players, but because nary a minute would elapse without a fan, friend, fellow coach or other well-wisher dropping by to shake hands and chat with the former Wildcats coach.
"I certainly don't mind," Smith said, "I have been very fortunate to make a lot of friends over time and it's pleasing that they all want to say hello. The least I can do is spend a minute or two with them."
"You know, it's like I have been telling a lot of people," Smith continued, "You can never retire from Kentucky basketball. Once you have been at Kentucky it follows you wherever you go. There is not a day that goes by where there is not some reminder of my time there, and that is pretty special. It says a lot about the recognition of the name ‘Kentucky.'"
Smith was relaxed and casual in the Legends Center in Houston taking in one AAU game after another as he reflected a little on his career at Kentucky, "You know this is the ten year anniversary of our 1998 NCAA Championship down in San Antonio," Smith said, "that was a life changing experience for me and the players on that team. It was a very special year for me. I am not sure an experience like that can be repeated. That was a great team. All the guys just put everything together and played as a unit. It was one of those teams where no one cared who got the credit. They just wanted to go out and win basketball games, and they did."
Of his decision to leave, Smith said, "You know time moves on and change is inevitable. I am certainly not getting any younger and I don't think I was going to be setting any records there. I really thought the time for change had come for myself as well as the program. I know it seemed abrupt but after talking it over with my family, we really felt that the time was right."
"The atmosphere is Kentucky for basketball is something no one can prepare for," Smith added, "You can say you understand it and can deal with it, but you can never really know until you experience it. Fans there are incredible. Their knowledge of the game is extraordinary. They expect a lot and they should. Where I am at the atmosphere is really different. Not better or worse, but different. It takes some getting used to."
Smith was also quick to praise his successor, "Coach Gillispie will be all right. He handled a tough situation really well. They need to get over their injuries. Coming into a new situation in a place like Kentucky and having to deal with all of that and then the injuries on top of it had to be tough. When he gets everybody healthy down there he is going to be just fine. He brings a lot of skills to Kentucky. I wish him the best."