LEXINGTON – December 31, 2021 – DAVID LEVERIDGE
Prior to today’s matchup with the High Point University Panthers, a familiar name to the Big Blue Nation was given a huge honor with his name immortalized in the Rupp Arena Rafters. Orlando “Tubby” Smith was the head coach of the University of Kentucky’s men’s Basketball team for ten seasons from 1997 to 2007, and in coach Smith’s first season won the 1998 National Championship. Coach Smith was a beloved figure in the Lexington community and today’s ceremony is the first name Rupp Arena has raised to the Rafters in several years.
During Smith’s Tenure as the Head coach of the Wildcats his teams won an average of twenty-two games per year and had an overall winning percentage of .760. Coach Smith’s team won the 1998 National Championship in his first season as the Team had memorable wins against Duke University in the Elite 8, Stanford University in the Final Four and defeated the University of Utah Utes for the Championship.
Coach Smith’s teams won five regular season SEC Championships (1998, 2000, 2001, 2003, and 2005). Coach Smith also won five SEC Tournament Championships (1998, 1999, 2001, 2003 and 2004). Smith’s teams went to six NCAAB Sweet Sixteen appearances (1998, 1999, 2001, 2002, 2003, and 2005). Smith’s team also went to four Elite 8 appearances (1998, 1999, 2003 and 2005). Smith was named SEC Coach of the Year three times (1998, 2003, and 2005). Smith also won National Coach of the Year in both the Associated Press and Naismith Coaches Poll in 2003. Coach Smith is a very accomplished and beloved coach and continued the success of coaching the Wildcats from his predecessor Rick Pitino.
Coach Smith impact in the Lexington area is remembered for not only his coaching but the difference he made in the community. Coach Smith helped establish the Tubby Smith Foundation and created Tubby’s Clubhouse a popular hangout for underprivileged youth in the Lexington area and funded the clubhouse for three years after his departure from the University of Kentucky in 2007.
While Coach Smith was an outstanding coach, however he did face scrutiny from the Big Blue Nation. Smith’s was a defensive minded coach and his style of play greatly differs from current UK Coach John Calipari and his fast- paced offense. Although Smith was a great coach fans become disgruntled with his style of play and his inability to recruit the nation’s most coveted five- star recruits or being able to get his teams back to the Final Four. The Tubby teams of the late ninety’s through mid- two thousand were competitive but did lack the swagger of a good Kentucky team under Coach Calipari. The disgruntled fan base and unrealistic expectations eventually become too overwhelming and helped contribute to Smith’s departure from the program in the Spring of 2007.
Coach Tubby Smith as a head coach has an overall record of 637 wins and 361 defeats with a winning percentage of .638. Coach Smith first coached for the University of Kentucky as an assistant coach from 1989- 1991 under his predecessor Rick Pitino. Following his time as an assistant coach, Coach Smith landed his first head coaching job, Coaching Tulsa University from 1991 to 1995. In 1995 Smith become the head coach of the University of Georgia Bulldogs from for two years 1995- 1997 before taking over the helm at the University of Kentucky in 1997. Following his time at Kentucky Smith was hired as the head coach of the Minnesota Golden Gophers, coaching the Golden Gophers from 2007- 2013. Smith then coached the Texas Tech Red Raiders from 2013 to 2016. Smith’s next job was at the University of Memphis for two seasons 2016- 2018. Coach Smith latest job is at his alma mater where he played College Basketball, High Point University. Coach Smith has been the coach of High point from 2018 to the present.
Coach Smith was accompanied at center court by his family wife Donna, sons Saul and GG Smith. Several of Tubby’s former players including Jeff Shepherd, Cameron Mills, and Lukas Orbzut also joined the Smith family on the court for the ceremony. Congrats to Coach Orlando Tubby Smith on your enshrinement into the Rupp Arena Rafters. It’s been a long-time coming coach and the Big Blue Nation welcomed you with open arms and a loud ovation. The Honor is well deserved, and you will always be a part of the Big Blue!