The NCAA tournament is about to determine another college champion and usually around that time there’s one school that seems to always be in contention. That school is Kentucky, which has two games to play to determine if they will succeed in playing and undefeated season.
Coach Orlando “Tubby” Smith, now with Texas Tech, knows all about Kentucky championships as he won one by going undefeated during the regular season in 1998. This year, he’s being honored by the NCAA at the “Celebration for Champions” for his coaching achievements.
“Last year they honored Nolan Richardson and John Thompson and this year they’re honoring Kevin Ollie and myself,” says Smith. “This honor, we’re having the ceremony at Crispus Attucks School [in Indianapolis.] I truly appreciate it.”
Indiana’s recently passed Religious Freedom Restoration Act has made things difficult in Indiana, where the men’s Final Four is being held. Connecticut’s governor placed a ban on travel to Indiana for state employees and UConn went along. Ollie, UConn’s head basketball coach, will not be attending the event he’s being honored at.
“Being here in Indianapolis, you can’t do that. You just can’t pass a bill like that.”
Smith, of course, is picking Kentucky to win it all, after spending 10 years there as a head coach.
“John Calipari is a outstanding coach. He’s put together one of the best teams I’ve ever seen in college basketball,” says Smith. “At the college level, there are 65 schools at the power conferences so those are 65 coaches that need to produce right away. Basketball on most campuses at the college level is the second most revenue-producing program.
So to try to make ends meet someone has to pay for women’s softball and hockey and volleyball. Someone has to carry the freight and men’s basketball and football has done that. Then all the TV revenue that’s generated from the Final Four is used to run every championship at the Division 1, 2, and 3 levels. So this is a cash cow, this Final Four.”
Smith, 63, must be imparting the same lessons at home as he does on the basketball floor as all three of his sons have followed him into coaching. He attributes his success to his parents, who raised him with 16 sibling. His nickname, he says comes his love of baths a a child, although his family says it’s because he was a little chubby. Whatever the truth of the family lore, Tubby has stuck.
“I tried to get rid of the name Tubby, but as a star athlete it became moniker. So I was stuck with the name Tubby.”
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