Tubby Smith conducted a basketball clinic Tuesday during a gathering of the Arkansas Basketball Coaches Association at Hendrix College.

Beyond the X’s and O’s, he taught life lessons.

He gave an example long ago when he began his high school career and how respect goes around and turns around.

In 1974, he cut a Hispanic player, who had just moved in from South America. The player was a good soccer player but not so much in basketball, He explained to the young player why he was cut and what he needed to do to be successful. He was encouraging.

"I loved his determination and he still could be a part of the team," he said.

Twenty-three years later, when Smith became head coach at the University of Kentucky, Smith encountered that player again. He had become an executive with Dell computers and eventually owned a horse farm near Lexington. He had a private jet and a foundation.

Smith had use of that jet and he donated to some of his charitable projects.

"You never know what’s gonna happen in a relationship," Smith told more than 300 coaches at Grove Gymnasium. "With that young man, what mattered was how he was treated after I cut him. People don’t care how you help them until they know how much you care."

Smith, who came from Texas Tech to take over the University of Memphis program earlier this year, has 19 20-win seasons in stints at Tulsa, Georgia, Kentucky, Minnesota and Texas Tech.

"Be good at where you are and you will always have a job," he told the coaches. "Memphis called me because of what I had done at Texas Tech. Texas Tech called me because what I had done at Minnesota and other placese. I’ve never had to compete for a job except my first one at Tulsa. If you don’t do good where you are, don’t expect to move up in this profession or any other profession."

Smith remembers every coach he has played for, including Cecil Short, who talked him into coming out for basketball in the ninth grade.

"You don’t know the impact you have," he said. "Be involved."

Smith said he wanted to be a coach since that ninth-grade year. "I was from a family of 17 and with a family that large, you learn competing in an early age," he said. "Working on a farm, I learned about doing things the right way, a work ethic."

He learned about building a program from the late Frank McGuire, a legendary coach at North Carolina and South Carolina.

He said McGuire taught him many things including how important image is to a program and being able to decide on a style of play and sticking to it while tweaking it.

"I probably have notes from every clinic I ever attended and every playbook I ever had," he said. "You need to do everything in your power to always learn more."

Using players from Hendrix and Lyon College, Tubby showed drills and tips in real time and stop action.

And the way he could explain some complexities of basketball was insight even to basketball novices.

For example:

With the way he employs an aggressive trapping defense, he said most turnovers occur in the post area.

He said in modern college basketball, a good shooter will make 70 to 80 percent of his shots if they are not contested. If they are contested with hands in the face, that percentage drops at least 20 percent.

In practice, he makes every player play every position, including post players playing point guard and vice versa.

"I got that from a conversation I once had from Bill Russell (a Hall of Fame post for the Boston Celtics)," Smith said. "I asked him why he was such a good ballhandler. He told me that his coach (the legendary Red Auerbach) was ahead of his time in making his post players play guard in practice, where they could pick up ballhandling skills.

"And he told me sometimes post players want the the ball and complain about not getting the ball. He told me how when he was put at guard he realized ‘I can’t get you the ball either.’"


Smith has it. And a lot of coaches left Hendrix with a greater perspective of it.

(Sports columnist David McCollum can be reached at 501-505-1235 or david.mccollum@thecabin.net)