Kentucky Basketball: Long overdue Tubby Smith jersey to be hung at Rupp

Coach Tubby Smith of the Kentucky Wildcats (Credit: Todd Warshaw /Allsport)
Coach Tubby Smith of the Kentucky Wildcats (Credit: Todd Warshaw /Allsport) /

It can’t be truly expressed how much love Big Blue Nation has for former Kentucky basketball Orlando “Tubby” Smith thus the greatest honor will finally come true as his jersey will be retired into the rafters of Rupp Arena on New Year’s Eve.

Kentucky Athletic Director Mitch Barnhart announced that when Tubby brings his High Point team to Lexington on December 31 to face his former team the ceremony would take place.

It had previously been teased something was in the works and speculation was growing the reason High Point was on this season’s schedule.

We all watched and for some reason were enamored with Tubby Ball from the 1997-98 season through 2006-07.

Tubby Ball brought something special to Kentucky basketball for 10 seasons

It wasn’t the prettiest thing to watch, but fans didn’t seem to mind. It was a much different style than it is today.

His teams played for the betterment of the whole and the name on the front of their jerseys and not the back as is the case with today’s players.

Probably a large majority of BBN can say many of their favorite players of all time were on Tubby’s squads.

The only frustration was him playing son Saul who didn’t quite receive the same love that dad did. But we can simply leave it there.

If anything describes Tubby it’s consistency.

In his 10 seasons, he guided his teams to at least 22 victories each season, ending up with an overall record of 263-83 (76%).

We watched his teams stumble together, grow together and play together as one.

Those teams won five regular-season Southeastern Conference titles and five SEC Tournament crowns, with at least one coming in seven of those seasons. His teams advanced to the NCAA Tournament in all 10 seasons, including six trips to the Sweet 16, and compiled a 23-9 record (71.9%).

His first team became known as the “Comeback Cats” after the Wildcats rallied night after night and finished 35-4 and UK’s seventh NCAA championship.

It has been a wonder for years why a banner bearing his name had not been hung in the rafters of Rupp being that the man the arena is named after is up there along with fellow coaches Rick Pitino and Joe B. Hall.

Now there will be a 45th banner to hang proudly from the ceiling.

Tubby was surprised by a Zoom call from Barnhart to deliver the news.

Just watching Tubby remove his glasses, wipe his eyes you could feel just how emotional he was and how honored.

"“That’s very humbling. I’m certainly grateful to have had the opportunity to lead that program. Some wonderful people there, wonderful fans. You can’t find better people. They have a passion for the game, not just basketball but for the Wildcats, period. Thank you for doing that. We’re looking forward to it."

You won’t find a more genuine, humble, honest man than Tubby Smith.

There may not be a dry eye in Rupp on that night and I imagine many watching on television that night as well.

In fact, that may be one of the hardest tickets to come by all year even with the football team potentially playing the next day in a bowl game.

Besides Kentucky Smith has also been an assistant to Pitino for two years at Kentucky and head coach at Tulsa, Georgia, Minnesota, Texas Tech, Memphis, and now his alma mater High Point with a record of 631-355.

Another coach who was equally excited by the announcement was John Calipari.

"“Tubby and I have been friends for years. He is so deserving of this honor. He won big here and he did it with class. Tubby impacted so many people in and around this program and he is loved by the players who played for him and by this fan base. I can’t wait to see his banner raised.”"

The excitement is building for the 2021-22 season that begins on Friday with the Blue/White game and a team that is picked to win the SEC and starts the season ranked No. 10 in the AP preseason poll.

If this team is as good as advertised ringing in the New Year will be even more electric when Tubby’s jersey is unfurled.

Bravo Mitch Barnhart and the administration a well-deserved honor. Thank you for making this happen.

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