NICHOLASVILLE (KT) — Tubby Smith was happy to be back in the Bluegrass even if it was for a brief period to time.
“It was fun and we had a good time,” said Smith who played alongside country music star John Michael Montgomery, Kentucky Sports Radio founder Matt Jones, Zac Blair, Stephan Jaeger and Rick Dees in the Barbasol Championship Pro-Am Wednesday. “We had a good time. We played well, but I didn’t play that well but was a lot of fun. It was good to be back to see a lot of friends and a lot of folks. We were playing for charity in this Pro-Am and that’s important.”
As for the course, Smith said it’s in “great shape” and will be up to par when the four-day event tees off Thursday morning.
“It’s great for this community and I can’t say enough about (Barbasol Championship Executive Director) Brooks Downing and his staff for putting this together,” he said. “I’m sure the people will come out, support it and make it a success.”
The former University of Kentucky men’s basketball coach, who led the Wildcats to the school’s seventh national championship in 1998 will be entering his first season at High Point University following a two-year tenure at Memphis.
The visit Wednesday marked the second time Smith was back in Kentucky. He was in Lexington in April for an autograph session with members of his national championship team and reunited with approximately 11 members of his first team at Kentucky.
“It was a lot of fun coaching a great group of young men and it was a special group,” he recalled.
Since leaving Kentucky for Minnesota in 2009, Smith also has coached at Texas Tech before taking over at his alma mater earlier this spring. The move has been a relatively easy transition for Smith and his wife Donna, both of whom are graduates of High Point.
“It’s going well,” he said. “It’s changed a lot. Now we are in the Big South and gave us good representation (in the NCAA Tournament) by Radford University and won a play-in game. It’s a tough league and a very competitive league.”
Smith keeps close tabs on the Wildcats and said current men’s basketball coach John Calipari has done an “unbelievable job” at Kentucky, a post he held for more than a decade before making the move to Minnesota, where turned the Gophers into a contender in the Big 10.
“I’ve been impressed with everything they’ve done,” he said. “They’re going to have a good team again this year.”
The return to Lexington also brought back memories of his time with C.M. Newton, who hired Smith to replace Rick Pitino following the team’s national runner-up appearance in 1997. Smith said Newton was an instrumental figure in his coaching career. Newton passed away last month at the age of 88.
“He was a big part of my career,” he said. “Not just coming back to Kentucky (in 1998) but for pointing me in the right direction to take the Tulsa job (after) being an assistant coach here. He sent me on my way to my first head coaching job and CM Newton told me to take the Georgia job. I (knew) coach Newton and his family for a long, long time and coach against him when I was at South Carolina. We miss him. He was a great man and a treasure to college sports. Not just basketball.”
As for coming back to the place he called home for more than a decade, Smith hopes Downing, extends another invitation for him to play in the event next year.
“I would love to come back and I always come back every chance they invite me,” he said. “I’ve pleased that Brooks Downing reached out to me. Hopefully, I added something good, because I got a lot out of it.”
Keith Taylor is sports editor for Kentucky Today. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or twitter @keithtaylor21.