SI ranks UK's Smith among nation's most influential minorities

June 30, 2004|LARRY VAUGHT

Being the head basketball coach at the University of Kentucky guarantees that Tubby Smith is going to be an influential person in the Bluegrass. However, Sports Illustrated noted last week that Smith's influence extends outside the state.

The weekly sports magazine ranked Smith No. 60 on its list of the 101 most influential minorities in sports.

"In 2004, Smith won his fourth SEC title. An early-round NCAA exit riled rabid UK fans, but a top-ranked recruiting class calmed them down, at least for the time being," the magazine said about Smith.

One of those ranked above Smith in the poll, new Georgia athletics director Damon Evans, thinks the Kentucky coach deserves to be even higher.

"Tubby is definitely a great role model for anyone," said Evans, the first black AD in the Southeastern Conference. "Tubby has done a good job of setting a great standard and being a good example for people. What makes him really good is the fact that he has a lot of integrity and he does things the right way.


"People really appreciate that about him. I know Tubby really well. In fact, I asked him for advice when we were doing our (men's basketball) coaching search for some ideas about good candidates and what he thought about certain individuals. He is someone you can feel comfortable going to with questions because not only is he knowledgeable, but he will also give you good, honest advice."

Evans says Smith always offers to help him in "any way possible" whenever they see each other.

"He's such a humble, appreciative person," Evans said. "I see him not only as a great coach, but as someone who is a good resource for everyone."

Smith's advice helped Georgia pick Dennis Felton as its new coach last year. Felton, the former coach at Western Kentucky, led Georgia to two regular-season wins over the Wildcats last season.

"What I liked about him is that he has good character, great integrity and he focuses on both sides of the equation - athletics and academics - just like Tubby does," Evans said. "That's one thing Tubby told me about him."

Willingham says Smith's influence is far greater than many realize

Tyrone Willingham became the first black head coach at Notre Dame two years ago. He's ranked 22nd in the poll, nine spots above Sylvester Croom, who recently was named the first black head football coach at Mississippi State as well as the first black football coach in the SEC. However, Willingham said Smith's influence is far greater than many realize.

"What you have to understand is that this is not a race issue," Willingham said during The Associated Press Sports Editors meeting in Philadelphia last week. "This is Kentucky basketball. Kentucky basketball is like Notre Dame football. The world wants to know everything about Notre Dame football and Kentucky basketball.

"It doesn't matter if you are black, white, green or brown. That's the responsibility not just to a local region, but to the country because the country follows Kentucky basketball just like it does Notre Dame football."

Willingham says he's known Smith "for a while" and that he's always enjoyed his "casual" conversations with the Kentucky coach. He also appreciates what Smith did his first year at Kentucky when he won the 1998 national championship.

"First of all, it was a tremendous accomplishment no matter how many years you had been coaching or where," Willingham said. "That moment should never be denied. You have a long history of basketball, and any time you can win one, it is precious.

"The fact that Tubby took advantage of that opportunity was a heyday for all of us. But at the same time, you always see a quality man doing a quality job even though everyone has an opinion about what he's doing."

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