National championship-winning coach Tubby Smith to be honored by Kentucky basketball

Hayes Gardner
Louisville Courier Journal
Tubby Smith led Kentucky over Utah for the NCAA men's college basketball championship on  March 30, 1998.

A banner commemorating the 1998 Kentucky men's basketball NCAA championship hangs from the rafters of Rupp Arena, and beginning on the final day of 2021, the coach who led the Wildcats that season will be honored, too.

Tubby Smith will return to Lexington to coach against the Wildcats on New Years Eve of this year, and when he does, the school will hang a jersey with his name on it in Rupp Arena, UK athletic director Mitch Barnhart announced Tuesday.

Smith, who coached Kentucky from 1997-2007, is now the coach at High Point, his alma mater, which will face UK this season.

“There’s 44 banners in the rafters, and I’m gonna tell you that on Dec. 31, there’s gonna be 45,” Barnhart told Smith virtually on LEX18’s BBN Tonight. “We’re gonna add one Tubby Smith to the rafters.”

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Smith was named the national coach of the year in 2003 after leading the Wildcats to a perfect conference record and was named the SEC coach of the year three times. He led the Wildcats to six Sweet 16s and four Elite Eights during his time in Lexington.

He’s coached seven D-I teams, also including Tulsa, Georgia, Minnesota, Texas Tech and Memphis.

“That’s very humbling,” Smith, 70, said of being honored in Rupp Arena. “I’m certainly grateful to have had the opportunity to be in that program. Some wonderful people there, wonderful fans. You can’t find better people.”

National champion coaches Adolph Rupp, Joe. B Hall and Rick Pitino have all been enshrined in Rupp, and now Smith, the last of UK’s former title-winning coaches, will be as well. He’ll join dozens of former UK players, as well.

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“A national championship coach, a national coach of the year, a gentleman who is just a gentleman of gentlemans and brought so much class, honor and excellence to this court,” Barnhart said of Smith.

Barnhart told Smith that he could have whoever he wanted attend the ceremony, and Smith, one of 17 children, joked that it may be difficult to get tickets for everyone.

“It’ll be an empty town in Scotland, Maryland,” Smith said of his hometown.

Hayes Gardner can be reached at; Twitter: @HayesGardner.