Kentucky is the only ranked college basketball team scheduled to play Friday. The Wildcats’ opponent is High Point, a team they’re favored to beat by 26. So if there were ever a day to focus on family, football and fireworks, this is it. But, that said, a cool scene will unfold inside Rupp Arena just before tipoff.
UK is retiring a jersey in Tubby Smith’s honor.
Smith, of course, is now the coach at High Point, the school from which he graduated in 1973 after a successful playing career. That same year, he embarked on a coaching career that started at the high school level before eventually taking him to Kentucky, where he became the program’s first black head coach in 1997.
He won the national championship in 1998.
Though Smith never returned to the Final Four after that year, he did guide the Wildcats to 10 straight NCAA Tournament appearances before leaving for Minnesota after the 2006-07 season in part because of how the intense UK fanbase turned on him in a way that was understandable on one hand but really ugly on the other.
Time often heals broken relationships.
Nolan Richardson and Arkansas is one great example. Bob Knight and Indiana have made progress. The way Kentucky fans now feel about Smith can be added to the list. So it’ll genuinely be nice to see the school honor him on the final day of 2021. As I’ve noted many times, any person who can keep the Kentucky job for a decade has, by definition, done well. I know Smith and his family didn’t feel that appreciation from Kentucky fans upon their departure 14 years ago, but they’ll most definitely feel it during this properly planned return.
Kentucky remains No. 22 in Friday morning’s updated CBS Sports Top 25 And 1 daily college basketball rankings. The Wildcats have won three straight since losing at Notre Dame.