Tournament Time is Tubby Time in Minnesota


tubby smith

By Paul M. Banks

MILWAUKEE- Orlando “Tubby” Smith is entering his second NCAA Tournament (and third year) as the leader of the Minnesota Golden Gophers. Despite reaching the second round on 14 prior occasions during his career, he has to win a tourney game with the Gophs. Is this the year?

On Sunday a reporter asked how the team could do in the tourney this year, given how much they learned from making the big dance last year.

“…Not just the experience from last year’s NCAA Tournament, I think we’d play well in the NCAA Tournament. We’re never going to have to play four games in a row again, so right away I could see the fatigue on us, either mental, this is the second that I’ve coached in, one back at Kentucky, and it’s a challenge. That wall, it’ll hit you at a certain point in time, and you’re hoping that other guys will step up and make plays. I know Blake, he’s probably completely dead. His shot I don’t think was barely getting to the rim, stuff like that, because he’s having to work so hard,” he said. tubby smith

Smith has the 8th highest winning percentage among active coaches, and he has a national championship, 4 elite eights and 10 sweet sixteens to his credit. However, Twin Cities tourney bids haven’t been all that common until Tubby showed up (especially with program naughtiness vacating those great seasons in the mid to late 90s). Expanding the field would get Minnesota, annual bubble dwellers into the big dance more often. And it would make things easier for coaches in general. Tubby gave the stock coach answer when asked about expansion.

“I’ve been in favor for a while. I think it’s a great — one of the greatest sporting events in the world, and certainly here, and I think I mentioned before, there was 340-some Division I schools, and that’s been expanded — we keep expanding there, but we haven’t expanded the tournament. Aggregate, make sure you expand and allow some more student-athletes to have a chance to experience this wonderful atmosphere of March Madness,” he said.

Since Tubby took over the team went from 8–22 in 2006–07 to 20–14 in 2007–08. Smith also led his Golden Gophers to the Big Ten Tournament semi-finals after defeating 2nd seeded Indiana that year. Coach Smith then netted a top 25 recruiting class, the best in MANY years for the program. Last year, Tubby led Minnesota to a record of 22–11, and a berth in the NCAA tournament.

Last week Tubby redeemed Minnesota’s mediocre, up and down season during the Big Ten Tournament, with 3 wins in 3 days (one in overtime over Michigan St.) to advance to Minnesota’s first ever appearance in the Big Ten championship game. Smith has a consecutive 20-win season streak of 17 going for him. But for him to show the University and the rest of the state that the rebuilding project he started is moving forward, he needs to win a tournament game. Now. In 2008, Smith had the highest salary of any state employee in Minnesota, and in this venture, ROI=wins in the big dance.tubby smith

Will his vast experience get him there?

“It can be useful, but it’s more important to have good players, and we have some pretty talented players. Colton and Ralph are very talented, big men that are proven now and starting to play their best basketball.

It helps because you’ve been through the wars and because of age, I guess, and longevity and experience in a number of different opportunities. But it’s all about preparation, whether it’s with your staff. That helps, also, because all the guys on the staff have coached in tournament play, and so we draw from all those resources, and it’s been helpful for I think the focus of the team and their mental concentration, probably all starting with — they talk about being a unit, one unit, team work, playing together, playing unselfishly, and those are the things as a coach you work for.” Tubby stated.

Personally, I think the Gophers are getting hot at the right time, and will upset #11 seeded Xavier tomorrow. What about #3 seeded Pittsburgh on the other side of the bracket? Should they get by Oakland of course…well, we’ll see.

And of course, I can’t write an interview feature profile without explaining how he got the name Tubby.

Smith, was born in Scotland, Maryland, the sixth of 17 children born to sharecroppers Guffrie and Parthenia Smith. His large family accounts for his unusual nickname. Of all the Smith children, Tubby was most fond of staying in the galvanized washtub where the children were bathed. Smith says he tried to shake the moniker several times, but it stuck incessantly. He recalls that a 10th grade teacher who didn’t tolerate nicknames was the last person to call him by his proper name, Orlando.

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