High Point University head coach Tubby Smith didn’t play his college ball at an HBCU and has never coached at one, but he has deep ties to them.
“My daughter went to Morgan State. A lot of my high school coaches — when I was growing up at an all-black school — went to Maryland-Eastern Shore, Bowie State,” Smith said. “A lot of my relatives went to those schools. So we grew up around it.”
Smith came down from Maryland and played his college basketball at High Point. The program often played HBCUs during his time as a student-athlete during the early 1970s. Now North Carolina A&T, along with Hampton, are members of the Big South Conference and Smith welcomes the moves.
“We competed against the Winston-Salem States, A&T, Fayetteville State. And I’m happy that the expansion, the re-alignment has given this opportunity to places like Hampton and North Carolina A&T to join the Big South.”
Smith, of course, is best known for leading the University of Kentucky to a national championship. The same school that was lorded over by Adolph Rupp. But Smith was more heavily influenced by legendary WSSU head coach Clarence “Big House” Gaines, whom he considers a personal mentor. In fact, Smith and Roy Williams honored Gaines, who was a native of Paducah, KY at Rupp Arena when he was head coach there.
“He was the original, because he was the the winningest coach in college basketball for a while,” he said. “Not just at Division I, II and III. Then he passed Adolph Rupp.”
Smith would later go on coaching tours with Gaines and other legendary HBCU coaches like Ben Jobe and John McClendon.
“I learned from sitting at the foot of these great pioneers and leaders inn college basketball. Black coaches that I could relate to that looked like me,” he said. “So I was motivated by Nolan Richardson and John Thompson and John Chaney and George Raveling. Those were the few black coaches that were Division I coaches back then.”
Now 70 years-old, Smith is a legend in his own right with 631 coaching victories in a career that has taken him to Georgia, Minnesota, Teas Tech and Memphis before returning to his alma mater.
Tubby Smith and his High Point squad are predicted to finish sixth in the Big South North, which includes both Hampton and A&T. The addition of A&T to the conference means his team will have a new rival just 20 minutes down the road.
“Having them join the Big South adds a lot of depth, a lot of competitiveness. You’re talking to a program that has won multiple conference championships in the MEAC, been to a number of NCAA Tournaments representing that league for years,” he said. “And then the rivalry — they’re right down the street from us — is a healthy one.”