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Underrated Tubby Smith

SPECIAL TO ESPN.COM

I have always been impressed with Tubby Smith. He came up the coaching ladder over the years, and was certainly vital in the success of the Kentucky program when he was an assistant under Rick Pitino on one of the greatest staffs ever assembled.

Think back to a group that was led by Pitino and included Tubby, Billy Donovan, Herb Sendek and Ralph Willard. My friends, Tubby Smith simply loves the arena and enjoys teaching. He takes a ton of heat for a guy who is successful. Think about it, how many members of the coaching fraternity have to deal with the things that he does.

I remember last summer when a booster put out a petition to have the Kentucky coach removed. He took out a full-page ad against Tubby, but that did not matter. It was absolutely a joke.

Just look at Tubby Smith's success over the years. He has led his teams to 13 straight NCAA appearances (two at Tulsa, two at Georgia, nine at Kentucky). His teams have compiled 13 straight 20-win seasons. He has never won fewer than 22 games with the Wildcats in his prior nine seasons.

Tubby Smith also won a national championship, and only a handful of active coaches can enjoy that accomplishment. His 2002-03 team went 32-4 but lost in the Elite 8 to Dwyane Wade and Marquette. His 2004-05 squad also made the Elite 8 before losing to Michigan State in a thriller.

This guy should have a monument put up in his honor for what he has achieved in the toughest situation in America. Fans in Lexington have been unrealistic at times. His teams are always competitive in the SEC.

This was supposed to be the year that people were jumping all over Kentucky. Many naysayers did not have the Wildcats in the Top 25 in the preseason. Tubby Smith goes to work every day, going through tapes, evaluating players and scouting opponents, analyze situations and teach his team.

You have never heard Tubby Smith make excuses or alibis. He never cries or whines … he simply coaches and his team always performs to the maximum of their ability.

This is a multi-talented Kentucky team, though it is not up to the standards of some of the clubs in the 90s. This club has work ethic, plays hard on the defensive side guarding people, and hopes to have enough on the offensive side to get to the winner's circle. Randolph Morris is solid in the middle while Ramel Bradley and Joe Crawford has been adequate on the perimeter.

The Wildcats have warmed up after a 4-3 start. You have to like wins over Indiana, Louisville, Massachusetts and Santa Clara, demonstrating that Tubby gets the most from his kids.

Nobody deserves more support than Tubby. He is always evaluated and scrutinized like every game is a final exam. Here's a salute to Mr. Smith in the new year. His club will find a way to make it 14 straight NCAA tournament trips for its mentor.

Dick Vitale coached the Pistons and the University of Detroit before broadcasting ESPN's first college basketball game in December 1979. Send him a question for possible use on ESPNEWS.

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