HOOSIER SCOOP SAGE TAKE for Saturday, Jan. 12, 2013
The Sage Taker comes out of self-imposed hibernation long enough to relate a quick tale germane to today’s basketball game matching up the nation’s No. 5 and No. 8 teams at Indiana’s Assembly Hall.
It’s about how Tubby Smith was really nice to two kids he didn’t know, when he really didn’t have to be.
Tubby, presently during a superb job coaching Minnesota’s Gilded Rodentia, er, Golden Gophers, was coaching Kentucky back in 2004 when the story commences.
The annual Indiana-Kentucky high school basketball All-Star series was conducting its Indianapolis game up at what was then called Conseco Fieldhouse. I had begun my nine-year hiatus from the H-T sports department a couple of summers earlier, so I was attending the gameas a fan, and brought both of my sons along.
As Alex, Evan and I came up to the main Conseco entrance, I was preparing to hold the door for the boys and looked up to see Tubby Smith walking right behind us, with some of his UK staff, including his son Saul. Tubby and I made eye contact, and he stuck out his hand. He and I had previously talked more than once when I was covering Indiana’s Hoosiers in games with Kentucky, so he knew me well enough to say hello.
And he could have just said hello and moved on, and that would have been fine, and what I would have expected. But he stopped. We shook hands and made some quick introductions. Alex and Evan were adorned with IU apparel, which has long been their wont, and Tubby said they “looked sharp.”
Tubby then crouched so he could speak to my boys eye-to-eye. He conversed with them for a couple of minutes. About basketball. About the fine weather conditions. About what it was like to coach at Kentucky. About sundry things.
And Tubby Smith absolutely could not have been any nicer to a pair of boys bedecked in IU gear he had just met. And smiling all the while, he finally gave them high fives, and stood back up to hold the door for them.
I’ve seen IU’s Tom Crean do the same sort of thing many times. Among Crean’s many attributes is that, while he’s very good to the public in general, he seems especially good with kids.
It’s the sort of thing not every big-time coach does. But the good ones do.
I’ll think about that today when watching Tubby’s team play today in what shapes up as a terrific game, as I do every time I see one of his teams play. I’ll recall how “starry-eyed and laughing,” to borrow Dylan’s phrase, my boys were after their encounter with him.
And I’ll still be grateful.