Texas Tech men’s basketball coach Tubby Smith spoke about his new job and how he wants to build the men’s basketball program Wednesday before he met with about 500 Texas Tech boosters at the Amarillo National Center.
Smith, who won the 1998 NCAA national championship with Kentucky, was fired from his head coaching job at Minnesota at the end of the 2012-13 season. He will take over the Tech program from interim coach Chris Walker. Walker had replaced Billy Gillispie, who resigned in September 2012.
■ Amarillo Globe-News: How is recruiting going, and how is the coaching staff coming along?
■ Tubby Smith: We’ve been busy, from the first time I got the job. I’m very grateful to have this opportunity to be here in West Texas and Texas Tech, but at this time we have two guys on our staff, Alvin “Pooh” Williamson and Joe Esposito, that both have ties to this area and to Texas, who have coached here or lived here for a while, so that’s been a big, big help to me.
As far as recruiting, we did sign a young man from New Mexico Junior College, Robert Turner, a 6-1 point guard who we think is going to be very helpful to us. Losing Josh Gray, who had started at the point for the Red Raiders, transferred, so we think we’ve found a good replacement. We just got a commitment from a young man today, Alex Foster (a 6-8 player from Seton High School in Chicago). We’re happy about that. We still have a scholarship or two to fill, and we’re working on that as we speak.
■ AGN: Do you want to build your program up through the high school signing or are you going to have to do a little junior college work to tread the water a little bit?
■ Smith: You find basketball players everywhere. They could be in a lot of different places, high school, prep schools, junior colleges and places. We would certainly like to start here in Texas. It’s a big state with a lot of good athletes.
We’ve had success in the past recruiting some players in the Texas area when I was at Tulsa (1991-95), at Georgia (1995-97), at Kentucky (1997-07). Everywhere I’ve been we’ve had a Texas player in our program either through high school or junior college.
■ AGN: You have one of our local players, Jay Crockett of Clovis, N.M., can you talk about him a little bit?
■ Smith: What I appreciate about Jay is he’s stuck it out. He’s on his fourth coach now in four years, which is amazing. Having said that, he’s got talent. Jay is a guy we’re looking at maybe making that transition to the small forward spot. He’s been a power forward, but I know he’s working hard on his ball-handling, his outside shooting and his passing. He’s one of my favorite people right now because his leadership is going to be critical and has been great in this transition from one coach to the next.
■ AGN: What are your impressions of Lubbock and the West Texas area so far?
■ Smith: It’s an adjustment. We’ve been to a lot of different places. I grew up in a house with 16 other siblings on a farm. I’m sold on Lubbock. I’ve been here a number of times flying to go recruit when I was an assistant coach and as a head coach as well. I know we’re not near the metropolitan area like I was at Athens, Ga., or in Minneapolis, but we understand that the Red Raider nation is not bordered just by West Texas. We feel like we can convince and sell that this is a great place to live, a great place to get an education, a great place to raise a family and a great place to play basketball. We think we’re in the right place at the right time here at Texas Tech.
■ AGN: What are some things you want to accomplish here in your first year on the job?
■ Smith: You have to create a culture. You have to establish a winning mindset.
It’s been a few lean years, so we know we have to convince our players — we want to play a style. That’s going to be fun. It’s going to be a winning style for our fans and for our administration. So developing that type of mentality. We have a lot of hard workers. If we can get them to have the right chemistry and understand that teamwork is how it’s going to have to get done, then I think we can be very competitive.
■ AGN: You mentioned a fun style of play. What type of basketball should fans expect?
■ Smith: We want to play an up-tempo style. We like to press. We like to run. I have to look at what type of 3-point shooting team we were last year — we weren’t very good. We turned the ball over a lot last year, so we’re going to have to work pretty hard on our ball-handling skills, shooting and our passing. Those are the things that can make it an exciting style of basketball and entertaining for our fans to come watch.
■ AGN: You have a history of building or rebuilding programs. How do you think this job compares to some of the places you’ve been?
■ Smith: It’s tough. This is probably the toughest. I say that because looking at the changes that have taken place here — so many faces that these players have had to adapt to and adjust to. What I appreciate about these young men is how they’ve preserved, and even looking at games they played last year, how hard they played. They didn’t quit. That tells me a lot about their heart and soul, and that they have what it takes to get it done.
■ AGN: What do you think of your facilities at Tech and how that helps recruiting?
■ Smith: We have a probably one of the better areas in college basketball — a 15,000-seat arena. That’s one of the things you have to deal with — how to get fans. We’ve gotta get those folks believing and excited about Red Raider basketball. We still have to improve things. During these transitions, there haven’t been some things done to improve locker rooms, weight rooms. The arena is used for a lot of different things, but there are other facilities we can use on campus until we get that done. I think all those things will take place.
■ AGN: How’d you get the name “Tubby”?
■ Smith: I come from a big family, where I had 12 sisters and four brothers. We didn’t have indoor plumbing until I was 16 years old. So Saturday night, you bathe. When I got in the tub Saturday night, I didn’t want to get out — and I was a little bit chubby, that’s the story I don’t tell. But when I got in the tub, I didn’t want to get out, thus the name “Tubby.”