This story is featured in the Fall 2018 edition of the HPU Magazine. NCAA Championship-Winning Coach Tubby Smith has returned to HPU. Read of his journey back home below.
He waited backstage behind a heavy curtain — the only barrier between him and the sounds of celebration booming from the audience.
Packed inside High Point University’s Hayworth Fine Arts Center, hundreds of HPU students, alumni, faculty, staff and members of the community rose to their feet.
The pep band fired up the fight song, and cheerleaders took to the aisles fueling the crowd’s energy.
President Nido Qubein stood at center stage. Clapping along with the crowd, he looked behind the curtain and raised his arms in welcome.
“I’m proud to introduce you to the new men’s head basketball coach, the man that HPU has honored as a Hall of Famer: Coach Tubby Smith,” he said.
And with Qubein’s signal, Smith took the stage.
“Tubby Smith is a nationally admired, transformational coach whose career brings honor to HPU as a distinguished alumnus,” Qubein told the crowd. “HPU’s path of excellence, anchored by stellar faculty, innovative academic programs, new schools and teaching facilities, is leading the way toward a promising future for students from all over the world. We are excited to welcome both Tubby and Donna back home to HPU.”
Smith saw the audience, heard the cheers, embraced Qubein, and he knew.
He was back with his family.
Tubby Smith was home.
YOU CAN COME HOME
Orlando “Tubby” Smith, a native of Scotland, Maryland, and the sixth of 17 children, came to High Point in 1969 at the advisement of his father, Guffrie Smith.
Guffrie Smith was a Methodist with strong values, and he raised his children to be the same.
When Guffrie Smith stumbled upon recruitment materials from High Point, a school that proudly proclaims and upholds the values of God, family and country, he told his son, “You’re going to High Point.”
Little did he know how prophetic his words would become.
Smith found the university to be a friendly place when he arrived, but he also became homesick. He called his father to tell him about his loneliness. Guffrie Smith was unfazed by his son’s subtle hints to leave HPU.
“You can’t come home,” he told his son. “Your bed has already been taken.”
Soon after, Smith found his place on the men’s basketball team and earned the reputation of a hard worker and natural leader.
Smith started all four years, became team captain and averaged 15 points per game during his four-year career. In 1973, Smith graduated with All-Conference honors and has been recognized by HPU as the school’s seventh all-time leading scorer with 1,589 points.
At HPU, he developed friendships that transcended the game of basketball and even met his wife, Donna. The couple married after college and are proud parents to their four children.
Smith went on to begin what turned into a highly successful coaching career, garnering 597 wins in 27 seasons as a Division I head coach, 18 NCAA Tournament appearances, nine Sweet Sixteen trips and the 1998 national championship with Kentucky.
He’s one of only two head coaches to take five different schools to the NCAA Tournament and has been recognized with the John R. Wooden Legends of Coaching Award.
While Guffrie Smith was right about a lot of things, he was wrong about Smith’s option to come home.
Smith can and has come home — home to HPU.
“I am so blessed to have this opportunity,” Smith says. “It is so gratifying and exciting to be able to return to High Point to lead the basketball program into a new era. My staff and I are ready for the challenge.”
There’s no denying that Smith is a transformational coach, making him the perfect match for HPU.
After all, the university knows a thing or two about transformation.
HPU BASKETBALL’S HARDWOOD HOME
HPU has seen extraordinary growth since 2005 under the leadership of another transformational leader, HPU alumnus and current president, Dr. Nido Qubein.
And the growth is far from over. As Qubein likes to put it, “We are just getting started.”
Soon the university will open the Nido and Mariana Qubein Arena, Conference Center and Hotel — HPU’s single largest undertaking at $120 million. The facility will seat 4,500 spectators inside the arena, include a conference center that can hold 2,500, and house a small, executive hotel.
The hardwood home to HPU basketball will be known as the Donna and Tubby Smith Court, a symbol of the Smith family’s generosity and stewardship to the university.
“It’s going to help us greatly in recruiting once it is up and running, and our students, alumni and community will have an outstanding place for 4,500 people to gather,” Smith says. “There is no question once we get recruits to campus, they are going to realize that this is the best campus in the country and the direction of the university is far superior to a lot of colleges.”
Expedited construction began in summer 2018 along Lexington Avenue between Panther Drive and University Parkway, a location that allows central campus to remain the main hub of activity for students, staff, faculty and the community.
As for the men’s basketball team that will occupy the arena, Smith says he’s ready to get to work.
“We want to build this team into one that competes for the Big South championship and one that the High Point community can be proud of.”
SUPPORT FOR SMITH
The HPU family and High Point community have quickly come to appreciate Smith’s presence on campus.
Soon after the announcement, HPU hosted “Tubby Time,” an opportunity for students and the community to meet and hold a Q&A session with Smith.
The turnout was immense. Hundreds came to the event, bringing questions that ranged from his values as a coach to what kind of support he’d like to see from the community.
“Show up at games, be loud and be rowdy,” Smith answered to a round of applause. “And stay on those guys in the striped shirts.”
“Coach Smith was great, giving thoughtful and thorough answers to everyone who asked questions,” said Kevin McMahon, an HPU senior in attendance. “He spent time with everyone and couldn’t have been nicer. His hiring has brought a new energy that can be felt around campus. To have an alumnus as the coach, one that has the experience of Coach Smith, is so special.”