Thursday, March 21, 2002

Tubby softens; UK wins

Coach clapping more, yelling less

The Associated Press

        LEXINGTON — Kentucky coach Tubby Smith turned on the encouragement last week as he guided the Wildcats to two impressive victories and a berth in the Sweet Sixteen.

        Smith, known more for his bug-eyed, angry stare than his compassion on the sidelines, has taken to smiling and clapping — even when a player makes a mistake — as a way to get his team to play to its potential.

        After a chaotic regular season, Smith decided it was time to change his approach for the 22-9 Wildcats.

        Now it's on to the East Regional semifinal, where the Wildcats will take on No.1 seed Maryland (28-4) Friday.

        “You get to a point where you try a lot of different things with players and you figure out what's going to be most effective,” Smith said Wednesday. “This is a team that's been beat down and has had a lot of distractions. We needed something positive, so I figured it better start with me.

        “I needed to just put some things behind me, because they were probably more distracting to me than to the players. They get over things a lot quicker than I do.”

        Smith opened the season saying this year's team had more talent than any he'd ever coached. He since has called the season his most difficult in 20 years.

        He has had to endure Marvin Stone's transfer to rival Louisville, multiple suspensions of key players for disciplinary reasons and the forced resignation of the school's athletic director, Larry Ivy.

        All of those things, combined with the team's erratic play on the court, had Smith even more frustrated than normal as his team entered the postseason.

        “I just felt like I needed to refrain from allowing that type of stuff to change my personality and make me do and say and react negatively,” he said.

        “That's why you see me smiling and clapping and saying, "It's all right. Get 'em next time.'”

        Smith said he's still getting used to the calmer, more laid-back style.

        “That's not easy to do, man,” he said with a chuckle. “It's tough. I have to catch myself — consciously. And I have to tell the other coaches: "Sit down and shut up. You guys just clap.'

        “I have to do it for the whole team and the staff, too. It's a kinder, gentler Blue Nation now.”

        Senior Tayshaun Prince, who scored a career-high 41 in the victory over Tulsa, said the players have responded to Smith's burst of positiveness.

        “Everybody is really comfortable right now — you can see it on their faces and in the way they are playing,” Prince said. “Now, everybody's keeping a positive attitude, and it starts with him. He's the leader.”

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- Tubby softens; UK wins
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