At this point, I likely dont have to tell the loyal blog readers that I am a UK optimist. Second only to UK is my admiration for Tubby Smith, who I think to be the finest man in college basketball and one of the best coaches. And to be fair, I also think he is a fine recruiter, often finding below the radar gems that he molds into top level players. However my interview this past weekend with Oak Hill’s Nolan Smith was a bit distressing.
For those of you that dont know, Nolan is the son of Derek Smith, former Louisville great and is considered one of the ten best players in the Junior class. Smith is likely hindered by the fact that he plays with Junior phenom Michael Beasley, but his game is complete in all ways and he will be a force on the college level. More impressively, Smith is a quality kid who speaks softly and respectfully (even unnecessarily calling me “sir”) and seems genuinely interested in what others have to say (a quality lost on most of these kids).
I have talked to Smith twice in the last two weeks and both times it has been distressing. At the Marshall County Hoopsfest, after the usual pleasantries, I asked him what teams he was considering and he mentioned the usual suspects, along with a few surprises, including Louisville, Duke, UConn, Charlotte and Georgetown . I asked him who his leader was and he said…..”probably Louisville, but I may not go there. My dad went there and I like it ok, but it would be nice to start my own path.” He also made sure that I knew that he was planning on going to college for “the long haul.” Either way, I found the kid very engaging and we agreed to talk the next week in Lexington.
In the interim, someone asked me why Smith wasnt considering Kentucky and I initially found the question silly. Well of course he wasnt considering Kentucky….his dad played for Louisville. But during out conversation the next week, I decided to ask him about the Cats and his answer shocked me. He said, “I have never heard from Kentucky which is weird. I actually like Kentucky a lot and really like Tubby Smith. I want to talk to them, but they havent contacted me. Maybe they think I will just go to Louisville, but I really dont get it.” His interest seemed genuine to me, and I came away surprised.
I am not a Chicken Little. I dont think the sky is falling. But if this staff has not even taken the time to contact a Top 10 kid who has expressed interest in the program, I find that a bit disconcerting. Many folks likely felt, as I did, that it was a done deal that Smith was headed to Louisville. But after speaking with him, I genuinely think he is open. Is he open for UK? Well he says he is, but even if he isnt, you have to at least pursue the possibility. I found this conversation a bit disturbing, and hope it is a staff oversight and not a distinct pattern. This kid is top-notch…..great player and better person. I hope we dont let players like him fall through the cracks, without even giving our best effort.