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Sacrifices lead to prime opportunity for G.G. Smith

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Moving around has always been a big part of new Loyola basketball coach G.G. Smith's life.

As a child whose father, Tubby, was a rising star in the college basketball coaching ranks, Smith spent time growing up in college towns like Columbia, S.C., and Lexington, Ky., as well as cities like Tulsa, Okla., and Richmond, Va. As an adult, Smith often took jobs based on where his wife, Lorie, was completing her post-graduate work as she built her career as a physician.

Smith left a graduate assistant coaching job at Kentucky — and the coaching business entirely — when his wife did the first year of her residency at the University of Hawaii. He then returned to Division II Armstrong Atlantic State when she finished her residency in Savannah, Ga., and wound up in Baltimore in 2006 when she received a pediatric nephrology fellowship at Johns Hopkins.

"I just knew that her career was really important, and I knew with my ties in this business and with my family in basketball, I could always get back in it," Smith said last week at Reitz Arena. "We made a choice, we were going to follow her career. I figured that when she got done [with her post-graduate work], she would have options being a doctor when I would have to make those coaching moves."

It was during his first few weeks in Baltimore that Smith called Jimmy Patsos at Loyola about a job. The coaching staff was filled — as were the staffs of Gary Williams at Maryland and Pat Kennedy at Towson, who Smith also went to see. Smith spent the year as a substitute teacher in Baltimore County while also helping longtime basketball coach Bill Nelson at Division III Johns Hopkins.

Patsos called the following spring, offering Smith a position.

"I knew about Loyola because of their poor record," Smith said. "When I got on campus, I couldn't believe how nice the campus was and how great a school it was, looking from the outside. When I first got here, I didn't realize how long I was going to be here. But the longer I stayed here, the more I thought, 'This could be home for me.'"

That belief is even stronger now that Smith, 36, has been hired to succeed Patsos, who recently left for Siena College in upstate New York. Smith's role in Loyola's resurgence, including its first NCAA tournament appearance in 18 years in 2012 and back-to-back seasons with 20 wins or more the past two years for the first time as a Division I program, factored into him getting the job.

Smith is three years younger than his father was when he got his first head coaching job at Tulsa. Having seen what his father has endured after winning a national championship at Kentucky in 1998 — including being fired at Minnesota last month and quickly getting a job at Texas Tech — the younger Smith is not beyond his first season as a head coach.

"I just enjoy the coaching, the teaching part of it," Smith said. "When I was at Hawaii and wasn't part of a team, it really hurt. I just like being part of a team, being part of a family. My dad always gives me advice, 'Just handle everything with character and class.' He's the most genuine person in the business. He does things the right way, truly the right way, that's the way I was taught, that's the way I am going to do things here."

Tubby Smith said that he often took the family into consideration when he was contemplating his own college coaching opportunities. There were also a few NBA teams that pursued Smith after he coached Kentucky to the national championship , but he didn't think it would be fair to move again until his youngest son, Brian, finished high school.

When the younger Smith was approached about a couple of higher profile assistant jobs while at Loyola — including by Shaka Smart after Virginia Commonwealth went to the Final Four in 2011 — Tubby Smith told him to hang around in the event that Patsos, a former longtime Maryland assistant, left for another head coaching job. Tubby Smith said that as Patsos' reputation grew, so did the credibility of the younger Smith.

"Jimmy Patsos gave him a lot of responsibility and that always helps," Tubby Smith said. "It's great when a coach pushes you and trusts you and shares the limelight with you and Jimmy did that as well as anyone. Jimmy wanted G.G. to stay longer and Jimmy did a very good job of preparing G.G. to take over that program."

Said the younger Smith, "I am happy to have this opportunity…I can see being here for a long time."

The elder Smith said that he wouldn't be surprised if that happens. Recalling a comment his daughter-in-law made after her husband was promoted — "She said, 'We can get a house now!," Tubby Smith said — the widely-respected veteran coach said that a commitment to raising a family in Maryland is one of his son's priorities.

"I think all schools are looking for that kind of family situation [with coaches] and he fits that profile," Tubby Smith said.

It also doesn't hurt that the younger Smith considers Maryland home. He was born in Southern Maryland, just like his father, when Tubby Smith was coaching where he had played at Great Mills High near the family's longtime home in Scotland. Tubby Smith is one of 17 siblings, many of whom still live in the region.

"When we lived in Richmond and my dad was at VCU, we would go back all the time to see my grandparents and my million cousins," G.G. Smith recalled. "As we moved, it was kind of hard to keep up with those family ties. Since I've been back, I haven't been down there as much as I should. Now that I'm the head coach, I hope my family will come up and watch a few games."

After playing for his father during the elder Smith's last two years at Georgia, and working as a graduate assistant at Kentucky, G.G. Smith said that it was important for him to make his own career path. It was something he learned from his father, who as a child had to compete with his siblings for everything from their parents' affection to the food on the dinner table to staying on the court during pick-up basketball games.

"He always told us, 'Nothing was given to us,'" the younger Smith said. "Just like this business. He made me grind like everyone else, made me work my way up like everyone else."

It seems unlikely that Smith would do what another coaching offspring did recently, when Richard Pitino left Florida International after one season. The son of Louisville coach Rick Pitino, who was once Tubby Smith's boss at Kentucky, Richard Pitino made a quantum coaching leap when he was hired to replace the elder Smith at Minnesota.

Patsos wrote in a text message Saturday: "G.G. is here for the long run. Loves the area. Plus the Patriot League transition will take some time and G.G. [is the] perfect guy for that job. G.G. was an excellent assistant. Steady and loyal. Great at end of game situations. All this will help him continue our winning ways."

Lorie Smith, who works as a medical officer at the Food and Drug Administration in Rockville and as a pediatric nephrologist at the Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, doesn't think her husband gets too caught up in where he is professionally compared to some of his peers.

"Just in general, G.G. is very well-grounded, very humble, very down-to-earth," Lorie Smith said. "He's a very realistic and reasonable person, and a very patient person. All of those things have worked his advantage."

Smith and his family – including 2 year-old Jayna — have settled into Columbia. Lorie Smith, who has known her husband since they were undergraduates at the University of Georgia, said that they have typically put the family first in making his coaching decisions and doesn't expect that to change.

"One of the things that we have probably respected about one another is that we both do important work and we work very hard at what we do," Lorie Smith said. "We knew from the beginning that it would require sacrifices on both of our parts. Each of have sacrificed for the other at different points in our careers. It has worked out well."

don.markus@baltsun.com

G.G. Smith

Age: 36

Coaching Career: Graduate assistant, Kentucky (2000-2002); assistant coach, Tennessee Tech (2002-03); assistant coach, Armstrong Atlantic (2004-2006); assistant coach, Johns Hopkins (2006-07); assistant coach, Loyola (2007-13).

Playing Career: Three-year starter at Georgia and four-year letter winner (1995-99). Third-team all-SEC as a senior holds, holds school-record for games played (129).

Family: Wife, Lorie; daughter, Jayna

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