The way Ramona Smith remembers it, her big brother Tubby was coaching long before he became a coach. It was back when they were growing up on a farm in Scotland, Md.
There was a dirt basketball court behind the modest, five-bedroom house their father had built after the next-to-last of the family's 17 children was born. The hoop was a bushel basket attached to the corn shed.
"We had our own team," said Ramona Smith, who was six years and five siblings behind Tubby. "Tubby taught a lot of us how to play sports. He was always doing the right thing as far as our parents were concerned."
It's an amazing story. Not just the success of Orlando "Tubby" Smith, the 44-year-old coach who, in his first season at the University of Georgia, has led the Bulldogs to their first appearance in the NCAA tournament's Sweet 16 in 13 years.
Georgia (21-9) will play Syracuse (26-8) tomorrow night at McNichols Arena in Denver in a West Regional semifinal.
The Smith family legacy is quite remarkable in its own right: Guffrie Sr., who won a Purple Heart after being wounded as a machine gunner in World War II and drove school buses in St. Mary's County for nearly 50 years; Parthenia, who stayed home to raise the kids and run the annually expanding household; the children, who now range in age from Cindy, 30, to Guffrie Jr., 54.
Every child graduated from high school, a dozen went to college.
"And nobody ever had to face a judge," said Guffrie Smith, 74, who was forced to retire after quintuple-bypass surgery last fall. "Never had any real confrontations."
There are nurses and teachers, military officers and secretaries. And a basketball coach who supposedly took his nickname because he refused to come out of the bath. Or, as was the case, his grandmother's wash basin. Until Guffrie Sr. built the house in 1963, the Smiths had no indoor plumbing.
"I was told that I was very tubby when I was young, and I had a fondness for the bathtub," Tubby Smith said earlier this week. "But my mother doesn't have any pictures of me being tubby. I tried to get rid of it in high school, but I could never shake it. Or shed it."
Tubby Smith was the sixth-oldest child, the second boy in a family where the males were outnumbered by more than two to one (12 girls, five boys). There wasn't much room in the small farmhouse the family shared with Parthenia's mother.
The lack of space and running water were among the reasons Guffrie Smith decided to build the house on Fresh Pond Neck Road. The abundance of mouths to feed at one point there were 12 kids in the house high school age or younger was why he eventually worked three jobs, including being the local barber.
"Everybody's talking about Ripken, but my father didn't take off a day of work in 49 years," said O'Dell Smith, an insurance agent in Northern Virginia and a major in the field artillery division of the Virginia National Guard. "Now, that's something."
Said Ramona, a college and career counselor at Great Mills High School, "I didn't see my father much. He was always working."
O'Dell Smith said that much of his brother's coaching personality comes from their mother, and off the court he is more like their father. Guffrie Sr. is fairly quiet, but was still a commanding presence in the home. Parthenia was more excitable. "After the 10th kid, I guess her nerves got a little frayed," joked O'Dell.
Tubby Smith said he learned about patience and persistence from his father and from growing up on a farm where he drove a tractor by the time he was 7 and had to get up at 5 every morning to help with the chores. Along the way, Tubby learned something else that became a part of the way he conducted his life.
"He told us that it doesn't cost anything to treat people right," Tubby said. "He taught us it is more important to share and care. He did everything in moderation, otherwise he would not have survived. He was the most patient man I've ever met."
Guffrie Smith still plays a major role in his son's life. He was the voice of reason when Tubby nearly abandoned his dream of becoming a Division I head coach. He was the inner conscience who made Tubby turn down a more lucrative offer from the University of Oklahoma after only three years as head coach at Tulsa, mainly because of the proximity of the schools.
And Tubby's father was the realist who asked him one question last spring, when he was first contacted about the Georgia job. "He asked me, 'How much more money are you going to make?' " recalled Tubby.
Record of success
The success Tubby Smith has had as a head coach, first at Tulsa and now at Georgia, isn't a surprise given his track record. The resume includes being the all-time leading scorer at Great Mills, a good enough player at High Point College to get drafted by the Bullets, a successful high school coach back at his alma mater and an upwardly mobile assistant for 12 years at Virginia Commonwealth, South Carolina and Kentucky, where Rick Pitino named him associate head coach in 1990.
"From the time Tubby was about 12, he would say he was going to be famous and on television someday," said Parthenia.
Smith might not be a well-known name in college basketball yet, but he's getting there. This marks his third straight trip to the Sweet 16. He first came to prominence two years ago, when Tulsa upset UCLA in the opening round before losing to subsequent national champion Arkansas. Last year, the Golden Hurricane beat Illinois and Old Dominion before losing to Massachusetts.
Asked about his accomplishments, Smith said: "You don't have a chance to think about it. Each year, we're working hard to get as far as we can. It's very gratifying; it's very rewarding. But until you read about it or are asked about it, you don't look at it as a big accomplishment. But obviously it is."
The style of ball his teams play "TubbyBall," they call it in Athens, as they did in Tulsa has its roots in the muddy back yard of the Smith house, as well as on the indoor courts at the Patuxent Naval Air Base 10 miles up Route 5. They called it "Drill Hall Ball."
"We're all very competitive," said O'Dell Smith, who plans on being in Denver, as he was in East Rutherford, N.J., last year and in Dallas the year before that. "The style of ball Tubby coaches is very aggressive, tough and knowledgeable. We came up playing guys a lot older than us."
Said Tubby Smith: "As a young kid, that was the place to play. There were five indoor courts, with different levels of play. As you got older, you'd move up."
As he got older, Tubby Smith was something of a local legend. He was all set to go to the University of Maryland in 1969, but a fellow named Lefty Driesell had replaced Frank Fellows and couldn't guarantee his scholarship. Smith's father told him he should go to High Point, because it was offering a full ride and because of its affiliation with the Methodist church to which the family belonged.
"I think he wanted a minister in the family," recalled Tubby. "All I wanted was to play ball."
He had three coaches in four years including J. D. Barnett, for whom he later worked at VCU and succeeded at Tulsa and learned from each of them. He even learned from Driesell in a way. "At the time, I didn't appreciate it, but now as a coach, I realize he did the right thing," said Smith. "I don't know if I could have played at Maryland."
High Point coach Jerry Steele, who coached Smith his senior bTC year, said: "I knew he'd be successful no matter what he did. He was very articulate, could get along with everybody, very advanced socially for a kid that age."
Steele recalls stopping by the Smith home en route to a game at nearby St. Mary's. "I was amazed at the number of people who grew up in the house," said Steele. "But they all came to the game. Just by his family, we had a pretty good rooting section."
The family was, and is, close. When Tubby graduated from High Point in 1972, Guffrie Sr. packed up one of his school buses and took Parthenia and their 16 other kids down to North Carolina. The family still gets together at Camp Brown in Scotland every summer, and, according to O'Dell, "We have 300 to 500 people."
G. G. Smith, a freshman reserve point guard for the Georgia team, said that playing for his father has been great. It is a first-time experience for both, but G. G. Smith said that he hasn't heard anything new.
"He teaches all the players what he teaches at home, the same family values," said G. G., whose first name is also Guffrie and who is one of 35 Smith grandchildren. "He practices what he preaches."
What Tubby Smith also got from both of his parents was a sense of never giving up, of going after a seemingly unreachable goal. It certainly has helped a team of perennial underachievers under former longtime coach Hugh Durham finally reach the expectations heaped upon them coming out of high school.
"I took over a program that was in pretty good shape," said Smith. "It was smooth because of the players we had here already. It's been a real joy. I don't know if you can describe it. It's really special to watch them grow, not only as players, but as young men."
Sort of like what Guffrie and Parthenia Smith did back in Maryland. O'Dell Smith is in the process of writing the family's story, along with Tubby's wife, Donna, and oldest brother Guffrie "Smitty" Smith's daughter, Shelly, a journalism student at Hood College. The spotlight is certainly on Tubby Smith, but the focus of the book will be on the entire family.
"It's a tremendous story," said O'Dell Smith. "Somebody told me we should try to get it on 'Oprah.' "
If the eighth-seeded Bulldogs make their way into next weekend's Final Four in East Rutherford, N.J., Oprah might not be the only one wanting to tell the family's story.
Meet the Smiths
?3 The 17 children of Guffrie and Parthenia Smith:
Guffrie Jr., 54, supervisor in the Calvert County educational system
Mae Helen, 52, former teacher, homemaker
Marva, 49, former gas station owner, homemaker
Zerita, 48, program analyst at Patuxent Naval Air Base
Alberta, 46, nurse
Orlando "Tubby," 44, college basketball coach
Beulah Benita, 43, office manager at Patuxent Naval Air Base
Eugene O'Dell, 41, insurance agent, major in Army reserve
Desiree, 40, teacher's aide
Ramona, 39, high school career counselor
Holly Gail, 38, school secretary
Aaron O'Day, 36, caretaker at Camp Brown
Windy Fay, 35, elementary physical education teacher
Vivian Denise, 34, beautician
Shayne Cornelia, 33, cashier
William Lucas, 31, distribution department at Patuxent Naval Air Base
Cindy, 30, restaurant worker