How Loyola’s men’s basketball coach found his own place on the court
G.G. Smith has known coaching his entire life.
Starting at the age of 3, Smith can remember being on a basketball court.
And how could he not?
His father is expected future Hall of Famer Tubby Smith, the current coach of the men’s team at Memphis and former coach at Kentucky, where he won the 1998 NCAA Championship.
G.G. Smith, 39, has carved out his own path, though, as head coach of the men’s basketball team at Loyola University Maryland.
After a playing career in college at Georgia, he took up coaching, spending time at Tennessee Tech, Armstrong Atlantic State University in Georgia and Johns Hopkins University.
He was hired as an assistant at Loyola under former head coach Jimmy Patsos in 2007, and was elevated to head coach in 2013 after Patsos accepted a job at Siena College.
Now in his fourth year as head coach, Smith has had a chance to recruit his own players and settle in at the Division I program.
Smith has his sights set on a Patriot League title — and more — for the Greyhounds.
What was it like to take over the reigns at Loyola? Was it weird to suddenly be the top guy after being an assistant for so many years? As an assistant you think you have all the answers. Then you get into this seat and you have to make a decision, and you have to stick with it, right or wrong. For me, the transition was making the ultimate decisions. You have three assistants and a director of basketball operations, and you get all kinds of suggestions from both, and you have to pick one. But you have to pick one that fits your personality, your coaching style. [My assistants] know me, they know the guys I want to try to recruit, and they know my style. So that makes it easier.
One of the biggest discussions in college athletics right now is whether schools should pay athletes. Is that something you’re keeping an eye on? Do you talk to your players about it at all? College is changing. But I don’t think athletes need to be right-out paid. You see at bigger colleges they’re getting stipends. We give a stipend to our guys here. It’s a recruiting advantage. But I don’t think we can get to the point where we’re paying players.
What other changes are you seeing in the game? The biggest thing that I’ve seen is social media. Players are different. Recruiting kids is different, personalities are different. When I was playing, if the coach told you to do something you just did it. Today, kids want to know “why.” Even taking for example Colin Kaepernick [who kneels in protest during the national anthem in the NFL]. They see that and they want to have a voice. And as long as your team is together and they’re making a decision together, that’s fine, I’ll always support that.
What about your actual game planning and strategies? Have you changed anything in regards to that? I just ask a lot of questions. I talk to a lot of coaches in the business, I watch a lot of film, I take notes. That’s how you become a better coach. And you just steal from other people. A lot of coaches may think so, but there’s not a lot of [former UCLA coach] John Woodens out here. All coaches try to steal stuff and mix it into their own philosophies. Each team is different, each year is different. Obviously you want to have a foundation. Our foundation is being a great defensive team, being a great rebounding team.
What have you learned so far as head coach? The biggest thing I’ve learned is being patient. You have to be patient. You want to win right away, but it takes time. It’s not going to be done overnight. We’re laying down the foundation here. We have all the right pieces, we have all the ingredients. So we just have to put it all together. Don’t get too high, don’t get too low. Just stay even-keeled.
I would have to imagine that patience would be hard to pass on to players, though. Most of the time they only have four years to be as successful as they can. Kids want instant gratification. They want to play right away. But when you come to college, you’re learning. You’re learning to go to class, how to lift weights, how to eat right. Time management is really, really big. It might take a year. For some guys it might take two years, even though they only have four years. Here at Loyola we know we’re not getting a lot of All-American guys. So it’s a process. It takes time to learn.
Is it difficult to follow in your father’s footsteps? I’m sure there are people who will say that you’re just successful because of your dad’s name. For me, it was different. I was a grad assistant for my dad at Kentucky in the early 2000s. But I never worked for him as an assitant coach. He hasn’t given me anything, I’ve had to work for everything. I worked high school, division II and division III. Being Tubby’s son, I embrace it. I obviously have to do this myself, but it’s great to have someone like Tubby Smith who I can call and use for suggestions. I embrace it, I’m glad he’s my dad. I use him all the time. I use him for recruiting, people know him. If I can be as half as good as he is, I’ll take it. He’s the most genuine person in the game.