LEXINGTON, Ky. (AP) - Tubby Smith was back in Rupp Arena, once again wearing blue. But this time, the outfit was a gown and the title was doctor, not coach.
Smith returned for the first time Sunday to the floor where he spent a decade leading the Wildcat basketball program. He was on hand to get an honorary Doctor of Humanities degree at UK's commencement.
"It is a little bit nostalgic, a little bit emotional," Smith said in an interview with The Associated Press.
A former governor, Paul Patton, received the same degree and a decorated admiral, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Mike Mullen, gave one of the speeches. However, Smith's star power in his old Kentucky home produced the loudest and longest ovation from the graduates and others who attended the ceremony.
Smith, who left the program prior to last season to take the same job with Minnesota, was honored largely for his philanthropic role in the Lexington community.
His Tubby Smith Foundation donated more than $2.3 million to programs for underprivileged children, and he established Tubby's Clubhouse to hone technology skills for low-income, high-risk students.
Although there was rampant speculation after his departure that he left because of a demanding fan base that would accept nothing short of an annual Final Four appearance, Smith said he would love to return to Kentucky someday as a retiree.
"I spent more time here than I have anywhere else in my coaching career," Smith said. "I feel like this is home."
His trip back to the Bluegrass wasn't just for one day. Last week, he was inducted into the Kentucky Sports Hall of Fame in Louisville, and Saturday he made his usual trek to the Kentucky Derby, betting on eventual third-place finisher Denis of Cork.
Smith said he almost didn't attend the Derby this year because the trip for the first time lacked his close friend and longtime UK equipment manager Bill Keightley, who died last month. Ultimately he attended, alongside Keightley's wife, Hazel, and daughter, Karen.
"I really miss the guy," Smith said. "He's here in spirit, I'm sure. He spent as much of his life in this building as anyone."
One stop Smith was determined to make in his Lexington return was a trip to the new basketball locker rooms, which were installed shortly after he left. He initially joked he was jealous, then said the upgrades were a source of pride for him.
"You feel like you've had a part," he said.
(Copyright 2008 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)