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A Point of His Own : G.G. Smith Stayed at Georgia When Dad Left for Kentucky

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Daddy’s little guy is on his own now. G.G. Smith, point guard for 21st-ranked Georgia, didn’t leave the Bulldogs’ nest, but his dad, Tubby, did.

When Smith took the prestigious Kentucky coaching job last spring, his son had a big decision to make. It took two weeks of weighing family ties against ‘Dawg-gone devotion, but G.G. Smith, a 5-foot-11 junior, decided to stay put.

“Growing up, I just wanted to play for my dad, no matter where he was coaching,” Smith said. “I thought it would be cool. He had to move on. I decided to stay.”

Just like that, the cord was cut. The cheering heard around Athens was from Ron Jirsa, the new Georgia coach.

He had been Tubby Smith’s right-hand man, and G.G.'s pal, in Tulsa and Georgia. After Smith guided the Bulldogs to back-to-back 20-victory seasons, Jirsa was the natural as successor.

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His former boss left more behind than his office. Orlando Guffrie Gibson Smith, or G.G. Smith, averaged 9.5 points and 4.5 assists a year ago for a Bulldog team that reached the NCAA tournament for the second consecutive season. His presence was essential to make it three in a row.

“You couldn’t replace someone like G.G. right away,” said Jirsa, whose team plays Stanford in the Wooden Classic at noon today at the Pond. “He’s our leader and is a real solid player. Someday we’ll have to replace him but not right now.”

Of course, Jirsa succeeding his dad was a big reason G.G. hung around. Jirsa and Tubby Smith have been close for years. They were assistants at Virginia Commonwealth in 1984-85. Jirsa was Smith’s top assistant for four years at Tulsa and two at Georgia.

“Ron has known G.G. since he was 6 years old,” Smith said. “He even used to do a little baby-sitting for us.”

Jirsa could have had no idea back when he was watching cartoons with G.G. that he would one day get “custody.” It just worked out that way.

“I knew the [Georgia] program was in stable hands,” G.G. Smith said. “Coach Jirsa was always the cool assistant. I would go into the office and talk with him. He’d ask how my classes were going and we had some real heart-to-heart talks.”

But none this last spring when G.G. was making his decision. Jirsa just hoped Smith wouldn’t follow his dad to where the grass was bluer.

Kentucky was too good an opportunity for Tubby Smith to pass up and it was certainly appealing to his sons. Saul Smith, who had decided to walk on at Georgia, changed his mind and went to Kentucky. The freshman’s three-pointer in the second half put a fork in sixth-ranked Purdue last week.

The Wildcats have junior Wayne Turner at point guard. Georgia, with Smith, has all five starters back. Blood may be thicker than water, but . . .

“Going with my dad and playing at mighty Kentucky was tempting,” G.G. said. “But I would be competing for a job there against top point guards. I wouldn’t be getting nearly the playing time that I will have the next two years at Georgia.

“It was a tough decision. My mother encouraged me to stay. She said it would be good for me the next few years and would help me grow up. Saul is up there right now, so dad has a son playing for him. Dad knows my situation is better here.”

True, this wasn’t completely a case of self-sacrifice. He did stick with a Bulldog team that beat South Carolina twice last season--the only Southeastern Conference team to beat the Gamecocks. Smith was eight of eight from the field, including five three-pointers, in a 78-63 victory over South Carolina in the SEC tournament semifinals.

Georgia finished 24-9, tying the school record for victories. The season ended with a loss to Tennessee Chattanooga in the first round of the NCAA playoffs. It turned out that Smith’s last effort for his father was a desperate three-point attempt that would have tied the score.

“It’s tough being the coach’s son because people think that’s the only reason you’re playing,” Smith said. “I think I’ve established myself.”

If he didn’t then, he has now. Smith averages 12.2 points and 5.2 assists this season and teams with junior guard Ray Harrison to make a formidable backcourt. The Bulldogs are 5-1, losing only to North Carolina State.

“G.G. has 31 assists and six turnovers right now,” Jirsa said. “I think that shows he’s more than the ‘Coach’s son.’

Now, Tubby Smith watches from a distance.

“I have Saul with me, but it’s difficult,” Smith said. “Especially during the holidays. It’s the first time, really, that we’ve been apart for the holidays. We miss him.”

A reunion is already set, although it’s far from a private affair. On Jan. 6, Kentucky comes to Athens to play Georgia, with a national television audience watching.

“There’s going to be a lot of hype and a lot of emotion,” G.G. said. “But it’s about going out there and winning the game. Dad is not going to let up against us.”

“He has a pretty good scouting report on all of us, especially me. We might come up with a couple new things for him.”

Obviously, this is no longer daddy’s little guy.


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