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Remembering Billy Ball
Tubbs was one of the true characters of his era, and a pretty good coach, to boot

Unless you’re a native Texan familiar with the Houston area, you might need MapQuest to find Lamar University in nearby Beaumont. Billy Tubbs, the coach who put Oklahoma hoops back on the national map during the Eighties, attended Lamar and returned there three years ago to serve as athletics director and men’s basketball coach.

Tubbs is supposed to be retired. After spending 14 years running and gunning with the Sooners — including 13 straight winning seasons, five conference crowns and six-straight Sweet 16 appearances — Tubbs shifted south to Texas Christian University. Under the Beaumont native’s guidance, the Horned Frogs posted a 156-95 record over eight seasons. Tubbs insisted he was finished coaching in his waning days in Fort Worth, Texas.

Now things have come full circle for the oft-animated coach, who guided Lamar to the Sweet 16 back in 1980.

“I came back as kind of a service to Lamar,” Tubbs said.

“It didn’t quite work out as far as being retired, but it’s been really good. I enjoy it and I know a lot of people here. I’m looking forward to getting rid of the basketball duties and gettin’ back to just being AD — that’s a better job.”

Juggling double duties, Tubbs managed a few minutes to chat with Sooner Spectator’s Rob Collins about Oklahoma memories, the NBA and even quashed a few nasty rumors.
Sooner Spectator: What achievements bring you the fondest memories from your Oklahoma tenure?
Billy Tubbs: I’m proudest of the players that I had at OU and seeing what they’re doing today and the associations that I had at OU, and especially the players. I’m also pleased with the people who really helped me build that program — the people and the friends that we made with our connection at OU. Of course, I’m also proud of the teams that we had there. I guess the proudest moment is making it to the finals of the NCAA Tournament. Of course, on the other hand the most disappointing is not winning the championship when we had a chance. So, all in all, it was a great experience for me and I’m most appreciative of just  having that opportunity that I had at Oklahoma.
SS: In the 1988 NCAA Tournament championship game, your Sooners lost 83-79 to a Kansas team they had defeated twice in the regular season. How could you have approached the Jayhawks differently the third time around?
Tubbs: I’m not one to dwell much in the past, so I don’t play that game over and over in my mind. That game just kind of came and went. That’s what happens in coaching: you stay so busy and you’re always working for the next game. You can’t really dwell on the past that much. We were disappointed to lose that game. On the other hand, it was just a great accomplishment just to get there. And I don’t think that takes away any from that particular team because at one time that team was in a book that came out in the mid-1990s rated as one of the Top 20 teams of all time in NCAA basketball, so I thought that was a great accomplishment for that team.
SS: Why did your teams produce more NBA-caliber products than more recent Sooner squads?
Tubbs: Again, we were fortunate. I think our style of play helped contribute to that because I think it helped our players get the numbers that you need. Certainly times have changed, but the first NBA player we had was Wayman Tisdale. We were just fortunate. He really brought a lot of attention to the program at OU, which really helped the players later on. Remember, he wasn’t the first great player at OU. OU had a lot of ’em like Alvin Adams. I think OU’s gonna produce some really good guys in the NBA in their basketball program. We just kind of hit ’em right at right the time. There’s a lot of good players who don’t make it all the way. I was fortunate to be able to get those players.
SS: How would you describe your coaching philosophy?
Tubbs: A lot of people call it Billy Ball. It’s an up-tempo style basketball game that feeds off our defense. I always thought our defense was underestimated because our defense is what really makes it go. I guess you would just call it an up-tempo, NBA-style basketball. In fact, the way we play is really faster right now than the NBA’s playing at this particular time because they play eight more minutes than we do. Our best teams averaged 103 points a game. In the NBA, that would’ve probably been equivalent to maybe 120 points a game because they play eight more minutes than we do.
SS: Do you idolize any coaches or consider any to be kindred spirits?
Tubbs: I was a big fan of Coach John Wooden at UCLA in their heyday when they won seven straight NCAA championships. They had some unbelievable numbers. That was a style they played and I played that style in college and that’s kind of what formed my (philosophy). But the game of basketball in general has slowed down, and it’s trickled down from the NBA. The NBA has slowed down. It’s filtered right on down. Of course, Paul Westhead, who coached Loyola Marymount, did a good job with that during our time. I remember we used to play Marymount and the score would be 130-100. And those type of games you just don’t see anymore. The game in general has slowed down. It’s harder to score.
SS: Why is that?
Tubbs: People are holding the ball a little longer on offense. If you notice now when you’re watching a game on TV, you’re seeing that shot clock pop up a lot, and even in the NBA when they’re down to seven seconds on the shot clock. Basically, it’s just become more conservative and the game has become much more physical than it used to be. You can’t score because basically you’re holding on defense, you’re pounding people on defense. The game has drifted probably to stronger personnel that are probably not as skilled as they used to be.
SS: Maybe more physically strong, but not as technically skilled?
Tubbs: Exactly. Even if you look at the NBA, teams only have two guys who can score and five guys who can push and shove. And that’s filtered down into the college game. It’s basically just a physical game. So you have more people on the floor who can’t score now, but they can knock the heck out of each other.
SS: What are your thoughts on the New Orleans/Oklahoma City Hornets?
Tubbs: I really think that’s great for Oklahoma City. I think Oklahoma City deserves a major league franchise team, certainly with the Ford Center. I think that’s terrific and I think that will help basketball in the area. I don’t think it will hurt either Oklahoma State or OU. I think it very well could help it because I think it will turn people on to basketball. But I think the success of Oklahoma or Oklahoma State is really going to help the Hornets more than anything else. I’m just hoping the fans really support that program and really that the team will stay in Oklahoma City. Oklahoma City will do a better job of supporting that team than New Orleans did. Now, that’s just fact. I think if people in Oklahoma play their cards right, they got a chance at keeping that team. (Oklahoma City Mayor) Mick Cornett’s done a great, great job and all those people involved. I’m elated over that. I could see that coming when that hurricane happened, I said, “Oklahoma City’s got to go after this team.” And they did it. I think it’s going to be great.
SS: OK, let’s play a game. We are going to throw some rumors and urban legends at you, and you can confirm or deny. According to the Lawrence Journal-World newspaper, a DJ on KJHK-FM 90.7 swore at you after a game in the 1980s. Ever heard of that rumor?
Tubbs: Not really. Actually, I remember not only some KU fans swearing at me. We beat ’em. In fact, we won our first Big Eight championship, and they were not only doin’ a little swearing at us, but they were slapping me on the top of the head. Our players kind of came in there and surrounded me. Actually, we got blasted on that one for being bad sports, which I never quite figured out. I remember that particular game because we won the conference championship and we cut down the nets.
SS: What are your memories of the Antlers, the rambunctious group of Missouri basketball fans?
Tubbs: Actually, I really enjoyed and I liked the Antlers. They never offended me. I thought they were funny. Really. When I returned from the accident that I had, they had a guy in a car running over some other people or something like that. I really thought they were pretty clever. We kind of got into it with the Antlers over a few things, trying to out-trick ’em and be funnier than they were. But the one thing where they used to kind of get me heated up a little bit, they would always meet our bus. And when we were coming off our bus, they were vicious hollering insults and stuff like that. We used to try to trick ’em where they couldn’t find our bus when we were comin’ in. We always felt like every time that we could trick ’em and they didn’t find our bus that we would beat Missouri. And it kind of worked out like that. We really made it kind of a fun deal. I really thought they were pretty neat. I thought we needed more things like that in basketball. A lot of coaches got offended by them, but I enjoy student involvement in the game — as long as they’re really trying to be funny.
SS: For the umpteenth time, can you recall the nationally televised Mizzou game where you addressed the Lloyd Noble Center crowd and got a technical?
Tubbs: Several million people remember that. The official just sent me to the scorer’s table — evidently somebody had thrown something on the floor, which I never did see — but he sent me to the official (scorers) table to get ’em to stop throwing anything on the floor. I basically said, “Regardless of how terrible the officiating is, do not throw things on the floor.” I got a technical for doing a good job because he sent me up there to stop ’em from throwing stuff on the floor and nothing came on the floor. Yet, I got a technical for it. It shows you getting penalized for doing the job you were sent up there to do. A lot of people still talk about that. It’s funnier now than it was when I got the technical. When that happened, we were eight or nine down, and we were 15 up within about three minutes. It turned the game and sparked the crowd.
SS: Fact or fiction: Did you ever flip opposing students the bird?
Tubbs: I remember that (Colorado) game, but that is fiction. We were accused of that a couple of times — and I was accused of that — but that never happened. I did point at the scoreboard because when we were coming off the floor they were throwing beer at us and a lot of insults and I just pointed at the scoreboard with my index finger and, you know, got accused of flipping the crowd off. It just shows you that the people at Colorado weren’t smart enough to recognize one finger from another.
SS: Did you really say this quote about running up the score? “If they don’t like it, they need to get better players.”
Tubbs: That’s true. We were just basically saying it wasn’t our fault that they couldn’t stay with us. I also said that holding the score down is a federal violation; it’s called bribes. Controlling the score of the game is against the law. You’re supposed to score as many points as you can.

Editor’s Note: Tubbs’ Sooners usually did just that. And as a result, he’ll go down as one of the most memorable characters and contributors in OU basketball history.