Billy Smith never got a chance to see his son wear orange and white.
The father of University of Tennessee basketball player Tyler Smith died late Wednesday night after a lengthy battle with lung cancer.
“We’ve known this day was going to be coming,” UT coach Bruce Pearl said Thursday of Smith’s long illness. “We just hoped it wouldn’t come so soon.”
Pearl got the call late Wednesday from Tyler saying his father had passed away.
The transfer from Iowa did manage to make it to his father’s bedside to say his final goodbye. Billy Smith had moved from Pulaski to McMinnville.
Pearl, out of town recruiting on Thursday, said it’s obviously an emotional time for the UT program.
“Anytime a parent gives you the responsibility of helping them with their job, and accepting their son as a student athlete, I take that responsibility very seriously,” he said. “In this case, with Billy and Tyler, Billy made sure I understood that he probably wasn’t going to be here to see Tyler all the way through.
“He was entrusting me with the responsibility of helping Tyler achieve his goals and realize his potential both on and off the court.”
Funeral arrangements had not been finalized as of Thursday afternoon.
Pearl’s main focus right now is on helping Smith make it through the difficult weeks ahead.
“Tyler is not just a good kid, he’s a great kid,” Pearl said. “He has terrific character and he’ll get through this.
“He has been preparing himself for this day. It’s very tough, but our team will go up there and support him at the appropriate time this week.”
Smith had been granted a hardship waiver this past summer from the NCAA allowing him to transfer from Iowa to Tennessee without penalty so he could be closer to his father.
Instead of having to sit out a year, the NCAA said Smith would become immediately eligible to play for the Vols this fall.
The hope was Smith’s father would be present for UT’s season opening game Nov. 9 at Thompson-Boling Arena against Temple.
“That didn’t happen,” Pearl said, “but Tyler will continue to honor his father with the work he does for the rest of his life.”
The 6-foot-7 sophomore forward averaged 14.9 points and was a third-team All-Big 10 selection as a freshman last season.
Pearl and Billy Smith had mended fences after a difficult initial meeting in Pearl’s first season as UT coach.
Tyler Smith was a standout at Giles County High School and signed with Tennessee and former coach Buzz Peterson in November of 2004, but asked for his release when Pearl replaced Peterson in the spring of 2005.
Smith eventually played one season at Hargrave Military Academy before signing with Iowa.