Tears flow from tear glands into your eyes through tiny tear ducts. They are not referred to as toughness, masculinity, or strength, but that does not bother Tyler Smith as he wears his tears for a father and a best friend.
Smith was born in the small town of Pulaski, Tennessee in September 4, 1986 to mother Shawanda Kennedy and father, Billy Smith. His father instantly became a role model to the young and upcoming basketball star.
No matter the distance, Billy was in attendance of Tyler’s high school games being not only a role model, but his biggest fan as well. They both were set on going to Tennessee as Smith was one of the top high school seniors in the country. He was comfortable with head coach Buzz Peterson, who had been with the team for the past four seasons respectively bringing them to the National Invitation Tournament (NIT) twice.
Peterson, who was a roommate of Michael Jordan at University of North Carolina, played on the 1982 National Championship team. His charm had scored a top high school recruit and had his father even more in love with the program.
Everything seemed perfect for the Smith family.
The struggle began.
Problem with Peterson was that he didn’t have a job by the time Smith’s high school career was finished and he was replaced by Bruce Pearl. Pearl had success at Milwaukee in which he put up 86 wins in a mere four seasons. Appearances in the NIT tournament where he took the team to the Sweet Sixteen.
Billy was unsure what to think of him as he had put so much trust into Peterson. Tyler and Billy met with Pearl which left Billy unsatisfied with Petersons replacement. A misconception began and Tyler headed back to prep school at Hargrave Military Academy instead of attending his dream school, Tennessee.
Hargrave posted a 28-2 record while ranking as one of the top prep school teams in the nation, while Tennessee shocked the world after being ranked to finish near the bottom. They pulled into the AP top 10 rankings and beat eventual National Champions Florida twice.
Though they were upset in the second round of the NCAA tournament, the 22-8 record was one of the best records all-time for the school bringing in high praises for Pearl.
Smith noticed the success of the school, but decided to attend the University of Iowa. There, he put up great numbers as a freshman getting every first year’s players dream of plenty of playing time, but it just was not the same enjoyment he felt in previous years.
The problem was his father could not watch his son live due to the mileage between the two.
Near the end of the season, Billy told his son he had lung cancer.
Not sure of how long he had to live, Tyler decided to come home to be closer to his father. Billy agreed to meet with Pearl to discuss his plans with his son and found out Pearl cared for his son as much as his own family which pleased Billy.
He looked at Pearl as Tyler’s next father figure and the team as his brothers.
In September, the pain finally set in as Billy passed away.
His newest brothers and Pearl attended the funeral supporting the Smith’s family. Tears were shed as a young man lost his father and his best friend while he gained 13 new members.
The season began as every game felt like an away game, without his father on the sideline. He helped led the Volunteers to the No. 1 ranking in the country in 2008 and this year is putting up career numbers gaining the eyes of NBA scouts. Pearl knew since the first time he met him.
Smith now has two tear tattoos on his face to show the pain and suffering he overcame, losing what he loved most in the world. His journey has been an uphill battle, but he knows the end will be worth it.
Though he has lost, he still has everything to gain.