Oklahoma Sooners basketball legend Billy Tubbs dies at 85

Sunil Kumar
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Longtime Oklahoma coach Billy Tubbs, who won a school-record 333 games, died on Sunday. He was 85.

Tubbs had battled a form of leukemia since 2015, according to a statement, and died in Norman, Oklahoma, surrounded by his family.

“Many are aware of his remarkable achievements as a basketball coach, but we will remember him for way more than all of his wins, conference titles and NCAA Tournament success,” Tubbs’ family said in a statement. “He was a fierce competitor in everything he faced and that was never more evident than in his final days.”

In 31 years as a head coach at four schools, Tubbs went 641-340 with 12 NCAA tournament appearances.

He’s best known for his Oklahoma tenure, where his fast-paced style was known as “Billy Ball.” Oklahoma had been to just one NCAA tournament in 32 seasons prior to Tubbs’ arrival. In his third season, he took the Sooners to the first of eight straight tournament appearances, including four Sweet Sixteens. His 1987-88 team featuring Stacey King, Harvey Grant and Mookie Blalock went 35-4 and lost to Kansas, 83-79, in the national title game.

“We are deeply saddened by the passing of Coach Billy Tubbs,” OU athletic director Joe Castiglione said. “Billy is one of the most successful, popular and colorful figures in the history of OU Athletics. His passion and vision of the game defined an era of Sooner basketball and forever changed the trajectory of our hoops program. His teams also helped usher in a fan-friendly style of basketball during a time when college basketball was really growing and evolving. His teams would go anywhere, at any time, to play anyone if it helped the program in the long run.”

Tubbs grew up in Tulsa and attended Lamar Tech (later Lamar University) in Beaumont, Texas, graduating in 1957. He returned to Lamar in 1976 as the Cardinals’ coach, taking them to two NCAA tournaments, including a Sweet Sixteen run in 1980 before Oklahoma hired him.

After Oklahoma, he coached eight seasons at TCU, including one NCAA tournament berth.

But Tubbs always stayed close to Oklahoma.

“He had been gone from the University of Oklahoma since 1994, but it’s hard to express how much our family has always revered and continues to love OU,” his family said. “Just [Saturday] night he was wearing his “Cheer Like a Champion” shirt while we watched the football team’s big win.”



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