Tubby Smith hasn't sported a mustache in a long time, but the Gophers men's basketball coach said he might grow one with the start of "Movember" on Tuesday.

Movember is a charity event in which males grow mustaches this month to raise awareness for men's health issues, specifically prostate cancer. Smith was unfamiliar with the movement before Monday, but he smiled at the thought of re-growing his 'stache for a cause that's close to his heart.

"That's a good reason to grow it back," he said.

Smith was diagnosed with prostate cancer after a routine physical last spring. His cancer was caught early and was surgically removed in late April.

He feels healthy now. And fortunate.

"Whenever you hear cancer, you go, 'Whoa,'" he said. "But the physicians make you feel comfortable. Mine was not an aggressive cancer. It was caught in the early stages. Unlike my buddy who just passed."

Carlvin Steed, Smith's former roommate and teammate at High Point College in North Carolina, died of lung cancer Oct. 22 and was buried last week. He learned he had cancer around the same time as Smith.

"He and I were communicating regularly so I could see the difference between a Stage 4 cancer," Smith said. "Mine was very minute. It put it in perspective for me."

Smith long has been a supporter of charities involving cancer, including Coaches vs. Cancer. He often visits pediatric cancer centers and has friends who are fighting cancer right now. He lost his older sister, Mae Helen, to throat cancer about eight years ago.

So he'll gladly take the platform to do his part.

"Anything like that is going to give you an appreciation for life," he said. "What you have, your health, your awareness to share with others."

Smith was on the other side a few months before his diagnosis when he heard prostate cancer survivor Arnold Palmer speak at a banquet at Bay Hill Club in Florida. He remembered Palmer encouraging the audience to have their prostates checked. Smith's cancer was discovered after his prostate-specific antigen (PSA) levels were high.

"I didn't know what the symptoms were," Smith said. "I'm 60 years [old]. I'm thinking, 'Well, I'm just going to the bathroom more often than I should, like I guess old men do. But come to find out it may be more."

Smith has read recent media reports, including in this newspaper, where some members of the medical community are questioning whether healthy males should get screened for prostate cancer.

The Star Tribune's Maura Lerner reported on the issue and wrote that the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force recently announced that "there's no evidence that routine PSA testing saves lives. For the vast majority of men, the panel said, it may cause more harm than good. ... Their concern: that doctors end up conducting search-and-destroy missions for cancer cells that pose no real danger to patients, and that for many people, the cure is worse than the disease."

Smith said he understands there are many factors involved in the debate, but he remains an advocate for screenings.

"I was glad that I found out," he said. "When the doctor explains to you what's going on, you have to make that decision. But how are you going to know that if he doesn't screen you? You're never going to know that. I have some friends of mine that were misdiagnosed or didn't get diagnosed in time or didn't find out until later on. They're having issues."

Smith has his health and is clearly excited about his team, which opens its exhibition season Tuesday against Bemidji State. On Monday, he raved about his team's ability to shoot from the outside and play at a faster pace than last season when the Gophers lost 10 of their final 11 games amid a combustible set of circumstances.

Smith enters this season a cancer survivor, which he recently described as a "humbling" experience that has "energized" him.

"You can get the wind knocked out of you," he said. "It's like taking a blow when you hear the word cancer."

Chip Scoggins • ascoggins@startribune.com