I can remember at 12:45 p.m on April 6, 2007, sitting in my chair eager like a kid in a candy store while Billy Gillispie was announced as the 6th basketball coach in UK's history. He stood and addressed the crowd, said all the desirable words, told us he would cut down some nets, and brought a vigor to the program that lacked the past few seasons. After all this was a man responsible for leading the most lucrative turnaround of two NCAA programs in two consecutive seasons. He had just come off a Sweet 16 appearance with Texas A&M and dismantled Kentucky's number one rival Louisville in Rupp arena to get there. He was described as a workaholic, great recruiter, loved by the previous fanbase, and a master of the X's & O's. What more could you ask for? Sure this was not the Billy the UK brethren had as their first choice (Billy Donovan) but this was next best alternative. Let's just say "He had me at Hello".
Fast forward to the current day and now I'm beginning to sing a different tune. UK just lost to an abysmal 11-18 overall, 205 RPI ranked Georgia team who admitted before the game they had nothing to play for. Well Kentucky certainly did, an NCAA tournament berth was on the line now this defeat has destroyed any hopes of making the Big Dance outside of winning the SEC tournament. It is becoming a common theme for celler-dweller teams to come away with victories inside Rupp Arena. VMI, San Diego, Gardner Webb, now Georgia all under Gillispie's reign. The house that Rupp built used to mean something. Teams were intimidated, crowds were ruckus now opposing teams suspect it's another winnable game on their schedule and half the time you can hear a pin drop amongst the silence. Heck this is the first year I can remember hearing the Big Blue Faithful boo their own team off the court. It's turning out to be down right laughable and although Gillispie is not entirely at fault he is a significant portion of it.
In the beginning I didn't have many tribulations with Tubby Smith but it became apparent his tenure had to be terminated. He became lazy his last few years and wasn't bringing in top level recruits that UK should have year in and year out. It was clear UK was not going to win another championship with him. He hadn't made to the Final Four since he took over Rick Pitino's players to win the the NCAA Championship in 1998. The hiring of a new coach was the proper move for Mitch Barnhardt at the time, of course made easy by Tubby resigning. Gillispie seemed like a remarkable hire but these days I'm no longer sold.
Billy Gillispie to put it simply is an enigma. I have no clue anymore what he is trying to accomplish. Where to begin? First off I thought Tubby's substitution patterns were erratic but Gillispie has brought this to a whole new level. He persists in starting Porter and Harris at the expense of younger more skillful players whom should be getting more experience. Players will play one game only to sit or play minuscule minutes the next and this is after having impressive games. It would take another column to give all the examples of when this has occured during the past two years. Mark Coury need I say more?
Galloway, Miller, and Liggins should be developed by this time in the season but they haven't been given enough opportunities. They look complacent on the court for fear of messing up and immediately yanked out of the game. Sure UK may have taken their lumps early on but by this time in the year they would have been much improved as a team instead of going in the opposing trend. You already know what you've got with Porter and Harris and they are backups at best. I can understand if you are a team like UNC were McDonalds All Americans sit the bench because there are better upper classmen playing above them, they know their time will come. This is simply not the case with UK and sends a shoddy message to future recruits.
The Wildcats offense or I should say lack of offensive sets is a mess. It's clear Meeks and Patterson are the focal points and they should be but why not run some plays for them. Too many times down the court they give the ball to Meeks at the 3pt line and let him make his move while everyone else stands around. They scarcely run screens for Meeks to get him open, most of the time he is taking contested shots. Patterson is constantly working for post up position only to never receive the ball because Porter cannot formulate an entry pass. Galloway & Liggins have shown the ability to pass the ball inside yet they aren't on the floor enough to do so. Here is a novel idea Billy you have 6"6 Liggins and 6"7 Galloway that can play the point why not try posting them up on the block against all the undersized point guards defending them? The point is try Something! This whole year has been the same lack of variable offense sets. The one thing Gillispie seems to do well is calling effective plays after a timeout but even those don't happen often.
The defense has been a conundrum as well. From the start of the season they have been unable to guard the 3pt shot and stop dribble penetration. Gillispie refuses to play a Zone which would help to alleviate dribble penetration instead he seems satisfied to let opposing teams employ the same game-plan time after time to win. The players are told not to take charges and to try to always block the shot which leaves them vulnerable to getting defensive rebounds.
Simply put Gillipie is stubborn and I don't see it changing. He is more fascinated in proving his points than winning a basketball game. Just look at the previous game. Kentucky was up 2pts with 18 minutes left in a must win game and he takes Meeks and Patterson out to prove a point because he didn't think they were hustling. Of course during that span Georgia went up 10 points. Whats the point in playing the season if you aren't going to treat every game as a chance to achieve a tournament bid and win a Championship. Am I wrong here isn't the Ultimate goal of every team to win the NCAA title? The high hopes I had for this team have gone down the toilet.
After taking over as head coach Gillispie continues to play mind games with the players and the fans. I have gotten the impression the players have finally quit on on him and most of the fans as well. It's becoming embarrassing being a UK fan and I'm not sure there will be a change for the better in the future. It comes down to after the season whether Meeks and Patterson decide to stay. With more talent coming in they have the opportunity to be a superior team. Of course who knows if Gillispie will let them see the court. If Meeks/Patterson leave and why wouldn't they, why would you want to return to this chaos, it's going to get dreadful in Lexington and should ultimately cost Gillispie his job.
Like Doc Brown from Back to the Future I feel like I've gone back in time and reliving the last few seasons under Tubby.