Turnovers are limiting chance for turnaround

Herald-Leader Sports ColumnistMarch 8, 2009 

John Clay

GAINESVILLE, Fla. — You could say it all turned sour when Billy Gillispie told ESPN's Jeannine Edwards that was a bad halftime question at Mississippi, when the good karma went kaput and the defeats started to flow.

Or maybe it was when Ramon Harris changed jersey numbers. Or when Devan Downey hit that last-second shot for South Carolina. Or when Patrick Patterson rolled his ankle in early February.

Truth is there was no turning point to this Kentucky basketball season, just turnovers.

The regular season began with Team Turnover committing 25 turnovers in that curtain-raising, jaw-dropping loss to VMI in Rupp. The regular season ended with Team Turnover committing 23 turnovers while making 23 shots in a 60-53 loss at Florida on Saturday.

Question now: Will there be one more turnover?

A turnover at the top?

This is Kentucky basketball, after all, where 19-12 overall records and 8-8 conference marks are not taken lightly, so Gillispie was asked this in his post-game news conference Saturday: "Are you worried about your job security?"

"No," said the Kentucky coach with a bit of a chuckle.

Then he added, "The season's not over. Is it?"

Might as well be. The Cats have lost their last four, five of their last six, eight of their last 11. They are regressing, not progressing. The chances of them winning four straight games in the SEC Tournament this week in Tampa are about as likely as that of your friendly American car company (pick one) turning a profit next quarter.

It's not that this team has quit on its coach. There's effort there. But I'm not sure it's playing with him, or for him, not when it makes the same mistakes time and again.

In the post-game, Gillispie mentioned that his team was trying too hard not to make mistakes, then balked at the notion their play was timid or tentative. But it's a long season, and by his own admission Gillispie is a grinder, with his constant talk of toughness and hard hats and his game-day practices and his countless mind games.

You wonder if by now everyone isn't ground down, tired of being one error away from being yanked to the bench.

If the Cats don't particularly care for their coach, that's hardly an exclusive event. But they need to respect him, to at least believe in what he's saying. I'm not sure that's the case with this group. There are whispers that there's not a lot of love in the (locker) room, and maybe you should expect that from a team spiraling downward. Maybe not.

Bottom line: A coach deserves more than two seasons to turn a program around. He deserves the chance to do it with his own players. He deserves that, that is, if you possess faith he can turn it around with his own players. There has to be a reason to believe.

So far, this has not been an easy fit. Gillispie often seems an uncomfortable fish in a very big bowl. He's not a glad-hander, and he isn't making friends by not signing that formal contract. The "Billy being Billy" doesn't wear as well when you lose.

On the floor, his first recruits haven't made the expected impact, and this team will go down as having suffered one of the more pronounced collapses in school history — a team with Patrick Patterson and Jodie Meeks.

This is Kentucky basketball, after all. It's sort of a big deal. It's why Athletics Director Mitch Barnhart gets the big bucks, and why, despite his politically correct public statements of support, the final call isn't as easy as you might think. Either way.

But, as Gillispie himself said, the season isn't over. Maybe, somehow, someway, the coach can execute a turnaround in Tampa and get this team where everyone wants it to go.

But this regular season was one big turnover.

Reach John Clay at 859-231-3226 or 1-800-950-6397, ext. 3226, or jclay@herald-leader.com. Read his blog at Kentucky.com.

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