Barnhart says players just want some rest

jsmith3@herald-leader.comjtipton@herald-leader.comMarch 28, 2009 

A steady rain fell, and a news helicopter buzzed busily over Wildcat Lodge.

There was buzz in and around the lodge, too, as Kentucky players, student managers, former assistant coaches and others entered and left the residence of the UK basketball team.

The players met with Athletics Director Mitch Barnhart for 15 minutes as he discussed his decision to fire Coach Billy Gillispie.

"I didn't ask for them to have an emotional reaction; I just wanted to make sure they understood what was going on," Barnhart said in a news conference to announce UK's decision. "Most of them would rather get out of town and get some rest.

"They're tired from the season, and they're ready to get some rest and get a break."

That seemed to be the case as players exited the lodge.

One by one, A.J. Stewart, Perry Stevenson, Michael Porter and Patrick Patterson waved off requests from the media to talk about the news.

"Sorry, I can't talk," Stevenson said as he crossed the street toward the Craft Center. "Sorry."

Athletics spokesman John Hayden said no players would be made available for comment. Calls to several parents and players went unanswered Friday night.

The father of UK's leading scorer, Jodie Meeks, welcomed the news.

"It clearly didn't look like it was working," Orestes Meeks said.

The elder Meeks suggested that Gillispie made it difficult for Kentucky to maximize its potential.

"You don't want to throw gasoline on the flames, but, clearly, a lot of things happened behind the scenes that made it difficult for the kids to play basketball and focus on winning," the elder Meeks said.

Barnhart said he didn't consider parents when making the decision to let Gillispie go.

"I didn't have conversations with parents," he said. "That did not factor in to the decision."

The athletics director said numerous times during his session with the media that part of his job is to ensure a positive experience for each of Kentucky's student-athletes.

Barnhart sidestepped a question about whether or not UK men's basketball players were having a positive experience under Gillispie.

"There are people that say winning can cure everything and winning makes a good experience," Barnhart said. "There are other pieces to that. ... I can't speak for them. That's something they'd have to speak to: their experience."

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