Mark Story: Top talent evaluators include ... Billy Gillispie?

Herald-Leader Sports ColumnistJuly 9, 2012 

Billy Gillispie spun a basketball on his finger while Patrick Patterson shot free throws in 2009. Over three years, five of Gillispie's recruits, including Patterson, were taken in the NBA Draft.

CHARLES BERTRAM | STAFF FILE PHOTO

Billy Gillispie sat out of coaching for two seasons after his troubled tour at Kentucky. Last year, his first as head man at Texas Tech, the Red Raiders went a horrid 8-23 and won one Big 12 game.

Yet, by one current measure, Billy G. ranks among the top five of most successful coaches in men's college basketball.

Bear with me, I'll explain.

In the days before the 2012 NBA Draft, ESPN analyst Jay Bilas pooh-poohed the idea that college coaches "develop" pro players. The contention of Bilas is that the inherent talent of individual players is what makes a pro, not the "development" players receive from coaches while playing college hoops.

The ensuing debate piqued my curiosity over which college coaches, other than Kentucky's John Calipari, are "putting" the most players into the NBA draft. I decided to measure the past three drafts — 2010, 2011 and 2012 — and see which college head men had recruited the most players who went on to hear their names called by the NBA.

Calipari, of course, leads, having had nine players he's signed that played for him at UK chosen in the past three drafts (and 10 if you count Turkish big man Enes Kanter, who signed with the Cats but was declared ineligible to play by the NCAA. Xavier Henry signed with Cal at Memphis but never played. I'm counting him for Kansas, where he actually played).

Second is Bill Self of Kansas, with seven signees who were subsequently drafted by NBA teams.

Tied for third with six players signed then drafted are Duke's Mike Krzyzewski (his number includes guard Eliot Williams, who transferred to Memphis after his freshman year before being picked) and Texas head man Rick Barnes.

Three names you would expect — Connecticut's Jim Calhoun, North Carolina's Roy Williams, and Syracuse's Jim Boeheim — are tied for fifth after having five players they recruited chosen in the past three drafts.

Yet there is another name in that tie for fifth. When now-former Kentucky forward Darius Miller was picked by the New Orleans Hornets in the second round of the 2012 draft, it meant that five players signed for UK by Billy Gillispie have now been chosen in the past three NBA drafts.

Besides Miller, Billy G. signees Josh Harrellson and DeAndre Liggins both went in the second round of the 2011 draft and Patrick Patterson and Daniel Orton both were first-round picks in 2010.

Those five Gillispie recruits taken in the past three drafts mean Billy G. ranks ahead of coaching luminaries such as Billy Donovan (three), Thad Matta (three), Tom Izzo (one), Tubby Smith (one) and Rick Pitino (one) in the number of players he signed who have gone on to become picks in the past three NBA drafts.

It's interesting to speculate on how many of the "Gillispie five" would have been NBA draft choices if Billy G. had not been removed as Kentucky head man in favor, ultimately, of the more-accomplished Calipari.

Patterson, a McDonald's All-American in high school and a UK standout even during the most turbulent of the Gillispie period, would have been a first-round pick regardless.

Orton, a 6-foot-10 post player who signed early with Billy G. then played his one Kentucky season (2009-10) for Calipari, would have also been picked regardless of the coaching change due to the never-ceasing NBA obsession with height.

The other three players — Harrellson, Liggins and Miller — would not likely have heard their names called in the draft without the coaching change.

In his one year under Billy G., Liggins was a miscast point guard with an undisciplined game. For different reasons, Harrellson (a cut-up) and Miller (passive) both drew the ire of Gillispie and neither were benefitting from his unconventional motivational techniques.

After the Kentucky coaching change, Liggins developed into a tough-minded defensive stopper as a junior. Miller overcame his passivity to become, as a senior, a clutch-shooting game closer. Harrellson — given a chance to play only due to Kanter's ineligibility — became a rugged rebounder and post defender during a senior season that made him a Kentucky folk hero.

All of which proves two things.

1.) Jay Bilas not withstanding, college coaching can help develop future pros — if the players are in college long enough to be developed.

2.) Whatever else you think of his two years in Kentucky, Billy Gillispie did make a positive contribution to UK basketball.

The five players he signed that have been taken in the past three NBA Drafts proves that.

Mark Story: (859) 231-3230. Email: mstory@herald-leader.com. Twitter: @markcstory. Blog: markstory.bloginky.com

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