UK basketball notebook: Ex-walk-on Mills says Cats' practices under Gillispie mirrored Texas Tech complaints

Herald-Leader Staff WriterSeptember 8, 2012 

Texas Tech Gillispie Hospitalized Basketball

Texas Tech Coach Billy Gillispie reacted during a February game against Iowa State. His players complained of poor treatment to the athletic director.

CHARLIE NEIBERGALL — ASSOCIATED PRESS

Recent allegations of marathon practice sessions and mistreatment of players by Texas Tech Coach Billy Gillispie sounded familiar. Call it Déjà Blue. Or is that Déjà Black and Blue?

Similar talk engulfed Kentucky basketball during Gillispie's two-year reign of error from 2007 to 2009.

"I was not surprised by one thing I read," former UK walk-on Dusty Mills said of disturbing stories coming out of Texas Tech. "Nothing was outrageous to me."

Mills, now seeking a graduate degree in accounting at Indiana University, was a freshman walk-on at Kentucky in 2007-08, Gillispie's first of two as UK coach. From a vantage point inside the curtain, he saw how Gillispie conducted basketball business.

Mills called Gillispie "the smartest X-and-O guy I've ever met in my life." He likened Billy G to Ohio State football coach Urban Meyer.

"He'd draw up a play and it'd work every single time," Mills said of Gillispie. "But he couldn't really relate to players. I'm not sure for the reasons behind that. But it makes it difficult to play for someone you're not happy to be there with."

When asked about the rumors that such players as Jodie Meeks, Derrick Jasper and Patrick Patterson practiced despite injuries, Mills said, "I can't really confirm Gillispie technically made them practice. That's not fair for me to say.

"But it was clear they practiced and were not happy about it. Physically, they were playing in pain, and it was hard to watch at times."

Of course, Mills' time as a UK walk-on ended abruptly. After a blowout loss at Vanderbilt, Gillispie kicked Mills off the team. During a tense game at Georgia 10 days earlier, a television camera caught Mills laughing on the bench after an incident in which teammate Ramel Bradley got knocked to the floor.

Mills said afterward that he and a teammate were laughing at the attempt by the under-sized walk-on to act as a peacemaker after Bradley went down. But Gillispie refused to let him explain.

"Probably the lowest point in my life," Mills said of being dismissed from the UK team.

Mills denied that he holds a grudge against Gillispie. He said he's tried to reach out to his former coach, but not gotten a response.

"He gave me an opportunity no other human being on earth would have given me," Mills said. "I'll be forever grateful for the opportunity he gave me, and I'll always praise the lord that he gave me that chance.

"I think he does really care for his players. I think he does. He just has a very odd way of showing it. Obviously, something is going on there, and I'm not sure what it is."

As evidence of how Gillispie truly cares, Mills noted how Jasper joined the Texas Tech coaching staff.

Mills could serve as another example of how wildly a relationship with Gillispie could fluctuate. His teammates teased him about being a favorite of Gillispie's, Mills said. Before UK played Tennessee Tech early that season, assistant coaches rushed him video tape to study because they suspected the walk-on might start, Mills said.

Texas Tech players went to the athletic director to protest how they were treated. In Mills' aborted season at UK, the players endured. "It bonded us and united us as a team," Mills said.

Mills now aspires to coach on the college level. He hopes to use a master's degree in accounting as a backup plan, much as his subsequent coach at Ball State, Billy Taylor, was an accountant before getting into coaching.

Mills has coached on the high school and AAU levels. He said he tries to be encouraging.

"If a kid messes up or does something wrong, I talk to them about it (and) try to figure out what they were thinking ... ," Mills said. "Rather than yelling at them or demeaning them."

Walk-ons rewarded

Brian Long and Sam Malone won't be walk-ons this coming season. Earlier this summer, UK Coach John Calipari awarded the players scholarships for the 2012-13 season.

Needless to say, the players and their families were thrilled.

"Unbelievable that coach has given him the opportunity," said Long's father, also named Brian. "Coach told Brian, and Brian told us. It was exciting to hear."

The elder Long, a long-time high school coach in New Jersey, termed the scholarship a reward for good service to the team last season.

"Brian knows his role and knows what he has to do to contribute to the team," the player's father said. "Coach (Calipari) rewarded him for doing the right thing."

Malone's father, Joe Malone, voiced similar appreciation.

By all accounts, Long and Malone contribute in practice. Neither complains when confined to the sideline at practice or games. Each gives the team grade-point average a boost.

As a bonus, Malone gave Rupp Arena a feel-good glow last season when he used his cameo appearances to play with a certain élan.

Of course, UK had scholarships available to give to Long and Malone this season. Such might not be the case next season.

"Brian understands it could just be a one-year situation," the elder Long said.

Media relations

Fans with good memories may recall the disagreement Lexington's NBC affiliate, WLEX, had with UK at the national championship celebration last April.

WLEX aired the celebration live even though Tony Neely, media relations director for UK Athletics, said local stations had been alerted that the event was available for live telecast only to UK's IMG network, which includes WKYT in Lexington.

WLEX general manager Pat Dalbey defended his station in an April interview with Herald-Leader reporter Scott Sloan.

"They contend that they have exclusive rights for that sort of an event" with WKYT, he said of UK Athletics. "And I just absolutely disagree with them.

"As far as I'm concerned, it was a bona fide news story, and we covered it as such."In April, Neely said that UK would review the situation. He declined to say what actions UK might take.

The answer became apparent last week when UK did not include WLEX in interview opportunities with Coach John Calipari and players on the 2012-13 team.

Through spokesman DeWayne Peevy, UK declined comment.

But Dalbey confirmed that UK denied access to WLEX as a form of punishment. In the recent past, UK has taken similar action against the school's student newspaper, The Kernel, and the Herald-Leader when it didn't like coverage.

WLEX also "didn't have a lot of access to Joker Phillips during the summer," Dalbey said. "Those were the two things they kind of sanctioned us with for what they termed were violations."

Dalbey said he wrote a letter to UK President Eli Capilouto complaining about the decision.

"I totally disagreed with it," Dalbey said, "and I wanted to be on the record with saying that wasn't appropriate."

While he disagreed, Dalbey said it was UK's decision to make and "it's kind of a non-issue at this point."

Family-oriented

Erasto Hatchett described UK point guard Ryan Harrow as a "family-oriented little dude."

Hatchett, who is Harrow's uncle, said the player's uniform number shows his devotion to family.

A Lexington native, Hatchett also wore No. 12 when he played for Morton Junior High and Henry Clay High School.

Football folly

If anyone doubts the difficult task faced by Joker Phillips (or whatever unfortunate happens to be UK football coach), a reminder came last week.

In his weekly sports commentary for National Public Radio, Frank Deford noted the beginning of another college football season. Or as he put it, "Well, the Southeastern Conference season has begun. I have it on good authority that other college football teams around the country will also be playing games this fall."

Later in the commentary, Deford spoke of Kentucky's traditionally modest place in the league's gloried football tradition.

"The SEC has moved out into Texas and up into Missouri," he said. "Basically, though, the SEC has always been Deep South, plus Kentucky. Kentucky is apparently allowed in the conference so that everybody else but Vanderbilt gets a guaranteed win — plus, Kentucky bourbon can fuel those famous Southern tailgate parties."

Historic site

Former UK Coach Rick Pitino left Lexington 15 years ago. Yet, it still made headlines when current UK women's coach Matthew Mitchell recently moved into Pitino's former home.

"It's been a lot of fun to see the reaction," said Mitchell, who noted the "real positive" comments generated by his move on Aug. 27. "He was such a dynamic figure."

Pitino's home became something of a historic site.

Mitchell and his wife, Jenna, were not aware of the connection to Pitino until their Realtor guided them on a tour of the home. It had been remodeled since Pitino's departure for the Boston Celtics in 1997.

The Mitchells liked the proximity to the UK campus. "Two miles door to door," Mitchell noted.

"The most precious thing a coach can have is time. I wanted the shortest commute."

YMCA benefit

The YMCA that serves Paris and Bourbon County will stage a fund-raiser on Sept. 22. Lower-arena UK basketball tickets are among the raffle prizes in the Fall Benefit, which will be held at the Adena Springs farm near Paris.

The Fall Benefit begins at 6:30 p.m.

Also available will be tickets for three or four different games grouped together into one package for people to bid on, Larry Case, the Youth and Family program director for the Paris-Bourbon County YMCA, wrote in an email. "These games include South Carolina, Missouri, Texas A&M and Mississippi State and other games."

Other raffle prizes include trips to the Florida Derby or Fountain of Youth Stakes, Valhalla Golf packages, a box at Keeneland on Oct. 11, a box at Churchill Downs, a basketball autographed by John Calipari and tickets to the Cincinnati Bengals-New York Giants game.

Raffle tickets cost $50 each. The price for admission to the benefit is $50 in advance, and $55 at the door.

The YMCA hopes to use proceeds to develop more programs that will benefit the whole community. More information is available at the YMCA at 859-987-1395.

Happy birthday

To Steve Smith. The Oak Hill Academy coach turned 57 on Friday. ... To Rob Evans. The former Ole Miss coach turned 66 on Friday. ... To John Clougherty. The former SEC referee turns 69 on Monday. ... To former UK players Mark Pope (he turns 40 on Tuesday), Nazr Mohammed (he turned 35 on Wednesday), Dale Brown (he turned 44 on Thursday) and John Wall (he turned 22 on Thursday.

Jerry Tipton: (859) 231-3227. Email: jtipton@herald-leader.com. Twitter: @JerryTipton. Blog: ukbasketball.bloginky.com

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