John Clay: Too soon to draw conclusions about Gillispie

John Clay
John Clay

Let's take a step back.

The great thing about Kentucky basketball is there is so much passion. The bad thing about Kentucky basketball is that often that passion leads to a lack of patience. The panic button gets mashed. Too often.

Billy Gillispie has been the Kentucky basketball coach for 57 games. Not even two seasons. He's 36-21 overall; 19-8 in conference. Fifty-seven games is not enough data to reach a conclusion. Not yet.

True, the Cats lost Tuesday night at Vanderbilt, and Vanderbilt is not very good. But there were extenuating circumstances. Things could have/would have been different had Patrick Patterson's sprained ankle allowed him to take the floor. It did not.

Back in January, in Rupp, Vandy held Jodie Meeks to 21 points. But the Commodores were without their center, A.J. Ogilvy. Kentucky won 70-60. Tuesday night in Memorial Gym, the Commodores bothered Meeks into missing 15 of his 21 shots. But this time, Patterson did not play. Ogilvy did. Vandy won 77-64.

You say: What about Arkansas? I say, Arkansas is not a good team, 1-9 in league play going into Wednesday night's game with Louisiana State. Plus, John Pelphrey suspended starting point guard Courtney Fortson for the UK visit. Given that, Jodie Meeks still needed to score 20 points above his average for the Cats to win comfortably.

Yes, I have criticized Billy G. You have, too. I'm a columnist; you are a fan. Comes with the territory. Some things about Billy G. I like, some I could leave. I admire his work ethic. I'm not crazy about some of his methods. He has some fascinating core beliefs about the sport. Count me among those who wish he'd be a little more flexible. He tends toward a more bruising style of play. I prefer to see the sport as a more open-floor art form. I could do the same yin-yang about a hundred other coaches.

(As for the unsigned contract, for any coach to be nearly two years into a job without a signed formal contract is ridiculous. Either he's the coach, or he's not. There's an arrogance-without-accomplishment quality here. Would the head of any other important university department be allowed to operate under such an arrangement?)

Despite the impression given in those curious halftime interviews, Gillispie has been fine with the local media. It'd be a stretch to describe the relationship as a love-fest, but reports to the contrary are mostly overblown.

Gillispie doesn't always seem comfortable, but he shows up. He answers questions. Some answers are more calculated than others, and I don't like the lack of access to players. But Gillispie is a control freak, as are most coaches, if not all.

Bottom line: Gillispie did a remarkable job in his three years at Texas A&M. There's no denying that. He squeezed every drop he could out of his first Kentucky team. This year's squad has been up and down.

That doesn't mean serious questions can't be asked, or shouldn't be. Gillispie's substitution patterns are often curious, to say the least. Derrick Jasper's claims that he wasn't healthy last year have raised eyebrows. And to this point, Gillispie's recruiting could be characterized as heavier on reputation than results.

But remember, Rich Brooks' second year, plenty of UK football fans were screaming for Mitch Barnhart to dump the "old man." Two years later, the Cats were putting the finishing touches on the first of three bowl wins.

Gillispie might know in two minutes that Kevin Galloway isn't aggressive enough at Arkansas, or in seven minutes that Josh Harrellson is not playing "hard enough" at Vandy to warrant second-half action. But snap judgments don't always work.

For us, long-term, we should take a little more time than 57 games before reaching a conclusion.

Except for this one: No coach can win without players. And Patrick Patterson didn't play Tuesday night at Vanderbilt. He's a pretty good player.

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