Sports

Don't count on Gillispie changing

John Clay
John Clay

Billy Gillispie isn't going to change.

It's not his way. The Kentucky basketball coach isn't going to play a zone defense, or stop his game-day practices, or adhere to normal substitution patterns. He has his principles and he's not backing down. He's not that kind of guy. His stubbornness is not so much his strength as it is his DNA. He's a bulldog, a fighter. He's right in his view and he's not giving in.

Problem is, his view is too narrow.

For this job it is, anyway. Gillispie got it wrong Thursday when he told the media Kentucky was no different than any other basketball job. "Not to me," he said.

That's where, two years on the job, the paths part. He's right that wins and losses matter most. Victories pay the freight. But even there, Gillispie is just 38-26 in his two seasons. His will be the first Kentucky team in 17 years not to make the NCAA Tournament.

True, it's been only two years and he doesn't have a full complement of his own players. But that's not the problem, because that's only part of the job.

Yes, Kentucky fans want a coach who wins, but they also want a coach who does the other things, the little things, who represents the program and the state the way it should be represented.

Kentucky fans aren't wrong to expect that. Neither are Mitch Barnhart or Lee Todd. It isn't that hard.

The way Gillispie put it last week, it's as if he sees winning and handling the other aspects of the job as mutually exclusive. You can't achieve the first while wasting time on the second. He acts like spending time as a public figure, a "celebrity," would somehow hinder his ability to win games. He doesn't have time to be nice.

Rick Pitino was a celebrity. He lived on it. He opened a restaurant, sold pasta, authored books. He didn't mind his name in the spotlight, preferred it there. It was all publicity. It was good publicity for him and his employer. It helped him sell, helped him recruit, helped him win. And Kentucky won, too.

Tubby Smith thrived by taking a different route. If Smith lacked Pitino's star power, he owned the common touch. He had the class and manners of the Southern gentleman. He didn't forget friends, or turn down autographs, or brush off handshakes.

You can say what you want about Smith's on-the-court accomplishments over his final two or three years, but it's inarguable that he always represented the university the right way.

You see, one man's roadblock is another man's opportunity. That 30-second halftime interview on national television isn't an aggravating nuisance as much as it is a chance to sell yourself and your program. Advertisers pay huge sums for that kind of air time.

That booster you bypass might be the one who knows a hotshot high school stud who could help your program. That autograph-seeking kid you blow by might be the one who rips that UK poster off his wall and replaces it with Tyler Hansbrough.

Why make it harder than it has to be?

Unfortunately, Gillispie seems ill-equipped for a lot of that. He's shy and often uncomfortable. He wants his games, his tapes and his practices. He wants to concentrate on what he cares about, and leave all the "celebrity" stuff to someone else.

He wants this job to be like any other job, but it's not. Isn't that why he came here in the first place?

And Gillispie is not going to change. We know that by now. His first season, when word was making the rounds that the launch of the Gillispie era was off to a rocky start, UK officials privately claimed things were getting better, that they hoped for the best.

But we know now, Billy Gillispie isn't going to change.

And the guess here is that UK is tired of hoping.

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