UK Men's Basketball

Gillispie: This season's Cats 'best-conditioned team I've ever had'

Since at least the 1950s (and maybe the 1930s), Kentucky's basketball coach appeared at the Lexington Rotary Club each fall to give its members a preview of the upcoming season.

Then new coach Billy Gillispie ruffled feathers by not showing up last year.

Gillispie made amends on Thursday by speaking to the Rotarians. He noted the team's excellent level of fitness and attitude. He spoke of perceived weaknesses in shooting and point guard play as manageable.

And he used humor to defuse any lingering animosity held by a Rotarian.

"I've had a lot of fun since I was here last year," Gillispie said early in his 30-minute appearance. "Well, I wasn't here last year."

Laughter filled the Rotary's meeting room at Fasig-Tipton auction house.

In speaking to reporters afterward, Gillispie made no promises of continuing the tradition into the future.

"Last year was strictly because of recruiting," he said. "I loved it here today. I had a good time here.

"But if next year we have a major recruiting thing I need to be at and this is the only date, I'm going to coach my team and I'm going to recruit. I think everybody understands that responsibility."

Gillispie suggested the welcoming applause he enjoyed from Rotarians on Wednesday might go away if he does not produce good teams.

"I don't think they would like it too much if we didn't have good players on that court out there. So we're going to recruit."

Judging by the applause and the line of Rotarians asking for autographs or for the coach to pose for pictures afterward, Gillispie was a hit.

"We like to feel special," Lexington Rotary President David Fister said. "I think he made us feel that way."

Gillispie spoke at noon on a day that saw Kentucky conclude its "Boot Camp" conditioning program. Unlike some schools that begin conditioning as soon as the fall semester begins, the UK coach said he prefers to condense the work to a boot camp, which this year lasted eight days.

After saying all players made their assigned times in sprints, Gillispie called the Cats of 2008-09 the "best-conditioned team I've ever had."

Gillispie cautioned against presuming the fitness will automatically translate into victories. "But I really believe it gives you the greatest chance ... to have a fantastic season."

In a question-and-answer session, Gillispie said:

■ He understood how some might wonder if UK will shoot well from the perimeter, especially with the three-point line moving a foot farther from the basket. Gillispie said his teams always made about 50 percent of their shots (47 percent last season).

Plus, he suggested that better high-post scoring will yield less-contested shots on the perimeter.

■ He believes in hard practices the day of a game.

A Rotarian asked, "What about practice before a game?" A rash of injuries and a few dead-legged performances made such practices a conversation starter last season.

To which, Gillispie replied, "I love it. I like it. It's really important, especially when you're trying to teach the team to practice with the intensity you want them to practice.

"It's common sense to me: The more you practice, the better you'll get at something."

Gillispie linked Kentucky's relatively strong finish last season to the mental and physical toughness instilled by multiple practices.

"If I can practice 50 (or) 20 more times than an opponent, I think I have a major advantage," he said.

■ How the NCAA might be inside his head. When asked if the many walk-ons might lead to a junior varsity team, Gillispie said, "We've talked of a JV team. I'm not sure what the NCAA rule is on that."

Then he added, "If we have one, they'd probably take it away."

Earlier this year, the NCAA banned text-messaging by coaches to prospects. That was a noted tool for Gillispie.

The NCAA also plans to ban programs from staging early Midnight Madness celebrations. UK was among a handful of schools that decided to stage Madness this weekend rather than when practice can officially start on Oct. 17.

The NCAA and the coaches' association also voiced disapproval of offering scholarships to ever-younger prospects after Kentucky made waves by getting a commitment from eighth-grader Michael Avery.