UK Men's Basketball

Gillispie's focus on game, not future

Billy Gillispie wants to come back as Kentucky's basketball coach next season. Whether he gets that chance remained problematical — at best — as the Cats headed to what could be the final game of this season and the Gillispie Era.

During a Sunday news conference, Gillispie shrugged at intense speculation about his firing as the Cats headed for Omaha, Neb., to play Creighton in the National Invitation Tournament.

"All I do is work," he said. "That's all I've ever done (and) all I'll ever do."

That prompted a question: Because he does not acknowledge the public-relations component of being UK's coach, does Gillispie want to return?

"I love it," he said after chuckling. "I mean, I love it. I love this place."

But Gillispie could not say at a Sunday news conference whether he will remain Kentucky's coach next season.

Gillispie neither confirmed nor denied that UK President Lee Todd met with Athletics Director Mitch Barnhart late last week to discuss the future of the basketball program. Or whether the coach had met with either of his superiors about the program in recent days.

"We meet all the time," he said in sidestepping the question. "I think Mitch is out of town."

Earlier this spring, Barnhart noted how he wanted to meet with Gillispie after the season to talk about necessary "adjustments." When asked whether he'd been requested to change his approach or consider other possible alterations, Gillispie again avoided a direct answer.

"You'd have to talk to somebody else about that," he said.

Amid speculation that a UK Athletic Department official or officials recently met with only players to talk about the future, Gillispie downplayed the possible distraction his job insecurity could have on the team going into Monday's NIT second-round game at Creighton.

After saying that people can be surprisingly resilient, he added, "I don't worry about much. I worry about things I can control. What we can control is how we practice, prepare and play. I'm real excited about how they're prepared."

To continue practicing well in a poisonous atmosphere and with the student body on spring break sparked praise from the UK coach. "It's a testament to how disciplined they are and how hard they've worked all year long," he said. "They only know one way, and they continue to do it that way. And I'm proud."

Gillispie suggested that Kentucky would give a full effort in Omaha, where Creighton hasn't lost since Jan. 24 and has compiled a 16-2 record.

"Our guys are having fun," he said. "I'm having fun. And they're very, very, determined to play. We're going to go after it and see what we can do."

UK players were not available for interviews, as has been customary before road games this season.

Gillispie noted a positive effect of not making the NCAA Tournament. That absence, UK's first since 1991, matured the players "totally dramatically," the coach said.

"We're an inexperienced group," he said. "We always just kept hoping and kept hoping and working hard for it.

"The finality (of not making the NCAA Tournament) really hit hard. It gave them a great chance to mature dramatically."

Gillispie spoke of the value of experience. "The best teacher," he said. "They learned when something's not provided, hey, let's not let that happen again."

Which led to an obvious question: What had Gillispie learned about being Kentucky coach over two seasons that could be valuable going forward?

"I haven't really reflected on that," he said. "I've been worried about getting ready for Creighton."

As for the intense speculation about his job status, Gillispie said he concentrated on continuing to work in recruiting and coaching. As he did at the SEC Tournament and before the NIT opener, and again on his television show that aired Sunday, he saw a bright future, presumably with himself as coach.

"Next year, it's unlimited what they could win," he said in an interesting use of the word "they."

But a moment later, Gillispie shifted to a plural personal pronoun.

"We need to get back to the absolute elite level," he said, "and I don't think we're very far from that."