UK Men's Basketball

More input on picking coach

The circle of University of Kentucky insiders hunting for the next basketball coach will grow a bit wider than it was two years ago when Athletics Director Mitch Barnhart made the decision to bring in Billy Gillispie.

Barnhart said UK color commentator Mike Pratt "is going to work with us a little bit just to spend some time with folks who might be interested in talking about our basketball program."

Two years ago, after Tubby Smith left UK for Minnesota, Barnhart and two of his lieutenants in the athletics department formed a three-man committee. A search firm assisted.

The Barnhart-led team quickly settled on Gillispie, who was hired and introduced to the public within 24 hours of interviewing for the job.

Now, at least one key UK booster said he hopes Barnhart brings in more help to vet coaching prospects or to at least provide progress reports to the board members who oversee the athletics department.

Luther Deaton, a Lexington banker and member of the UK Athletic Association board of directors, said in 2007 he learned of Gillispie's hire from the news.

"In my organization, any officer I hire is approved by my board," said Deaton, the president and chief executive officer of Central Bank. "That's the way we do it at the bank. But I don't know if that's the way they do it at the university."

Deaton declined to speculate on whether a broader search committee could have avoided what administrators now are calling a bad fit with Gillispie.

"Hindsight is 20/20," he said.

Charles S. Cassis, an Athletic Association board member and an attorney, said he wants to be kept in the loop but said he felt the board members were properly informed last time.

Barnhart told reporters that he sought wide input.

"We had conversations with a lot of people and got input from a lot of people," he said.

UK President Lee T. Todd Jr. said Barnhart "catches a lot of heat" unnecessarily. For instance, Todd cited criticism that UK didn't go after certain coaches in 2007.

"Two years ago when we were doing our search we talked to all of those people," he said. "Nobody knows that. And that points to integrity, because when you try to talk to some of these high-profile coaches the last thing you want to do is disclose that they're talking to you."

In a two-minute prepared remark in which Todd lauded Barnhart's tenure as athletics director, the UK president made it clear that he implicitly trusts Barnhart to lead the second search in three years for a basketball coach.

But it remains unclear whether Todd will be more involved than last time in supervising the process from behind the scenes.

Barnhart also defended his credentials to find a coach who can better mesh with UK.

"I have a great appreciation of what this basketball program means to the league, to our state and nationally," he said.

UK officials gave no hints about how soon the interviewing process will start or who will make the short list.

One of the top choices mentioned by many fans, the University of Florida's Billy Donovan, seemingly took himself out of contention with a statement Friday saying he would stay in Gainesville.

"In response to the rumors circulating about my interest in other jobs, I wanted to address this as quickly as possible," Donovan said. "I am committed to the University of Florida and look forward to continuing to build our program here."

Another possible candidate, John Calipari of Memphis, also made a statement.

"I want to be here," he said upon returning to Memphis on Friday from the NCAA Tournament. "This is where I want to coach. You know, my name will be tied to every job that's open, and I think our fans have gotten used to it."

Calipari has another loaded recruiting class to persuade him to stay at Memphis. He recruited two McDonald's All-Americans, DeMarcus Cousins and Xavier Henry, for next season. Those players would join Top 50 recruit Nolan Dennis and junior-college prospects Will Coleman and Darnell Dodson.

One tantalizing fact to ponder is that Cousins has not yet signed. Neither has point guard John Wall, whom Rivals.com rates as the nation's best prospect.

Speculation has arisen that Cousins and Wall could follow Calipari to another job.

Two Big Ten Conference coaches have also been mentioned as potential candidates: Thad Matta of Ohio State and Tom Izzo of Michigan State. When asked whether he expects to interview candidates this weekend, Barnhart stopped short of a definitive answer. "I don't think so at this juncture," he said.

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