With former Kentucky Coach Billy Gillispie on sick leave and reportedly seeking treatment at the Mayo Clinic, it might not seem like the time to belittle him. Is it piling on to find fault with a sick man who could be fired any time because of recent allegations of mistreating players as Texas Tech coach?
Not if you're Tom Penders, who feels a refreshing obligation to be honest and straight forward.
In recent postings on his highly-entertaining Twitter feed, Penders has written about what he thinks of Gillispie. In short, not much.
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"Sometimes in tweets, you don't have the characters you need," Penders playfully said of the 140-character limit on tweets. This causes Penders to not always use an appropriate word. Tongue presumably somewhat in cheek, he said Twitter inhibits the use of a word "like 'unprofessional.'"
As his tweets clearly — and bluntly — stated, Penders has a history with Gillispie.
When he coached at Houston, Penders entered what he thought was a home-and-home series with Gillispie-coached Texas A&M. After the series began with a game at A&M, Gillispie refused to play at Houston, said Penders, who added, "the contract was not well written."
History repeated itself when Gillispie coached for UK. His predecessor, Tubby Smith, agreed to a home-and-home with Houston. Problems arose when Smith departed after the 2006-07 season, which included a visit by Houston to Rupp Arena. Again, Houston found Gillispie reluctant to return the game.
"It took six months to get a date, and no return phone calls," Penders recalled in a telephone interview. "Stuff like that. What do you want me to say? He's a nice fellow?"
Dave Maggard, then Houston Director of Athletics and a former Olympian, publicly threatened to come to Lexington and (figuratively?) kick butt in order to make UK live up to its contractual obligation.
Penders also accused Gillispie of conspiring with "the Ponzi schemer" to get the Houston coaching job. Gillispie and David Salinas, who committed suicide after being implicated in a Ponzi scheme, sought to line up contributors to buy out his Houston contract, Penders said.
The Texas Tech allegations, if true, mark "just a continuation of unprofessional behavior," said Penders, who decried how one person can sully the reputation of all coaches. "It makes people on the outside look at coaches like we're all that way."
To anyone who questions the criticism heaped upon Gillispie, Penders had a telling response.
"I don't see anybody standing up saying, 'That's unbelievable,'" Penders said. "Or 'That's not his style.'"
The overriding question with Billy Gillispie is simple: Why?
Why push players to the point of rebellion, as was alleged at Texas Tech and rumored at Kentucky? Why treat people poorly?
Tom Penders offered a possibility.
Such behavior seemed hard to believe "unless somebody really thought they were Bobby Knight," Penders said.
While at Kentucky, Gillispie spoke reverently of the tyrannical Knight.
If Gillispie wanted to act like Knight, Penders said, "I don't think Billy's earned that."
Winning, and a lot of it, must come first to justify an imperious aura.
Speaking of Gillispie's record as UK coach, Penders said, "I don't think 40-27 would even fly at the University of Houston."
Dusty Mills, the former walk-on dismissed from the UK team by Gillispie, said Gillispie would not put a hand on a player. Of course, video surfaced of Knight putting a hand on Neil Reed's throat during an Indiana practice.
"As hard as he is mentally and verbally," Mills said of Gillispie, "I have 100 percent faith that he'd never lay a hand on a player. I have all the faith in the world in that."
'Played for fun'
During an appearance at a UK Athletics Committee last week, soccer player Kayla King spoke movingly about a trip she and other selected athletes took to Ethiopia in late July.
King and seven other UK athletes visited the east African country, where they delivered food and charcoal, did fix-up work, planted and weeded gardens and generally broadened their horizons.
"I thought I'd seen abject poverty," King said in addressing the Athletics Committee. "Ethiopia changed my life."
A speech about past trips to Africa by Director of Athletics Mitch Barnhart piqued King's interest. She saw it as a chance to "expand my worldview."
King was part of a third group of UK athletes to travel to Ethiopia in the last two years. Other players on the July trip were soccer teammate Brooke Keyes, gymnast Kayla Hartley, basketball player Kastine Evans, golfer Megan Moir, softball's Aubrey Lamar, Emily Holsopple of rifle and Grace Trimble of tennis.
Jason Schlafer, an associate athletic director for marketing and licensing, said each trip costs UK about $25,000 — a pittance as the athletics department counts money, and a small price to pay for perhaps a once-in-a-lifetime experience.
Now, King said, she more easily dismisses the everyday annoyances. "I have no complaints," she said.
King, a goalkeeper, agreed with a reporter's suggestion that the trip to Ethiopia even shrunk the significance of sports' overarching ethos: winning or losing.
"At the end of the day, if I come up short, it's disappointing, yes," she said. "But it's going to be OK. Soccer is not the be all and end all. It's always played for fun."
Leftovers from last week's official announcement that Rupp Arena will use about half of the 2012 Final Four court in its reconstruction of UK's locker room:
■ Connor Sports Flooring, a company based in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, makes the courts used in the Final Four. Lauren Gillian, a marketing director for the company, said the courts are made from Grade 1 maple. It takes about 80 to 90 trees to make a court. The trees used in the making of courts come from Wisconsin.
■ Connor Sports Flooring makes about 700 courts each year. A court usually costs from $85,000 to $95,000, although the Final Four court in New Orleans cost in the range of $100,000 to $125,000. It takes about six weeks to two months to make a court, Gillian said.
■ UK will play on a Connor Sports Flooring court in the game against Maryland in the Brooklyn Nets' new Barclays Center.
■ Gillian said that any uneasiness about a national champion program splitting up a court to use in a fund-raising effort is far outweighed by the revenue and publicity generated in making courts for the NCAA Tournament. "We see it as a win-win for us," he said. UK and its partner, Northwestern Mutual, plan to use a portion of the 2012 Final Four court in a fund-raiser to benefit charity. Details on the on-line auction of pieces of the court, signed by UK Coach John Calipari, will be announced in the next few weeks.
■ Dan Rivers, an executive with Northwestern Mutual, noted Calipari's talent for retailing as key in using a portion of the floor for fund-raising. "It's Coach Cal's marketing prowess," he said. "... That makes it really worthwhile."
■ The reconstruction in Rupp Arena will create a so-called "bunker suite" for contributors to the K Fund. The area where such contributors meet under a corner of the Rupp Arena grandstand will have a glass wall. This glass wall will give K Fund donors a view of UK players as they move from the locker room to the tunnel leading onto the Rupp Arena court.
In speaking to reporters Friday, ESPN's Dick Vitale expressed surprise that Kentucky won the 2012 national championship.
"I'll be honest," he said. "I didn't think (John Calipari) would win a national title here."
Vitale believed the reliance on so-called one-and-done players would create too big a hurdle against veteran teams deep in the NCAA Tournament.
That said, Vitale cautioned UK fans not to take another championship for granted.
"They're probably the most passionate fans, and as loyal and dedicated as you can be," Vitale said. "They have to understand it will take a little while (for UK to mesh this coming season)."
Vitale questioned his No. 3 pre-season ranking for Kentucky. He noted how maybe even he took for granted Calipari's proven ability to make ultra-talented prospects an effective team.
Vitale described his ranking of UK at No. 3 as almost a reflex. "Just say John Calipari, great recruiting class, great players, they'll be an instant super team."
Upon reflection, Vitale noted how Terrence Jones, Doron Lamb and Darius Miller brought Final Four experience to UK's team last season.
Work, work, work
Coaches who talk about how hard they work amuse, if not annoy, Tom Penders.
The former coach at Texas and Houston (among other stops) cited "Chuckie" (Jon Gruden) as an example of someone who overworks the work-ethic creed.
Calling the idea of sleeping half a night "crazy," Penders said, "Who can think straight on three or four hours of sleep?
"These guys who say they outwork people, if you need three hours to break down film, you're an idiot."
Because of the Democratic National Convention, the Charlotte Bobcats could not work out in the basketball home, the Time Warner Cable Arena. So the Bobcats improvised while the Democrats re-nominated Barack Obama for president.
The Bobcats worked out at Johnson & Wales University, a private non-profit school in Charlotte during the day. The team held night workouts at Providence Day, a private high school in Charlotte, spokesman B.J. Evans wrote in an email.
A note last week said that UK point guard Ryan Harrow wears No. 12 because his uncle Erasto Hatchett, wore that number for Morton Middle School and Henry Clay High School.
Two corrections are needed.
Hatchett wore No. 12 for nearly all his basketball career, beginning when he was 7 years old through college. But as a ninth-grader at Morton Middle School he wore No. 24.
Hatchett is Harrow's brother-in-law.
To Rick Pitino. The Louisville coach turns 60 on Tuesday. ... To Todd Svoboda. He turned 41 on Friday. ... To Dickey Beal. He turns 50 on Tuesday. ... To Derrick Hord. He turns 52 on Wednesday. ... To John Brady. The former LSU coach turns 58 on Monday. ... To Marquis Estill. Newly installed on the UK staff as an undergraduate student assistant coach, he turned 31 on Saturday. ... To Adam Williams. He turns 27 on Wednesday.