Gillispie Hired As Kentucy Basketball Coach

Friday, April 6th 2007, 11:26 am
By: News On 6

LEXINGTON, Ky. (AP) Kentucky's restless two weeks are over. The Wildcats have a new coach in Billy Gillispie, who will try to restore some of the luster to college basketball's winningest school.

Athletic department spokesman Scott Stricklin said Friday the hiring of the former Texas A&M coach will be announced at an afternoon pep rally, followed by a news conference.

Gillispie agreed to a seven-year contract to succeed Tubby Smith, university spokesman Jay Blanton said. Financial terms weren't immediately available. The school's Athletics Association Board scheduled an afternoon meeting to make the hire official.

Fans were trickling into Memorial Coliseum 90 minutes before the news conference. Bruce Springsteen's "Glory Days" blared from speakers while students gathered before a makeshift stage. Blue pompons were in place on the first few rows of the bleachers.

Gillispie becomes Kentucky's sixth coach in the last 76 years and follows Smith, who spent a decade in the glare of the sport's brightest spotlight before bolting to Minnesota. Gillispie led the Aggies to the NCAA tournament's round of 16 this year for the first time since 1980.

The Wildcats turned to Gillispie after another Billy -- Florida's Billy Donovan -- decided Thursday to stay with the Gators. Texas' Rick Barnes also indicated Thursday he wasn't interested, but the job was never formally offered to anyone other than Gillispie.

Smith left the Wildcats after 10 seasons to coach Minnesota last month, with four years left on his contract.

Gillispie is 100-58 in five seasons as a coach. He spent the last three years with the Aggies, molding the longtime also-ran into a Big 12 power. Texas A&M went 27-7 this season.

His success made him a hot commodity. He was approached by Arkansas after Stan Heath was fired, but decided to stay with the Aggies, agreeing to a contract worth $1.75 million.

The 47-year-old coach, however, never signed, and he didn't hesitate when Kentucky came calling. Texas A&M athletic director Bill Byrne gave Barnhart permission to speak to Gillispie on Thursday night. By Friday morning the job was his.

Gillispie was an assistant under Bill Self at Tulsa and Illinois before coaching UTEP in 2002. He coached the Miners for two seasons, surviving a 6-24 season in 2002-03, then producing a 24-8 record the next year.

Texas A&M lured him in 2004, and Gillispie didn't waste time turning around a program that went winless in Big 12 play the year before his arrival. The Aggies made it to the NIT his first season and the NCAA tournament the next two.

Behind senior point guard Acie Law, the Aggies spent most of the 2006-07 season ranked in the top 10. They finished 13-3 in the Big 12.

Gillispie's finest moment came at Rupp Arena, guiding the Aggies to wins over Penn and Louisville in the opening rounds of this year's NCAA tournament. The Louisville game featured Smith's predecessor, Rick Pitino, coaching against Smith's successor, Gillispie, on Kentucky's home court.

Gillispie is the sixth Kentucky coach since 1931, when Hall of Famer Adolph Rupp began a 42-year reign that turned the Wildcats into a national power. Rupp won four national titles, with Joe Hall, Pitino and Smith adding one each.

Kentucky's failure to return to the Final Four since winning the title in Smith's debut season of 1997-98 was a sore spot for Wildcats fans accustomed to success.

Smith compiled a 263-83 record as the Wildcats' coach and his teams advanced at least to the second round of the NCAA tournament in each of his 10 seasons. But because the program lost 10 or more games under Smith five times, some critics labeled him "10-loss Tubby."

Kentucky went 22-12 this season and was seeded No. 8 for the second straight year, with the tournament outcome the same as well. Last year, top-seeded Connecticut knocked off the Wildcats in round two. This year, it was top-seeded Kansas.

Gillispie inherits a team facing a number of questions. Star center Randolph Morris, who played perhaps his best ball in the SEC and NCAA tournaments, signed with the New York Knicks.

Morris' top backup, Lukasz Obrzut, was a departing senior, as was starting power forward Bobby Perry and his backup, Sheray Thomas. The top center now appears to be Jared Carter, who missed almost the entire season after shoulder surgery. Seldom-used freshman Perry Stevenson could start at power forward.

The team returns three starting guards -- freshman Derrick Jasper and juniors Joe Crawford and Ramel Bradley -- as well as freshman Jodie Meeks.

Smith's departure leaves Kentucky's recruiting class in limbo. Smith had concentrated on forward Patrick Patterson, a teammate of O.J. Mayo's in Huntington, W.Va., and guard Jai Lucas of Houston, son of former NBA player and coach John Lucas. The players have yet to sign letters of intent.