Kentucky hires Gillispie as basketball coach
By JEFFREY McMURRAY
Associated Press Writer
LEXINGTON, Ky. (AP) - Kentucky's restless two weeks is 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.
Gillispie was hired as Kentucky's sixth coach in the last 76 years on Friday, a person familiar with the search process told The Associated Press. The former Texas A&M coach will replace Tubby Smith, who spent a decade in the glare of the sport's brightest spotlight before bolting to Minnesota.
Gillispie, who led the Aggies to the NCAA tournament's round of 16 this year for the first time since 1980, was to be introduced at an afternoon pep rally at Memorial Coliseum followed by a news conference, said the person familiar with the search, speaking on condition of anonymity pending an official announcement.
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 in the job, but it was never formally offered to any candidate other than Gillispie.
Gillispie replaces Smith, who left the Wildcats after 10 seasons to take the head coaching job in Minnesota last month, despite having 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.
ESPN Billy Gillispie Bio
His success with the Aggies made Gillispie a hot commodity. He was approached by Arkansas after Stan Heath was fired, but decided to stay with the Aggies, agreeing to a new contract worth $1.75 million that would have made him among the Big 12's highest-paid coaches.
The 47-year-old coach, however, never signed the deal 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, and 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 leading the Miners to 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 this season.
Gillispie's finest moment came at Rupp Arena - he guided 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 that faces several personnel questions, particularly in the frontcourt. 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, whose ability to nail 3-pointers provided a lift off the bench.
Smith's departure also leaves Kentucky's recruiting class in limbo. Smith had concentrated his recruiting 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 haven't yet signed letters of intent.
AP Sports Writer Will Graves in Louisville, Ky., contributed to
(Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)