Wildcats Thunder Football/Recruiting Analyst
Billy Gillispie was hired as UK's Head Basketball Coach on April 6. Here, I will discuss Coach Gillispie's brief tenure as UK's basketball coach after only one month on the job.
I bring up this issue because, as everyone knows by now, I am not expecting a miraculous turnaround in UK's basketball program next season. I believe the talent level left over from Tubby's regime is somewhat less than most fans think. I have become convinced of that fact after discussing the issue at length with two former UK basketball players and a former UK football player. One of the former Wildcats has discussed the matter directly with Gillispie himself, and tells me that the new staff is not completely impressed with the returning Wildcats. In particular, our new staff is not thrilled about the returning baseline talent, or the recruiting class Tubby signed in November.
A second critical factor to consider is the class stratification of UK's current 2007-08 basketball roster:
- Freshmen: (3) Legion, Stewart, Williams
- Sophs: (6) Carter, Harris, Jasper, Meeks, Porter, Stevenson
- Juniors: (0)
- Seniors: (2) Bradley, Crawford
A quick look at this roster tells us two important things:
1) Barring transfers, Gillispie has two more scholarships to offer in the current class, and
2) Barring transfers, Gillispie will have a total of two additional scholarships to offer in his next two recruiting classes, combined.
This is an important concept, because it shapes the staff's short term recruiting behavior right out of the chute, and also dictates their recruiting plans for the foreseeable future.
It must be mentioned here that rumors are flying all over the internet about possible transfers. Derrick Jasper and Michael Porter have been most prominently mentioned on the rumor mill although, significantly, both kids have already announced publicly that they plan to stay at UK. This latter fact certainly seems to contradict the rumors about them. Another rumor suggests that November UK signee Mike Williams may be turned loose from his LOI. Presently, this rumor has no merit. While it is true (again, confirmed by a former UK player who knows Gillispie) that our new staff is not optimistic about Williams' athletic ceiling, OTOH they aren't going to pull the rug out from under the kid. Williams signed a valid LOI to play for UK, and that is binding on both parties for one year. UK does not have a right to nullify this commitment. Williams could ask for a release but, so far, there is no reason to believe he will do that. While Williams is not very athletic, he does have one outstanding athletic quality....i.e., his competitive nature. Williams is not the kind of kid who gives up easily.
Point being, UK basketball scholarships are at a severe premium now, and will remain so for several years. Even if someone transfers, the numbers are going to be tight.
UK returns a deep, experienced backcourt. GJ Vilarino has already verballed to UK for 2009, and Brandon Jennings may be recruited hard by Gillispie for next year's signing class. But in the meantime, Gillispie is not hurting for guards. However, UK's baseline has been in trouble for years. The dominating presence of Randolph Morris has somewhat neutralized UK's glaring lack of athletic forwards, but Morris is gone to the NBA now. The returning baseline players are Carter, Stevenson, and Harris. None of them are ready to start in the SEC. Additionally, Crawford and Meeks were utilized out of position at "3" last year. They are very good SEC players, but both are natural "2"s. The November class includes two baseline prospects (Stewart and Williams) who will not contribute much early.
One must understand these facts in order to appreciate what Gillispie has done in one month on the job.
Gillispie's first recruiting success came with the recent commitment of Michigan swing man Alex Legion. At 6'5" 220#, Legion has the size, strength, and athleticism to play "3" in Gillispie's system and defend SEC athletes. In that stroke, Gillispie signed the best athlete UK's roster has seen since Morris and Rondo signed, if not longer. His offensive skills are good enough to give UK another primary scorer and take some pressure off of other UK players. His athletic upside is immense. It's early for judging Legion's career, but I am hearing from a current NBA executive who reads this board that Legion is a sure fire NBA player if he stays healthy. The acquisition of Legion means Gillispie won't have to worry about the "3" position for several years.
This leaves "4" and "5" for Gillispie to address. Getting a late start in the spring recruiting race meant Gillispie had to be innovative. He has put on the full court press for Pat Patterson, the best unsigned HS prospect left in the class. His recent in-home visit to the Pattersons in Huntington was, by all accounts, a home run. Patterson will announce within the next week, and UK is still in the picture for his services because of Gillispie's tenacious, comprehensive approach to his recruitment.
After carefully evaluating the JUCO ranks and failing to find a prospect who merits a UK scholarship under the circumstances, Gillispie has encouraged former 2008 prospects Beas Hamga and Michael Sanchez to reclassify to 2007. It has been a long time since UK had a coach who would go to such lengths to attempt to solve a roster deficiency.
In the next week or two, UK's 2007 class will be completed. I still believe Patterson will probably sign elsewhere, but it is a tribute to Gillispie that UK still has a realistic shot. Gillispie has managed to put himself in as good of a position with Patterson as anyone could have, under the circumstances.
In the meantime, Hamga and Sanchez are taking a close look at UK because of Gillispie.
Signing two from among Patterson, Sanchez, and Hamga would go a long way toward addressing UK's glaring baseline deficiencies. Signing even one of them would give UK a solid four-man 2007 class, and leave an additional precious scholarship open for 2008. This means Gillispie has a chance to make lemonaid out of lemons.
We have to keep this in perspective. Gillispie has been UK's coach since April 6. Even if he strikes out with Patterson, Hamga, and Sanchez, it is nonetheless remarkable that he has UK high on the finalists lists of all three baseline prospects in five weeks of work. If he signs even one of the three, he will have done more for UK's baseline in just over one month than Tubby did in the last three years.
If he signs two of them, he should be well on his way to SEC COTY.
All of that having been said, 2008-09 and 2009-10 look to me like Gillispie's breakthrough seasons at UK. I think it would be a mistake to expect too much next season, no matter who he signs this month, since freshmen generally don't dominate the SEC.
But I have to be impressed by what Gillispie has accomplished in his first month on the job. He has returned excitement to UK basketball, he has brought hope to UK fans everywhere, and he has put UK on the lists of nearly every major HS prospect in America. That's a pretty good month for a program that has finished outside the top 25 polls for two consecutive seasons.