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The OTHER Things You Need To Know About Billy G.

Posted by Condo on April 9, 2007

It took all of five seasons for Billy Gillispie to go from an anonymous face on a milk carton and his first head coaching gig in lowly El Paso, Texas to rock star status and his 3rd head coaching gig in Lexington, Kentucky. A former assistant to Bill Self at Tulsa and Illinois, Gillespie was asked to turn around a UTEP program who hadn’t see any level of prominence since 1966 when they were known as Texas Western.

His first season did not start off so hot, finishing with a 6-24 record, good for dead last in the WAC. Despite the poor showing, Gillispie put his recruiting expertise to work so that his first recruiting class ranked in the top 25 in the country and included Filberto Rivera, the 2003 National Junior College Player of the Year, and Omar Thomas, the all-time leading scorer in junior college basketball. Anytime you can pull a top 25 recruiting class with a record of 6-24, that should tell you something about the coach. After the first season, Gillispie has been on a meteoric rise to the national level of prominence he now receives as the new University of Kentucky head coach.

In season #2 with UTEP, Gillispie and his new recruits at UTEP were pegged to finish 9th in the pre-season WAC rankings. Instead, UTEP won the WAC for the first time in 12 seasons with an overall record of 24-8 and their first NCAA tournament appearance in several seasons. The 18-win improvement was the best in Division I basketball that season, and one of the best in Division I history.

From there, Gillispie was offered the job at Texas A&M and accepted, hoping to improve the team from their 7-21 overall record and winless conference performance from the previous season. In year #1 at A&M, Gillispie’s ball club finished 21-10 with an 8-8 conference record and an NIT bid, in which the team went on to win 2 games, their first wins in post season play in 23 seasons. The Aggies were named the country’s most improved team, making Gillispie the only coach in history to lead the most improved team in consecutive seasons. As a result of his success, he was the consensus selection for Big 12 Coach of the Year and was a finalist for National Coach of the Year honors.

Year #2 with the Aggies brought more of the same improvement with a 21-8 overall record and a 10-6 conference mark bringing the Aggies to their first NCAA tournament appearance since 1987. As a 12-seed, the Aggies upset #5 seed and Big East tournament champion Syracuse in Round 1, before falling in Round 2 58-57 to eventual Final Four participant LSU.

In Gillispie’s third, and eventual final, season in Texas A&M, he put a stamp on the program that helped lead him to the job at UK. The team finished 27-7 with a 13-3 conference record which was good for 2nd in the Big 12 behind only Kansas. Gillispie was again named Big 12 coach of the year, setting a school record in wins, 27, and making the Sweet 16 for the first time since 1980 by defeating Pennsylvania in Round 1 and former UK coach Rick Pitino’s Louisville Cardinals in Round 2.

He was offered and verbally agreed to a contract extension with Texas A&M that would have made him the highest paid coach in the Big 12 at $1.7 million per season, plus incentives, however, knowing the UK job was still available and wanting it so badly, he chose to never sign that contract and in the end, ended up at what appears to be his dream job in Lexington.

If you ask me, this guy has the same look that Rick Pitino had when he took the job in Lexington 18 years ago. He’s young by coaching standards at 37 years of age. Was a relative unknown up until this postseason. Keep in mind, Pitino was Kentucky’s sixth choice for the job coming off a bad stint as head coach with the New York Knicks in 1987-1989 and had only 3 seasons as a head coach in college with Providence from 1985-1987.

I’d say Pitino worked out rather well with Kentucky in his first go around and I see no reason why Billy G. won’t have the same sort of success. If there’s something these guys have in common it’s that they handle the media really well (as evident by Billy G’s press conference) and they both are outstanding recruiters who play a very fast style of basketball. I think Kentucky’s 6th coach in 76 years will be here for a long time coming, great hire Mitch, regardless of how crazy you made this coaching search look!

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