Well that was quite a 24 hours wasnt it? On a day when UK fans poured out their emotions like no other, the Cats’ fanbase tried to make sense out of the loss to Georgia on Wednesday. The conversation all over the Bluegrass on Thursday was about virtually nothing but the Cats. The interest in and discussion of, the Big Blue dominated everything. Everywhere I went, from a legal mediation to the 7th Region Basketball Tournament, all anyone wanted to discuss was the status of the Cats. This website saw its all-time hit record (set the day of the Patrick Patterson commitment) shattered by over 10,000 page views. The national media weighed in with blistering columns and debates on shows like PTI. The topic of Kentucky’s chances in the NCAA Tournament were asked in every setting from Joe Lunardi on a KSR Live Blog to the studio hosts on NBATV. It was a whirlwind of a day and here are some highlights:
— The day started with Joe Lunardi saying the Cats are not out of the NCAA Tournament. In his live blog with us (which incidentally was only 30 minutes long, but saw over 8,000 Cat fans log-on), Lunardi said that if Kentucky can win in Gainesville and get one meaningful win at the SEC Tournament, they are likely in. He said that with a UK loss at Florida, an SEC Tournament title may be required but a win at Florida puts the Cats right back in. I found the news to be somewhat shocking, but it goes to show just how much the bubble teams have struggled this year. Lunardi’s news was a ray of sunshine on a fairly dark day.
— Reports came out this morning about the future of Patrick Patterson once again. One of the UK internet “gurus” who just two weeks ago had 100% guaranteed that Patrick Patterson would return, abruptly reversed course and said it was now likely that he would leave. One would think 100% certainty couldnt change, but for internet gurus that is never the case. The more reliable Larry Vaught reported that Patrick Patterson’s mother talked with Mitch Barnhart following the game and was “visibly upset” during the conversation, leading to speculation as to what (if anything) may have been said. In the end, the truth is that nothing about Wednesday night changed what Patterson will or will not do. He will make a decision at the end of the year based upon his NBA Draft status, just as we have said he would do all along. But the internet, as it always does, created needless drama on the issue today.
— Jeff Goodman produced an article in which he ripped Gillispie as the wrong hire at Kentucky. In the article, former players Kenny Walker, Mike Casey and Bobby Perry were quoted, as was an unnamed former player who said that Gillispie was “abusive” towards his players. Goodman quoted a poll from this site that essentially showed a 50-50 split amongst the fan base as to whether Gillispie should return. That split has remained at that amount all day, even though nearly 4,000 votes have been cast up to this point.
— Some internet reports incorrectly said that Kentucky had a 2 1/2 hour practice the day of the Georgia game. I spoke with some folks at UK and this did not occur. It was a normal walk-thru and there was no intense practice as incorrectly rumored.
— Patrick Patterson expressed doubt about UK taking an NIT bid. Two different sets of quotes were taken from Patterson, one in which it was suggested he didnt want to go to the NIT if offered and another that suggested that he would prefer an NIT bid to no postseason basketball at all. Either way, the specter of the NIT has unfortunately been realized as a reality.
So that is the day that was…..a depressing day in the Big Blue Nation and one that we would like to soon forget. With so much negativity going around, it seems like today may be a good day to be constructive and figure out helpful suggestions as to what Billy Clyde can do going forward to win back some of the fans. Because I am supremely underqualified to talk about anything related to the task of running a major college basketball program, it seems somehow fitting that I would go ahead and undertake this task. So here are four humble suggestions to make things a bit better:
(1): Give the Fans a Realization that You Understand Their Frustration
The biggest complaint that I hear from most UK fans is that they dont think that Gillispie “gets it”….that he doesnt realize how important all of this is to the fan base and thus he plays games instead of trying to win each and every game. While I understand where this is coming from, I think the fans are off base here. No one is more passionate about basketball than Gillispie and he wants to win as much as anyone I have known….BUT he doesnt do a good job of showing that. The postgame comments often suggest a guy content with losing, when in all actuality the exact opposite is true. When the Cats are losing, fans take the pictures of Gillispie on the sideline smirking as evidence of a guy that doesnt care. Some comments, either in an interview or a post season presser that can illustrate just how much losing games like Georgia hurts him, would go a long way in that regard.
(2): Change the Way You Interact With the Media
It cannot be denied that Gillispie’s actions with the media over the last few weeks have been testy at best and embarrassing at worst. It started with Jeanine Edwards and his unnecessary decisions to be rude to her and has culminated in his testiness with the voice of the Cats, Tom Leach. Gillispie tried to insinuate last night that Leach (who is maybe the nicest person I know) was trying to get him to throw his players under the bus and that he wouldnt do it on the postgame show. But after unnecessarily calling him out, he then criticized his players and didnt mention his throwing of Perry Stevenson under the bus last week. These comments last night were mentioned to me by countless people today and truly upset some loyal Cats’ followers. Billy, if you dont like a question or dont want to answer it, just dont. But you dont need to call someone out and act like the Chesire Cat who believes he is smarter than everyone else around…..folks dont like a grouchy “know it all” and such reactions are unnecessary.
(3): Explain to the Fans Why You Do Some of the Things You Do
How many losses have ended with the explanation “we got whipped”? Billy’s ubiquitous answer to every loss has become a point of frustration for fans who cant understand why he coaches the way he does. But this fan base has some of the smartest basketball IQ fans in America….is it too much to ask that you explain a bit of why you make the decision you do? You dont like to play zone and generally only play an intense half court pressure defense that causes open outside three pointers….why? You play Michael Porter and Ramon Harris a great deal and sit Kevin Galloway and DeAndre Liggins….why? You call out Perry Stevenson and Josh Harrellson for lack of effort and ability but dont tell us why? Its not that these decisions are all bad…..but they go against what many fans see on the court and thus without anything resembling an explanation, they seem illogical. Some description as to WHY Kentucky lost to Georgia beyond “we got whipped”, “we arent tough” and “we need more guys like Ramon Harris” would go a long way in helping fans get behind you in tough times.
(4): Show the Fans the Softer (and likeable) side of Billy Gillispie More Often
Here is a little secret….when he wants to be, Billy Gillispie can be a really nice and funny guy. I have seen him on numerous occasions when he has been personable to me and called me by a nickname (“law dog”) that always makes me smile. But more importantly, I have seen how he acts around the countless UK fans that come up to him and ask for his autograph or a picture. He is almost always generous with his time and comments and he has done numerous positive things for people outside the public view. That Billy Gillispie, the one that isnt short or belittling to people, is someone that people could truly like. As a former player told me recently, “the fans want to LOVE the coach, not just like him…..if they give them any reason at all, they will make him a hero.” I believe that is 100% true. The fans want to be behind their coach and are willing to give them the benefit of the doubt completely. But you have to give them something to love….and when all they see is the smirking, the yelling and the attitude, it is hard to get behind that. Show the public what some of us have seen in private and it will go a long way.
Notice that none of those suggestions have to do with on the court actions. I have my opinions on those, but ultimately that is the coach’s call. But I think a large part of the fans’ problems right now isnt even based on the on-the-court issues. They see a team struggling and are frustrated, but that frustration becomes much more intense by a lingering belief that Billy Gillispie is not the kind of person that they want being the UK coach and representative. Gillispie cant play for the players, but he can work on that perception. If he did, the fan base would most certainly show a lot more support during what are sure to be more difficult times ahead.
Lots more all day, stay tuned……