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Gillispie’s tough love gets to the point

***This post is probably no longer very relevant, but I worked on this for about 5-7 minutes last night so I’m still going to post it.

I’ve been really, really trying to find something to write about outside of the current “Liggins-gate” surrounding the Kentucky basketball team at the moment but, to be honest, it’s what seems to be on everyone’s mind.  In nine games this season, Kentucky has won a pre-season tournament, welcomed Patrick Patterson back to the court, watched a season-long scoring explosion from Jodie Meeks and made tribute to Mr. Wildcat, but none of these things have trumped the daily speculation of the relationship between DeAndre Liggins and Billy Gillispie.  It’s become almost a “he loves me, he loves me not” up to this point between the praise Gillispie heaps on him, calling him “great” and a “star” and then seemingly refusing to play him when Michael Porter (often) finds himself struggling.  Oh yeah, there’s that whole refusal to enter the game thing too.

But, the strangest thing about the whole issue so far, to me at least, is that nearly across the board (although the internet usually does offer a “silent minority” aspect), there seems to be a unanimous questioning of Gillispie.  Now, I’m not saying that I haven’t screamed at my TV or computer for Liggins to sub in for Porter because I certainly have.  A lot.  But, it seems that somewhere along the line, a lot of people have decided that Billy Gillispie has suddenly forgotten how to coach and the lack of playing time for a freshman point guard has become their star witness in the case against Clyde.  Now, I’m not saying Gillispie isn’t guilty of these charges, I just saying that being a hard-ass with Liggins isn’t going to make me convict him.

There are a lot of things to pick at if you really want to analyze the job Kentucky’s head man is doing. You can question who he’s giving scholarships to. You can question his gameplan against North Carolina. You can question his gameday practices. But, if there is anything that we do know about Clyde, it’s that he values the point guard more than any other position.  

When Gillispie was an assistant coach at Illinois, he brought in two super-talented point men in Deron Williams and Dee Brown. When he took his first job at UTEP, his first priority was getting a point guard to run the show, which turned out to be one of my non-UK favorites of all-time, Filiberto Rivera. Hell, his first move when he got to UK was to ink point guard G.J. Vilarino. Gillispie’s best teams are the ones that have an extension of him on the floor and he isn’t getting that with Liggins right now – even with all the points and play-making ability.

Perhaps the best example of what Liggins and Gillispie are going through, though, is the relationship that Gillispie had with Acie Law at Texas A&M. I think it’s an absolute beating everytime someone cites this case as an example of what Gillispie’s no-nonsense attitude can do, but I think it’s very relevant in the Liggins scenario.  If you don’t know the story, go google stuff because I can’t bear to re-hash it, but what happened with Law wasn’t much different than what happened with Joe Crawford last year.  Here’s an excerpt from the AP in Law’s final season that pretty much sums it up the best: 

Moments after Texas A&M defeated Louisville to reach the NCAA regional semifinals, Acie Law was crying with joy. Aggies coach Billy Gillispie walked up to his standout point guard and asked, “Didn’t you believe me?”

When Gillispie took over at Texas A&M three years ago, he told Law the Aggies were going to win sooner than anyone expected.

A victory over Memphis (32-3) in San Antonio on Thursday will send the Aggies (27-6) to their first regional final, a step few saw coming after Texas A&M went 0-16 in the Big 12 Conference in 2003-04. Least of all Law, a freshman that season.

Law was skeptical of Gillispie’s vision and considered leaving when the new coach implemented workouts that resembled boot camp. But Law stuck it out, and ultimately realized his demanding coach was right.

“This season is something he promised me,” the 6-foot-3 senior said.

Along the way, Law understood Gillispie had a plan for him, too – to make him the cornerstone of a resurgent team.

Law is a finalist for the Wooden and Naismith awards, given to the nation’s best player. But he gets no favors from Gillispie.

“I like the fact that he treats me like one of the guys and he doesn’t make it easy for me,” Law said.

So, I guess what it all boils down to is that Michael Porter might be struggling and I might be having my doubts about certain aspects of the Billy Clyde regime, but I’ll trust Clyde’s judgement when it comes to the Liggins situation because I think one thing he does very well is get the best out of his point guard.

There’s no doubt in my mind that he’s giving him the “tough love” treatment, but Gillispie is as competitive as they get and he’s not trying to build a team that can beat IU or beat Miami or even beat Longwood. He’s building for something special in March and, unfortunately, things aren’t going to be too special unless DeAndre Liggins becomes what Gillispie needs him to be, which is an offensive and defensive leader and someone who has the trust of his teammates. Right now, he’s far from being those things and Gillispie knows it. Once Liggins realizes it, these games can end.

Article written by Thomas Beisner