It is late and there is very little in the way of news (with the exception of the fact that Calipari is going to hold a students only open practice…which is a great idea), so we will make this quick. Tonight Jerry Tipton released the story of Josh Harrellson and the Vandy halftime incident in Nashville. For those of you who have been on this site for a while, the details are not new (and were talked about extensively in this post the day after Gillispie’s dismissal. After the miserable first half the Cats played in Nashville, Billy Clyde had Josh Harrellson sit in a bathroom stall during halftime, while he addressed the rest of the team. Harrellson sat by himself in the stall and then was told to ride back to Lexington in the Equipment van, rather than with the rest of the team. The incident was part of a pattern of behavior, much of which we documented after Gillispie was let go, that ended up being one of the causes of Clyde’s dismissal from the UK program.
Harrellson plays the good soldier in this article and generally brushes off the incident. However having been around the team at the time, it isnt an exaggeration to say that the Harrellson incident was one of the turning points for Clyde as his relationship went sour in Lexington. The treatment of Harrellson was upsetting to the players, but even more so to the parents, who complained loudly behind the scenes when the story was given to them. What happened with Josh, along with a couple of other incidents during the season, was an open secret among the administration, players and families and was an example to many of Clyde’s bullying tactics that all found to be a problem. While he had belittled and bullied players before, the humiliation of this particular incident was brought up to me by more than one parent when talking about Gillispie privately, and I have often thought that it may have been the moment that he lost support from the players’ families.
While we wrote about the Harrellson incident here after the season and it was discussed on a couple of websites after Clyde’s departure, this is the first time that the mainstream media has picked up upon a Gillispie-player story. My guess is that it wont be the last. The end of the Gillispie era is an interesting case study in journalism and what can and should be written in today’s internet age. Most people who follow the team, myself included, knew about this incident when it occurred, but none made a story about it. Everyone has their reasons why they didnt write the story (mine for the record was a desire to save Harrellson from being asked the questions if I printed it (and he would subsequently have to deny it) and to personally not have to deal with the fan backlash that would have taken place), and even when I published the story the day after Gillispie’s departure, there was a significant minority of fans who believed it not to be true. I often look back at those stories and wonder if the lesson from that time is that fan sites such as this should publish negative information and face the inevitable backlash, or keep quiet and not let the fanbase know the truth, even when it isnt too their liking. That is a tough balancing act, and the Harrellson story is but just one example.
We as fans dont like bad news. One of the interesting things about being around the program is that you find out lots of information, good and bad about the team you love. Deciding the standards for what information should be released for public consumption is the hardest decision that I continually have to make and one that I still have not completely mastered. Many fans have a natural inclination to “blame the messenger” when news is bad and cast personal arrows at anyone who gives them news they dont like. For journalists, thats all part of the game. But for sites like this, it can be more than one wants to take on…especially when you are accused of “hurting the program.” But the Harrellson story does show us that what “hurts the program” may not be as simple as some let on. When people criticized Gillispie, many fans (and some websites) accused all who did so of being “anti-UK.” But would anyone now argue that UK is not INFINITELY better off now because of Gillispie’s dismissal than they were six months ago? What was once thought to hurt, was actually beneficial to the program in the long term.
Thankfully, it looks like the Clyde behavior has left with Gillispie and all I hear are GREAT relations between the current staff and players. It was depressing to be around the guys last year and know how unhappy they all were with the situation last season. We are past that now, but the Harrellson story is still important…in part because the mainstream media is now finally reporting what we have all known, but also because it reminds us that knowing what to say, and when, can be a continued source of difficulty when trying to run a site such as this.
More all day, as we get closer to South Carolina and look at the UK QB debate in a bit more detail. Plus, I asked five more national college basketball types (Mike Decoursey, Jeff Goodman, Gary Parrish, Gregg Doyel and Greg Anthony) to rank their top college basketball programs of all-time against the ESPN/Forde list. Their rankings will be in a post later this afternoon.