Today was a great day in the Big Blue Nation. First and foremost, a coach was introduced that I believe will end up being beloved by the Kentucky fan base in ways that Rick Pitino and Tubby Smith never were. He is a great coach, intense and hardworking, but also a country boy…..more aw shucks than city slicker and the kind of guy that you warm up to at first look. He certainly won Kentucky fans over today and the reaction to him seems almost universally positive. In addition, it was a great day for the unification of a fan base who has spent far too long in recent years going at each other with the never-ending Tubby debates. I must admit that at times this blog became less fun, in large part because of the Grand Canyon-like divide caused by the reactions to Tubby. Today the UK fanbase was one, and as a member of that group, I was glad to see it.
And then of course, there was my hair. If you had asked me 24 hours ago if my flowing locks would become a topic for debate on UK message boards, I would not have believed it. But, due to a decision by UK to have an early press conference, my lunch hour (which was supposed to be spent at the hair stylist….i am not kidding) was spent at the new practice facility. And there of course, I was greeted by television cameras and well….the rest is history. The moment I asked my question, my text messages went off….virtually everyone saying either “I saw you on tv” or “Get a haircut hippie.” Had I known that such an uproar would ensue, I would have gone cutting early……but now my Sat morning appointment will make all happy that the 70s mop is about to go…..even though I do like it.
Finally, a personal note. Today was one of the coolest days that I have had since we began doing this. I freely admit that I am not yet a “seasoned journalist” and I will tell you that I am proud of it. It makes me happy that I can sit and appreciate the moment of today. When Billy G came into Memorial and the crowd cheered, I got chills. Many people commented on the fact that I had a big smile on my face when I was asking my question….and you are right, I did. It was a great moment for me. I thought about my grandfather and how much he would like this coach and how when I grew up in Bell County, we would have never imagined that I could be sitting there asking him a question. I have seen some comments that I looked like an “amateur” or not a “professional journalist.” Well you are right…..most of them took the 6th hiring of a coach in 76 years as a nothing event that mostly existed to make snide remarks about. I thought it was one of the neatest, most exciting times I have had in a long time…..as soon as I quit feeling like that, I will quit doing this. I would much rather be as excited as I was today, rather than be as jaded as most others in my shoes at the event are.
By now you have seen the press conference or read the quotes…..here are some other impressions and stories that I had, outside of these…..
(1) I got to speak to the players and their reactions were generally very positive. Derrick Jasper told me that he “cant wait for the challenge and he looks forward to having a coach who wants to push the ball, which plays to my strengths.” Ramon Harris said, “the new Coach seems real cool and the guys like him. I am ready to get started.” Both young men confirmed that they were not transferring and that as far as they knew, no one on the team planned to leave. All the players were there except Jodie Meeks, Michael Porter and Mark Coury…..although no explanation was given why, most assumed it was due to class issues.
(2) The most interesting comments today came from Ramel Bradley. I was the first to speak to Ramel and I asked him what he thought about the new coach and he said, “I dont know what to think. The last two weeks have just been crazy. Right now my mind is a blur.” I asked him about Tubby’s departure and he said, “it shocked me, I am not gonna lie. I was hurt, felt kind of deserted……you know we havent talked to Coach since he left, so I dont really know what happened.” I asked Bradley if he was excited about the new opportunity and he said, “I am excited and ready to get going on it…..but I do need a bit of a break from basketball after the last two weeks.”
(3) Coach Gillispie mentioned at one point during the press conference, the importance of the Seniors on the team. As he spoke about them, he looked in their direction and I watched Joe C and Ramel. Both were staring directly at him and nodded as he said that he needed them to be the leaders of the team and help bring the group along. It was an interesting moment and something that bears watching. IN the very short term, how those guys react to the new coach will be of supreme importance.
(4) It was neat to see all of the old players at the event and their interactions with the new coach. Gillispie spent time with Joe B Hall and Bill Keightley and told both how honored he was to meet them. There was a buzz of excitement amongst the room and you could see that he won them over during the event. Afterwards I spoke to a number of the older guys who said that, “we have found our guy.”
(5) On a side note, the new practice facility is amazing. IT was my first time in the building and there is no place like it in America. Maybe the best recruiting tool that UK could have an unmatched in college sports.
(6) 2.3 million a year is the base for the deal, and it looks like Gillispie will be just outside the top 3 or 4 in total compensation. The work on the contract went into the night, but the meeting was more meet and greet and talking about the various shoes that a UK coach has to fill during their time. I thought Gillispie handled the DUI question well (which had to be asked) and seems as excited as he can be. Folks thought I was giddy during the event….you should have watched him as he walked around…..no one was smiling more.
(7) That was quite a sweater Chris Cross was wearing, wasnt it?
(8) I got to talk to all the players a bit about team unity during this and I think Ramel Bradley said it best. “This stuff has brought us even closer together. Kentucky basketball is bigger than any player or any coach. We know that….and we have to get together this summer and fall and make everything successful. That is our job and is what you do at Kentucky.” He also said he was bummed out that the rap concert was cancelled but that the “day would come” for him to drop his rhymes.
(9) Now to some recruiting. Jai Lucas commented to me on Gillispie by saying, “he recruited me at Texas A&M. I know him and his staff pretty well. He did a tremendous job wherever he has been…..I think it is a good get for Kentucky.” I asked him about speaking with Billy G and he said, “I havent yet, but I look forward to it.” The Courier Journal is reporting that Patrick Patterson is looking forward to speaking with the new coach but hasnt yet. The scuttlebutt today is that Billy G wants to make a trip to Huntington this weekend to establish that connection. All I have heard suggests that Deandre Jordan is likely to stay at A&M…..in part because Gillispie is not planning on raiding him away. We shall see, but everyone should be careful getting to excited about Jordan. I am told however that Gillispie does have a plan of recruits to fill out this roster, and that he has formulated a schedule for the next 10 days to make that happen. And he feels real good about where he can be for the 2008 class.
We will have more of this stuff as the weekend goes on. I hope folks like our perspective on what went on today. It was a great experience and this is a great day for the Big Blue. During the course of the day, many in the media came up to me and complimented this blog and also the people who post here. One person that you all know said, “it is the only place with rational fans on the internet.” I thank all of you for helping build this place and we hope to continue to grow in the future.
We will have audio from the Sports Mob later tonight….more tomorrow……enjoy your weekend