So it has been two weeks. How do you like your new coach? If you are like most of the Kentucky fans I speak with, you are exceedingly pleased with the new Billy Clyde era. As a matter of fact, from a fan relation standpoint, Coach Billy Clyde simply could not have done much better than he has so far. From the first “aw shucks” comments at the press conference to his immediate move towards bringing top recruits to Kentucky to his hiring of a solid new coaching staff, Billy Clyde has knocked it out of the park from the moment he stepped into the Campbell House hotel where he is Rick Majerusin it for the next few weeks.
But beyond fan relations, how do the first two weeks of the Billy Clyde experience stack up? When Presidents take office, they are often evaluated on their first 100 days….but Presidents get four years before they have to run again and UK coaches get about five games…..so the process is much quicker. Thus lets look at the first 14 days and evaluate what we have learned about what the next few years should be like. In my view, four things truly stand out:
(1) Recruiting will be MUCH DIFFERENT
During the last few years of the Tubby Smith era, those of us who follow recruiting have been pretty miserable. The reason for that misery is multi-layered, including propensity to “settle” for second-tier players, a mediocre commitment to pursuing the good players and awful player evaluation that was simply baffling. But more than anything, it was simply boring. Kentucky was not in the running for the best players and when they were (Patterson and Lucas), they couldnt finish it off…..a frustrating result for any recruiting junkie.
If nothing else folks, this is changing….and changing NOW. In 14 days, lets look at what Billy Clyde has accomplished. For the 2007 class, he has visited Jai Lucas in Houston as he tries to keep the Cats the lead dot on his radar….he has visited Pat Patterson in Huntington and convinced a kid who had basically scratched UK off the day Tubby left to put UK back among the top of his list again (an amazing feat)….he has gotten the best available player in America, Alex Legion to come for a visit as we speak and is trying to fight off Kansas, UCONN, UCLA and Florida for his services…..he has moved in on Michael Sanchez, a kid ready to prep for 2007 and is seeking to convince him to come to Kentucky instead……and that is just this year…..for 2008, he nearly got a commitment from Willie Warren in a handful of days and took UK to the top of his list without a visit (and made a home visit to Dallas), he visited in person with #1 overall player Greg Monroe…..he “camped out” in Maysville for Darius Miller….and oh yeah, he took a commitment from 09 stud point guard GJ Vilarino.
Look at that list….in two weeks Billy Clyde has been to Houston, Dallas, Huntington and Louisiana (at least) and is heading to Arkansas and Texas next week. It is not an exaggeration to say that in two weeks, Billy Clyde has done what the former staff would have taken two months to do. It is clear that recruiting is Billy Clyde’s lifeblood….he loves it, he realizes its importance and he is embracing it. And more than anything else that we will see over the next few years, one thing is going to change most dramatically…..there are about to be a boatload of stud players in Lexington….and covering recruiting will be a LOT more fun.
(2) Enthusiasm Change
It has been striking to me over the last few weeks, just how much energy is around the program. Everywhere I go, someone comes up to me and wants to know about the coach, the team or recruiting. People that I have known for years and have never mentioned sports have told me “how much they like that new coach.” Our blog has had more hits over the last two weeks than in any two-week period since its creation. All of this because of the buzz around the team and program. You dont have to be a rocket scientist to see that all the major newspapers are obsessing over recruits….the tv stations lead with the latest news on kids they didnt even know existed weeks ago…..even big WOO has talked about how pumped he is to see how the new Cats play. Over the last few years, even when Kentucky was winning, there never seemed to be the energy that was there throughout the 90s during the late Pitino and early Tubby eras. That energy is back and it is palpable all over the state.
(3) A New Attitude
When Billy Clyde was hired, a national reporter friend of mine told me, “get used to it…..there will be a different type of person around that program now. Tubby guys were all the same….take them home to momma and everyone smiles and holds hands. Billy’s guys arent exactly like that.” Well in two weeks, we have seen that this is true. Where as Tubby surrounded himself with guys like David Hobbes, George Felton and Shawn Finney, older guys with nothing resembling flamboyance, Billy Clyde’s guys are different. Jeremy Cox is a bundle of energy…..Glenn Cyprien is a recruiting maniac with tons of personality and love from the guys he goes after. And with this personality comes a little controversy. Cyprien has a resume flap in his past…..Billy Clyde has the alcohol issue in his background….things are different. I dont think that is bad at all….personality is good…but it is different.
Tubby recruits were often guys like Bobby Perry, Sheray Thomas, Brandon Stockton, Patrick Sparks…..good guys, but not long on personality. Already we have seen GJ Vilarino crack jokes on our show, Willie Warren compare himself to “Acie Law if not better” and Alex Legion come into town ready to rock. It is a different kind of player than Kentucky has had recently…..and it will be interesting to watch that transformation.
(4) Media Relations
There could not have been a less media-friendly coach than Tubby Smith. I honestly believe that part of Tubby’s ultimate downfall in Lexington had to do with the fact that his reluctance to do media appearances gave reporters very little reason to take up for him when the chips fell towards the end. He talked to no one unless he had to and gave virtually nothing resembling an interesting comment or tidbit. In two weeks, we have already seen more from Billy Clyde. He has talked in depth with print reporters, gone on television shows and is making the radio rounds (maybe even stopping to see us at some point). It is much easier to get access for comments and quotes and Billy Clyde seems to see what Tubby never could…..that AT KENTUCKY, the media can be your friend….fans want to know EVERYTHING about the program and throwing them a bone can help you, not hurt you. Yes there are those looking for the controversial, Pulitzer Prize nominated story…..but most just want you to come and say that Ramon Harris has potential, Jared Carter is recovering and you like Ramel personally….do that and you can get VERY FAR with the UK community. Billy Clyde gets it.
In two weeks it has become clear, that a major regime change has occurred at Kentucky. The implications and results of that change are still far in the future, but things are not the same on the S.S. Kentucky Wildcat. Billy Clyde has come in and swept away most of the remnants of Tubby Smith very quickly. The Cats are more agressive now in recruiting…..more of a national player for top talent….and more of a concern for rival schools. But they also arent the team with the coach that gets universal praise. Billy Clyde is going to rub some rival coaches and fans the wrong way. The days of universal praise for the “classiness” of the coach are done. Now what we have is a coach who mirrors the fanbase in his desire to win “multiple championships.” If the hallmark of a good leader is to represent his followers, Billy Clyde is perfect. The UK nation has had a passion for basketball that has bordered on obsession…..now it finally has a coach to match it.