Plot thickens as Kentucky coaching drama unfolds

March, 26, 2009
BOSTON -- While college basketball fans watch the Sweet 16 and the allegations of major NCAA violations unfolding at Connecticut, a subplot develops in the Commonwealth of Kentucky.

Kentucky arrived home from its NIT quarterfinal loss to Notre Dame around 4 a.m. Thursday. The Wildcats bused back from South Bend, Ind., because the distance fell 25 miles short of the 350-mile rule that allows teams to fly during the NIT.

Kentucky coach Billy Gillispie was scheduled to go to his television show Thursday morning and then his radio show in the early evening. He had no scheduled meetings Thursday with either athletic director Mitch Barnhart, who drove back separately from South Bend, or school president Lee Todd, who was scheduled to fly back from South Bend on Thursday.

According to a source with direct knowledge of the situation, Gillispie hadn't been told of his job status as of Thursday morning. But the source said a decision would be made sometime Friday as to whether he'll stay to coach his third season in the fall or will be removed. The university doesn't want the uncertainty of Gillispie's job status to extend beyond the weekend.

Meanwhile, VCU head coach Anthony Grant is still mulling over a potential offer from Alabama. Grant was on Alabama's campus Wednesday. According to a source who has direct connections to VCU, the Rams aren't sure whether Grant is waiting to see what will happen at Kentucky.

If Kentucky fires Gillispie, the speculation is that it could make another run at Florida's Billy Donovan, who turned down the Wildcats two years ago after he won his second straight national title. Donovan then signed with the Orlando Magic only to return to Gainesville four days later and sign a $3.5 million contract.

Florida officials, including athletic director Jeremy Foley, would be "shocked" if Donovan were to go to the rival Wildcats after turning them down, according to multiple sources close to the school's athletic department.

Kentucky officials are expected to act quickly if Gillispie is removed. But if that's the case, there likely would be only two candidates who aren't in the Sweet 16: Donovan and former Kentucky player and current Oklahoma State coach Travis Ford.

• Xavier athletic director Mike Bobinski said he doesn't fear that men's basketball coach Sean Miller will leave for another job.

Miller is a hot name once again in the coaching carousel. He could be a candidate at a number of schools that have openings, such as Virginia or Arizona.

Bobinski, who is in Boston watching the Musketeers as the athletic director and a member of the NCAA tournament selection committee, said Miller has a rolling 10-year contract.

Bobinski said Miller loves the Xavier program and knows he has a great situation where basketball is king. Bobinski added that no school has asked for permission to speak with Miller.

• Saint Mary's assistant coach David Patrick said Thursday morning after the Gaels lost in the NIT quarterfinals at San Diego State that sophomore point guard Patty Mills will take a week off before deciding whether to return for his junior season or declare for the NBA draft. The Australian Olympian is projected as a lottery pick.

Patrick, who played in Australia and helped recruit Mills for coach Randy Bennett, said there's a chance that Mills will return. He said Mills will consult with his family before making a decision. Mills missed nine games during the season because of a broken right hand.

Mills returned for the West Coast Conference tournament but floundered in the title game loss to Gonzaga, going 2-of-16 overall and 0-of-7 on 3s.

Mills scored 27 points in an NIT first-round win over Washington State, 23 points with 10 assists and one turnover in a win over Stephen Curry and Davidson in the second round and then 18 points, five assists and five turnovers, including a costly one in the final minute, in the four-point loss at San Diego State.

• The atmosphere at San Diego State's game against the Gaels appeared to be the best it has been under Steve Fisher. I used to cover games in the Western Athletic Conference when San Diego was a dead basketball city in the early 1990s. Fisher has revived the hoops interest in town. Patrick said the crowd Wednesday night was tremendous. You could tell the fans truly enjoyed the NIT, and the court-storming was genuine after the game. Fisher has done a remarkable job with the Aztecs, and the team has a real shot at winning the NIT. The crowds have been quite boisterous throughout the NIT at Saint Mary's, Kentucky when the Wildcats played at Memorial Coliseum on campus, Virginia Tech, Auburn, San Diego State and Florida. The final four may lack sex appeal with Notre Dame-Penn State and Baylor-San Diego State, but there has been strong interest for most of the event.

• The CBI finals are set after Oregon State's overtime win over Stanford late Wednesday night. The Beavers beat the Cardinal for the third time in four games this season and will host UTEP, which won at Richmond on Wednesday night, in the best-of-three championship. The first game will be Monday in Corvallis, Ore., with Game 2 set for Wednesday in El Paso, Texas. A potential third game would be held a week from Friday in El Paso.

Oregon State (16-17) beat Vermont in overtime before the Stanford game and has won all three of its CBI games by a total of eight points. First-year coach Craig Robinson is trying to finish better than .500 after the Beavers were a winless Pac-10 team last season (0-18). Oregon State won seven Pac-10 games this season.

UTEP (22-12) was led by Stefon Jackson's 34 points in the 81-69 win at Richmond. He's averaging 28.7 points in the tournament.

Tulsa beat Bradley in the inaugural CBI tournament last season.

Andy Katz | email

ESPN Senior Writer



You must be signed in to post a comment

Already have an account?