With newfound time, Gillispie planning next move

June, 5, 2009
Billy Gillispie is back in his hometown of Graford, Texas, looking to buy a home in the Dallas-Fort Worth area, closing a sale on his Lexington abode, dealing with a lawsuit against his former employer Kentucky, mapping out his summer and fall plans and figuring out how to handle idle time that he hasn't had in his adult life.

"I've gone strong for a long time," Gillispie said. "I was a head coach in high school to a Division I coach, to a head Division I coach, and I got lucky, real lucky. It's amazing how quickly things happen. I never took a vacation. I'm not sure what to do with the down time."

Kentucky fired Gillispie on March 27. Kentucky hired John Calipari away from Memphis on April. 1. Since then, the Wildcats' program has gone from being beat down for making the NIT in Gillispie's second and final season in Lexington to being the talk of college basketball with a recruiting haul led by the country's top player in 2009, John Wall, to potentially being ranked the preseason No. 1 by multiple publications.

"I'm the least informed of anyone," Gillispie said of knowing what was happening at Kentucky. "I don't have a computer right now, and basically just live with my cell phone. I don't watch a lot of TV news. If I would, I would have been paying attention."

When reminded of the recruiting success so far, Gillispie said: "I love Lexington. It's a neat place, and Kentucky is a fantastic place to live. I'm happy for those guys. I hope they can get every single person they can, and they will, in my opinion."

Gillispie said Calipari is "the perfect fit. He's a great recruiter and a great coach. I think it's awesome, and I'm pulling for them."

The news hasn't only been about recruiting. The top forward in the SEC returned after a brief romance with the NBA draft, when Patrick Patterson decided to withdraw.

"He'd been saying all along that he's going to come back to school," said Gillispie, who pulled off a recruiting coup when he landed Patterson two years ago away from Florida and Duke. "He loves it there. He's had a great experience, and it's a great place to go to school. Education is important to him. He could graduate in three years. I'm not surprised he did that."

Meanwhile, Gillispie said he sees no issue with Jodie Meeks possibly playing alongside Wall next season if Meeks decides to withdraw from the NBA draft. Meeks was a top scorer for Gillispie, including scoring 54 points at Tennessee.

"Jodie will be great no matter what," Gillispie said. "He had one of the best years in college basketball, and that was coming off an injury-plagued season. He was fantastic. It looks like they'll have great personnel in all the spots, and that will help him."

But within the past week, Gillispie has been embroiled in what could turn out to be a messy lawsuit, with accusations going in both directions. Gillispie fired the first shot in a Dallas court, claiming the school owes him $6 million in lost salary and undisclosed punitive damages, which include attorneys' fees and court costs. The next day, Kentucky fired back with a lawsuit in Franklin Circuit Court in Kentucky, wanting the court to rule that the two-page memorandum of understanding Gillispie signed after his 2007 hiring was not equal to his full contract. Gillispie contends it is and that he should receive his salary of $1.5 million for four of the five years left on the contract.

There were accusations of fraud from Gillispie that stated in his case the university never wanted to sign him long-term, while the school is saying he turned down six different versions of the deal, arguing over the language in the deal over how he could be dismissed without pay.

As Gillispie waits for a resolution, he is remaining mum on the lawsuit. He said at the proper time he will speak on the matter but has been advised, as usual in these cases, to stay silent on the lawsuits.

Gillispie said he wants to be a head coach in 2010-11. He said nothing fit him this spring. He did flirt with the Washington State opening, but the Cougars stayed true to the Northwest by hiring Portland State's Ken Bone.

Gillispie said he's not limited to geography. He'll move wherever the right opportunity exists and reiterated that two of his previous jobs -- UTEP and Texas A&M -- were rebuilding situations.

"We got them good in a hurry," Gillispie said. "I think it will happen."

In the interim, Gillispie is planning a tour of NFL training camps, college football August practices and the opening of NBA practices to watch how other coaches begin their seasons anew. He also plans on doing the same with college basketball, and won't be limited to watching his good friend Bill Self at Kansas, whom he coached with before getting the head coaching job at UTEP.

"Coaches are always willing to learn," Gillispie said. "I want to watch as much practice as I can this year. One thing you don't get an opportunity to do when you're engaged in your season is see other people practice. You see them on TV and compete against them. I want to study how other people do it to continue to get better. I normally wouldn't have that much time to do that."

Gillispie said he has no regrets about anything that happened at Kentucky.

"I'm proud of everything we did on and off the court," he said.

• The comparisons between Jason Gardner and Nic Wise are hard to miss. Gardner desperately wanted to stay in the NBA draft after the 2001 season. Arizona played in the national title game. His good friends Richard Jefferson, Gilbert Arenas and Michael Wright all declared for the NBA draft. Gardner was only a sophomore, but why go back to Arizona when everyone else is gone? But he did and joined fellow sophomore Luke Walton, and the two still had successful college careers. Walton was drafted in the second round by the Lakers and continues to serve a significant role. Gardner never made the NBA.

Wise might have a better shot since he has become a better scorer than Gardner. But it's not hard to see why Wise is taking the early-entry deadline down to the final days. His teammates Chase Budinger and Jordan Hill left after this season. Hill is a lock for the lottery. Budinger will likely go in the first round. Wise won't get a sniff of the first round, and it's highly unlikely that if he stayed in the draft he would be selected.

But there are more issues to digest. Wise would be playing for his fourth coach at Arizona in four years, and seventh overall if you include multiple changes in high school. He signed to play for Lute Olson and did for one season. But then came the interim season with Kevin O'Neill, followed by Olson returning for a few weeks and then another interim situation with Russ Pennell. Former Xavier coach Sean Miller has arrived to give stability. But it's still hard for Wise to make the commitment. He's close to going back, and just has to adjust his mindset here before June 15.

"I'd be the only senior with a lot of young guys," Wise said. "I'd have to be the single-handed leader on the team, instead of last year when we had all three of us together."

But Wise is a realist. He hasn't left the state of Texas for workouts. He has been working out in Houston with former NBA coach John Lucas, did a group workout in Houston and also worked out for San Antonio. But Wise wasn't one of the 52 players invited to the NBA's draft combine last week in Chicago.

"Unless I have something for sure, I wouldn't gamble with it, even overseas," Wise said. "I'd wait. It will always be there."

Wise does believe in Miller's system. He said Miller's experience as a point guard should help his game, something that Miller echoed. Miller has had success in coaching smaller scoring point guards, and recently had Drew Lavender doing well for the Musketeers.

"He's done well with big-name players on the team," Wise said. "I know I can come out there and get the ball."

Miller met with Wise and his family in Houston shortly after he got the gig in April. But he said he's giving Wise his space to make his own decision without pressure.

"It's been a roller-coaster ride up and down for me," Wise said of all the coaching changes and dealing with Olson's illnesses. "I came here to play for one coach for four years. I'm taking it in stride, and now I could have four different coaches. I'm learning more than other college athletes learn during their career."

If Wise returns, there is a chance he would go immediately to the World University Games trials for the team coached by Bo Ryan that will head to Serbia. Having to re-direct his focus could help in the transition for Wise.

Wise's return would give Arizona seven returning scholarship players, along with a highly touted three-person class of forwards Solomon Hill (a one-time USC recruit), Kevin Parrom (a one-time Xavier recruit) and Kyryl Natyazhko, who was targeted by Pitt before Miller got the job.

"If Nic comes back we have a chance," Miller said of being competitive in the Pac-10. "The trick will be to recruit the right way, stabilize and do the great things that Arizona has done. We can sell it well here and get it running in a big way."

Miller said his style of play -- letting a point guard run -- should help Wise. Wise flourished this past season, scoring 29 in a win over Washington and 26 in a win over UCLA.

Miller said his lineup would likely have Wise (if he returns) at the point, Kyle Fogg at shooting guard, Brendon Lavender at small forward, Jamelle Horne at power forward (with Hill and Parrom in the rotation) and Natyazhko at center.

Miller has always played difficult nonconference games while at Xavier, and plans on doing the same at Arizona. Miller got out of a few games that weren't finalized, but the Wildcats will still play a tough slate with the Maui Invitational, a road game at Oklahoma, a neutral-site matchup with BYU in Phoenix and home games with NC State and BYU.

Lance Stephenson is still out there for the taking, but Arizona isn't interested. Neither are a number of schools. Maryland isn't touching him while he and a teammate, Darwin Ellis, have a court case pending dealing with a sexual assault. The New York Daily News reported last week that Stephenson's attorney, Alberto Ebanks, claimed his client is innocent. The case won't be heard again until June 29. The pair was charged with groping a female student outside Brooklyn's Lincoln High on Oct. 3. Stephenson's folks made inquiries to Florida, but were cooled by the school. The word among multiple coaches is that no one will touch Stephenson in the near future as the court case unfolds. There is also a fear that whoever gets Stephenson will likely get an NCAA inquiry over questionable amateur issues for the only player in the top 25 in the class of 2009 that hasn't committed anywhere. Stephenson was ranked No. 12 in the ESPNU 100.

• Rick Leddy, spokesperson of the National Association of Basketball Coaches, said Thursday in response to my blog on the NBA's 19-years/one-year-out-of-high school draft rule that the organization sponsors repealing the rule with the NBA. But the NABC is lobbying the NCAA for new legislation: If a player enrolls at a four-year institution, he has to remain there for three years, which is the rule for collegiate baseball. Leddy said the NABC will be working with the NCAA, the NBA and the NBAPA during the next collective bargaining agreement.

• I was reminded of my opinion on Kansas having to possibly vacate its national title after a Dallas school district investigation into whether former Jayhawk Darrell Arthur had his grades changed in high school before enrollment at KU. I said to chill then. Here is the difference between that case and the accusation that Derrick Rose didn't take his standardized test before enrollment at Memphis: The NCAA issued a notice of allegations on Memphis and launched an investigation, while the Arthur case never got out of the Dallas school system. So there was never a possibility that Kansas would have to vacate wins, because it didn't reach the NCAA level. Memphis might have to if the NCAA deems the Tigers knowingly used an ineligible player. I still stand by that statement. If Memphis knew, then it should vacate. If it didn't then it should not, even if it is proven that Rose was ineligible. His test score was invalidated, but Memphis hasn't found any proof that he didn't take it. Rose was cleared, and while the eligibility center said it has the right to change the status of a player, even after a season, it's hard to take away wins if Memphis didn't know he was ineligible.

Andy Katz | email

ESPN Senior Writer


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