Gillispie Is Prime Target For Vacancy

FAYETTEVILLE -- Texas A&M's Billy Gillispie is Arkansas' No. 1 target for its now-vacant coaching position, a source close to the basketball program told The Morning News.

Now, no formal discussions have been held with Gillispie, no formal negotiations have taken place. But talks between Gillispie's friends and those close to the Arkansas program have occurred, the source said.

As the situation involving Minnesota coach Tubby Smith proved, informal talks can lead to sudden announcements.

In fact, the source said Gillispie would likely become Arkansas' replacement for Stan Heath, who was fired Monday by the university. If Gillispie didn't become the 14th basketball coach in Arkansas history, the source said Kansas' Bill Self and Southern California's Tim Floyd would be contacted next.

When contacted Monday, the Texas A&M sports information department refused to discuss any rumors about Gillispie, stating "it didn't comment on personnel matters."

Gillispie took Texas A&M to the "Sweet 16" this season. The Aggies lost by one point to Memphis, finishing with a 27-7 overall record and a 13-3 mark in the Big 12 Conference.

He has coached three seasons in College Station and two seasons at Texas-El Paso before that.

Back in Fayetteville, Arkansas' players were left to ponder who their next coach would be.

Junior point guard Gary Ervin responded to a query about Arkansas' future coach by naming no one in particular.

"Being a fan of college basketball, I've been watching the games and been hearing some things about the coaches they are trying to get," Ervin said. "Right now I am just waiting to see what is going on. At the same time, I am still hurting for (Coach Heath)."

Many of the Razorbacks surely shared Ervin's sentiments.

But one emphatically did not. Junior forward Vincent Hunter, likely disgruntled with his decreasing role on the team, didn't hide his feelings.

"For me, I really didn't play as much as I wanted to play," Hunter said. "I deserve more than zero minutes a game, you know. That kind of turned me off a little bit on Coach Heath. When I heard the news, I just thought that I didn't care if he got fired or not."

Hunter, Ervin and junior Cyrus McGowan were the only players who spoke to the media late Monday afternoon. They showed up with freshman Michael Washington for a scheduled team meeting that got moved to Heath's residence.

Ervin, the team's respected leader, did most of the talking. He alluded to how much the rumors and speculation nagged at the Hogs, even as they went on their late-season surge.

"It made it hard as we were playing at the end of the season, but we finally found out what is going on with our coaching staff," Ervin said. "It is a tough feeling."

Patrick Beverley, the Razorbacks' SEC Freshman of the Year, was not in Fayetteville on Monday. Beverley was to sit down with his mother, Lisa, Monday night in Chicago to discuss his future. Beverley hadn't returned to Arkansas from spring break.

Whoever the Razorbacks' next coach is, Gillispie or not, expect him to inherit one of the most ideal situations for a first-year coach. No one on Arkansas' roster graduates. The Hogs could enter the 2007-08 season as the favorites in the Southeastern Conference Western Division. Even Heath referred to Arkansas' potential next year as he addressed the media a few hours after learning his fate.

As for the players, they'd just like to move on as fast as possible.

"I don't think I am looking for anything except the same kind of things from Coach Heath," Ervin said. "The main thing is whoever is going to be our coach, we need to go out there and win some ballgames. That is the main thing. Just have some fun and just continue to do some things that we did at the end of the season to make us a fun team to watch."

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