And Gillispie seems to have learned well. Gillispie spent the previous two years as head coach for the University of Texas El Paso. The Miners finished 6-24 in his first season at UTEP, but went 24-8 and advanced to the NCAA Tournament in 2004, one of the most dramatic turnarounds in college basketball history. Prior to being hired at UTEP in 2002, Gillispie served eight years as an assistant coach at Baylor, Tulsa and Illinois. He was a member of Bill Self's staffs at Tulsa from 1997-00 and at Illinois from 2000-02.
When Self became the first Big Ten coach since 1913 to win Big Ten titles in each of his first two seasons in the league, Gillispie was by his side. Self and Gillispie were part of the only coaching staff in NCAA history to lead two different schools to the Elite Eight in successive seasons -- Tulsa in 2000 and Illinois in 2001. When Illinois advanced to the Sweet 16 in the 2002 NCAA Tournament, Self and Gillispie were there.
"He has been a great influence on me. He gave me great opportunities. Without him, I wouldn't have a chance to be sitting up here today," said Gillispie.
"Everybody I have been around has impacted me. Larry Brown gave me my first chance in college, and high school coaches I have been with, and studied with, and those kinds of things. It has been a lifetime of learning for me. Definitely if I had to name one guy though, I would have to name Coach Self."
The admiration is mutual. Coach Self can't say enough positive things about his former assistant.
"The Texas A&M program could not be in better hands," emphasized Self.
Buddies or not, the two will put that aside as they face each other during conference play this season.
"We probably won't be very good friends January 5th," said Gillispie with a smile. That is the day his Aggies travel to Allen Fieldhouse to open their conference season.
"I have never played there, but I hear they may have an okay home court advantage," joked Gillispie. "We are looking forward to the challenge."
Possibly Gillispie is looking forward to seeing his old mentor as well.
"Coach Self has been a great teacher to me, not only in basketball, but in life. We are about best friends," said Gillispie.
Originally published in the December issue of Jayhawk Illustrated magazine.
Kansas welcomes Texas A&M to Allen Fieldhouse tonight for its Big 12 Conference opener at 8:06 p.m. The Jayhawks enter the match-up 9-0 after defeating No. 9 Georgia Tech 70-68 in overtime, while the Aggies are 11-0 after their first road win of the season Penn State. KU and A&M are the only two undefeated Big 12 teams remaining.
In his weekly press conference Bill Self stated, "It is no fun coaching against assistants. I talked to Billy last night. I will really enjoy seeing him and so will my family before and after the game, but during the game our job is to beat him and his job is to beat us."
"He knows me better than I know me and I know him better than he knows himself in a lot of ways. So there will not be any secrets," added Self.