Walker: Gillispie rates a B-plus

Kenny Walker takes a look at the job done by head coach Billy Gillispie, as the Kentucky Wildcats wind down 2008 and look forward to what 2009 and the SEC Conference play will bring for them. The Wildcats play Florida Atlantic today at 3:00 pm and then take on Central Michigan on Monday evening at 7 pm to complete the 2008 portion of their schedule. What is Walker looking for from the Wildcats?

Billy Gillispie's first 1 1/2 seasons at Kentucky have certainly been interesting and kind of a strange trip. I understand a lot of his goals and principles and the culture he is trying to create, which is totally different from what Tubby Smith did when he was here. Not that there was anything wrong with what Tubby did, but it was just a different mindset, a different way to practice, different way of looking at things. I played for Rick Pitino a couple of years up in New York when I was in the NBA and I thought he was tough, but this guy is very tough and if he gets the talent he is hoping to get, then hopefully Kentucky will not have these rough starts and losing to teams UK should beat in Rupp Arena. But to be completely fair to him, you have to really give him one more complete season to fairly judge him and what he is doing. There have been a few bumps in the road. Last year he ended up in a great situation because he turned the team around and he could end up in that situation again because the SEC is not that strong. He can redeem himself in the SEC and if he's Coach of the Year in the SEC, then he's not too far off where he needs to be.

Obviously, getting closer to a championship will help him a lot. I would probably give him a B-plus at this point for the job he's done. He is still dealing with a young team that has been accustomed to playing a different way. We would all like to see that change quickly. I didn't think we would go through the rough periods again this year, but I am optimistic. I see things starting to happen with the team getting Patrick Patterson the ball better, with Jodie Meeks scoring and the point guard situation is improving. If that point guard situation would come together, it would really help Billy out. If there is a weakness right now, that is it. I am surprised he doesn't have more point guard at that position and that has hurt him.

In his third year, he will have to show improvement. I am a Tubby Smith fan and don't think there are five better in -game coaches in the country better than Tubby Smith. His style of play and recruiting were issues here, but he is a great coach with a great record. People probably took for granted what he did because when you are so great for so long, people don't appreciate it as much.

But in Billy's third year, there should be big improvement. We made that transition my senior year for Coach Sutton because we had a lot of veteran guys and natural leaders in Winston Bennett, Roger Harden and me. These guys don't have that. That will help Billy out a lot if one of these guys can develop into a great leader and his voice is not the one being always heard. It helps if one or two guys step up and have the respect of their peers and can reinforce what the coach says. Meeks can do that. Patterson can do. And in another year they will be better at that and that could make Billy's third year really special at Kentucky.


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