Last Chance for Success: Gillispie Needs To Re-Evaluate Recruiting Methods

Todd HawkinsCorrespondent IMay 28, 2011

LOUISVILLE, KY - JANUARY 04:  Billy Gillispie the Head Coach of the Kentucky Wildcats is pictured during the game against the Louisville Cardinals on January 4, 2009 at Freedom Hall in Louisville , Kentucky.  Louisville won 74-71.  (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)
Andy Lyons/Getty Images

My, how quickly things can change.  One minute you’re in the driver’s seat of one of college basketball’s most storied programs—the next minute you’re in the back seat of a police cruiser under arrest for driving under the influence. 

Welcome to the world of Billy Clyde Gillispie. 

It’s been an up-and-down journey for good ole Billy Clyde, from his successful rebuilding days at UTEP and Texas A&M, to his inability to succeed on basketball’s biggest stage. 

Today, he embarks upon a brand new chapter in his coaching career—one that may even come as a surprise to his critics.  In what is more than likely his final shot at redemption, Gillispie looks to jump-start the Texas Tech basketball program after being named head coach on March 20, 2011.

The previous two years have given the coach an opportunity to look back, assess everything and find himself again.  After completing his time in a Houston Rehabilitation Center, Gillispie quickly dove into charity work by volunteering to help out his friend’s junior AAU team and reaching out to MADD and Big Brothers Big Sisters.  And if you follow college hoops, chances are you’ve seen him this past season in attendance at a few Big 12 games in support of his good friend, Bill Self.

As shameful as it is to admit today, I thought Gillispie was going to be the savior for Kentucky basketball after he was hired—and the minute he left Lexington, I began pondering where it all went wrong. 

Was it his no-nonsense coaching style and hellish conditioning demands that created disconnect with his players? 

Was it his inability to communicate with players and open himself up to the media and former Wildcats? 

Or was it his off-the-court issues that ultimately led to his demise?

While I believe all of those factors played a role in his “resignation,” let’s be real here—Gillispie failed in the recruiting department.

At Kentucky in 2008, Gillispie created a stir around the basketball world by offering a scholarship to eighth grader Michael Avery after watching him play for a traveling team in an Ohio tournament.  Yes, eighth grade.  That’s a 14-year-old we’re talking about.

Avery is now finally a senior in high school and has had to endure a bumpy road over the years, recently being ruled ineligible to play his final season after transferring back to his hometown school in California from Montverde Academy in Florida.  After growing only an inch since the eighth grade, the 6’5" Avery served as a role player during his days at Montverde, a nationally ranked private school that recently hired former long-time St. Patrick (N.J.) High coach, Kevin Boyle.  Avery is currently labeled as a low-end Division I prospect but hopes to raise his stock this summer.

That same year in 2008, Gillispie offered scholarships to high school freshman Vinny Zollo and sophomore-to-be Dukotah Euton. 

Euton was a local Kentucky kid that didn’t quite live up to his hype in the years following his commitment to Gillispie and eventually re-opened his recruitment upon Calipari’s arrival in April of 2009.  Euton signed with Akron out of high school, where he received little playing time during his freshman year last season.  He has since transferred to Asbury College (KY) where he will continue his playing career.

After Zollo committed to Gillispie and the Cats, he and his family immediately uprooted themselves from Greenfield, Ohio to Winchester, Kentucky, where he’s resided ever since.  He too had to re-open his recruitment upon Calipari’s arrival to Lexington after the two conversed over his future at Kentucky.  Zollo just finished up his senior season at Clark County High in Winchester and signed with Western Kentucky, where he’ll suit up this upcoming season.

And then there’s Billy Clyde’s first two commits at Kentucky—point guards K.C. Ross-Miller and G.J. Vilarino.   Ross-Miller, at the time of his commitment, was between his freshman and sophomore seasons in high school.  Unfortunately, the Texas guard out of God’s Academy couldn’t quite live up to his high expectations in the following years and barely cracked Rivals’ top 150 during his senior season.  After struggling to find a home due to academic issues at LSU and FIU, Ross-Miller finally found one as starting point guard at New Orleans, now an independent school.

The 6' Vilarino committed to Gillispie during his sophomore season of high school.  Despite having his heart set on becoming a Wildcat, Vilarino also re-opened his recruitment following his conversation with Calipari, two months prior to his expected enrollment in June 2009.  He later signed with Gonzaga and has since transferred to Appalachian St.

Here’s the full list of what I feel are recruiting “misses” during Gillispie’s short tenure at Kentucky and where they’re at now:  Conner Tucker (Sam Houston St.), G.J. Vilarino (Appalachian St.), Dakotah Euton (Asbury), Vinny Zollo (WKU), Michael Avery (Undecided),  K.C. Ross-Miller (New Orleans), Hunter McClintock (Oral Roberts).

As a coach at a premiere program, how is it possible to miss on so many players in such a short period of time?   

Was it just an awful string of bad luck?  Or does he lack the ability to evaluate talent?

I can’t even imagine the pressure a lot of these kids went through trying to live up to the ridiculous expectations Gillispie created for them at such a young age—along with the scrutiny and heckling they endured struggling to live up to these lofty expectations.   I’d be willing to bet the stigma follows them around to this day, in some shape or form.

If there’s a lesson to be learned from all this, it’s for coaches to stay away from teenagers that can’t even drive, as silly as it sounds.  Kids should have the right to be kids.  Give them time to develop at least into their junior seasons before throwing out scholarship offers. 

Hopefully this time around, Gillispie realizes this method of recruiting nearly ruined his coaching career and more importantly, could have a negative long-term impact on many of those former recruits at Kentucky.

Looking back on the Gillispie era and seeing where the state of Kentucky basketball would have ended up under his reign makes me appreciate even more where Kentucky basketball currently stands under Calipari today.