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I think we finally understand one another, Billy Gillispie.

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Losing to Louisville is a frustrating experience whatever the sport, but in basketball, it is particularly exasperating.  I don't care if the Cardinals are the relative equivalent of the New England Patriots or the San Antonio Spurs, it hurts Cat fans deep in their soul.  In basketball, fortunately, losses to the Cardinals happen far less than half the time, so we only have to go through this catharsis once or twice every few years.

I learned a few things yesterday about our team, and about Billy Gillispie.  Billy Gillispie is not going to play zone.  Ever.  If you see him play zone, what you are seeing is a man on the way out the door, so in that sense, I am glad we haven't seen it.  "Now, Tru," you may ask, "what about this is a revelation?  He has told us from the outset he didn't like a zone defense.  Besides, this has been discussed ad nauseum."  OK, let me explain.

Louisville is a poor shooting perimeter team.  Their known weakness is a zone defense, and it has been used to defeat the Cardinals several times this year.  It gives a team that has less talent and athleticism a chance to hide their deficiencies and force perimeter shots.  Every coach in America with a team similar to the Wildcats as currently constituted would have played some zone at least.  Every coach, that is, except one -- Billy Giilispie.  Gillispie not only didn't play "some zone," he hasn't played one second of zone, ever, since coming here.  Not on an out of bounds play.  No zone press.  "Zone" may not be a four-letter word in your vernacular, but it absolutely is in Gillispie's.  Even in a game where almost any college basketball coach in America would tell you that a zone is the appropriate defense, Gillispie never considered it even for one tiny second, if what happened on the court reflects his thinking.



While it may not seem that I am breaking any new ground here, you have to think past the obvious.  When faced with a challenge, most people will try to defeat that challenge by any fair means possible.  That is the kind of coaching we have come to expect in college basketball -- coaches making moves and countermoves, adjusting the defense, changing the offense and personnel rotations, tinkering with this and that in order to gain a competitive advantage.  This game was the ideal game for Gillispie to show his pragmatism in order to gain a competitive advantage -- a game against a poor perimeter shooting club that has better athletes and a deeper bench.  That makes the decision a no-brainer for virtually every college basketball coach I have ever heard of, except, apparently, one -- Billy Gillispie. 

It is said that when all you have is a hammer, every problem looks like a nail.  That's how it is with coach Gillispie -- his solution to every problem is "Play my way, and play harder."  Billy Gillispie is obviously not a pragmatist.  He is taking the position that Kentucky is going to win basketball games playing his way, and he is not changing his way for any reason whatsoever.  None.  Ever.  If a team has a weakness, most coaches will look for ways to hide it or minimize its impact.  Not Gillispie.  No matter how big the game, how high the stakes, who his personnel are or who's life depends on it, there is only one way in the Kentucky universe to play college basketball with him as UK coach, and that is Billy Gillispie's way.  Period.  The End. 

Now, think about this for a minute, and what this means.  Gillispie is staking his entire career, his livelihood, his coaching reputation and millions of real dollars on "his way."  Gillispie is "all in," as they say on the World Poker Tour.  He is "all in" on his basketball philosophy, and will not let circumstances dictate a change.  Gillispie isn't a pragmatist, he is absolutely single-minded and utterly inflexible, an idealist of the highest order.  "My way or the highway" is not his credo -- it is "My way, win or lose."  There is no highway.  If there were, half our current team would be playing pick-up ball planning transfer along with Alex Legion.  Billy Gillispie is so fixed on doing it his way that the result of the game is secondary to the way it is played.  That is not to say he doesn't care about winning -- I'm sure he does.  But what we are seeing here is a man that is willing to put his job and future on the line rather than sacrifice even the tiniest mote of his basketball principles on the altar of near-term success.

Folks, I have to tell you, that is both frightening and fascinatingendearing.  Part of me loves anyone with so much faith in what they do that they are willing to go "all in" with it every day.  It is a winning attitude, and people who do this are often wildly successful.  But as with most things where relentless dedication to a philosophy is the basis, there is a dark side.  Gillispie is not only gambling his future on his beliefs, but potentially, the future of the Kentucky program as well.  I confess, I am not sure I would have supported such a man coming here if I had known more about him prior to his arrival.  Kentucky fans have no recent experience with a coach like that, and even though Gillispie's philosophy appears to be closer to the legendary Adolph Rupp than any modern coach I have seen, I really doubt if even the Baron was this intransigent.  Then again, Rupp was only a few years from retirement when I became a Kentucky fan, so I didn't know him well, nor in his heyday.  And even if Gillispie is the second coming of the Baron, will that philosophy translate to modern college basketball?



What is clear is that Gillispie has not been successful yet transferring this set of beliefs to his charges.  He recognizes the effort and so do I, but the problem is, the players have so far been either unwilling or unable to embrace Gillispie's core philosophy.  The result is what we can see  6-7, with losses to unheard-of programs and being taken to the woodshed by three of our four most bitter rivals.  Even with Kentucky nearing full strength, the Big Blue Nation is left wondering if the Cats can actually be competitive in the SEC, or if we will be overrun like we were yesterday.

I have no idea how this is going to work out.  I fear for the Coach, though, because this is not TAMU or UTEP, where you can come in and sacrifice an entire season to install your philosophy.  Kentucky fans simply aren't long-term thinkers, and this is 30+ years of adult Wildcat fandom speaking.  I am willing to go through Hell, if necessary, to get to where we want to be, but how many are truly willing to go with me?  Gillispie is quickly losing the local media, who desperately want to help him.  He has lost the national media, who are now skeptical of his prior success.  The rumor mill churns on, generating more spectacular "they says" with every loss.  Can any coach survive in this ... maelstrom?

I have a feeling we are about to find out.