He worked for Bill Self at the University of Illinois so this should come as no surprise.
"Billy," Self said, "this is not going to be a lot of fun."UMass Coach Travis Ford, a former basketball player at Kentucky, is still upset at UK's cancellation of the UK-UMass series.
At first, Gillispie didn't get what Self meant. But now, he fully comprehends. In less than three months on the job, Gillispie has embarked on a recruiting rampage, and Self's Kansas program has been right in the thick of it. Gillispie has gained commitments from two players whom the Jayhawks coveted, incoming freshman guard Alex Legion of Detroit and rising senior point guard DeAndre Liggins of Chicago.
And this is only the beginning. The two friends -- Gillispie says they're more like brothers -- are in the running for several other blue-chippers in the class of 2008.
"I have a much better feel for it now than I did two to three months ago when he said those things," Gillispie said. "Because we've been recruiting some of the same guys the last three months, I better understand now what Coach was talking about. There's a sense of sadness."
It's hard to feel bad for Gillispie, though. His early recruiting victories have been swift and fierce, leaving minimal room for feelings of grief. Along with Legion and Liggins, Gillispie signed five-star incoming freshman Patrick Patterson, who had been considering Billy Donovan's Florida. So even Billy D. knows what Billy S. is feeling.
"I don't like it at all," said Self, who brought Gillispie along as his top assistant at Tulsa and Illinois. "Our paths will cross more now. We're both trying to recruit nationally and trying to recruit guys where we both have contacts. The one thing I do know is that recruiting isn't something that will jeopardize our friendship in any way, shape or form."
Gillispie's plundering hasn't been limited to the classes of '07 and '08. In point guard G.J. Vilarino ('09), guard K.C. Ross-Miller ('10) and forward Dakotah Euton ('10), Gillispie has received oral commitments from three talented players. Euton, like Patterson, chose Billy G. over Billy D.
Just last weekend, Gillispie secured the commitment from Ross-Miller, while also entertaining KU recruit Rotnei Clarke, a guard from Claremore, Okla., on an unofficial visit. Clarke left Lexington smitten by the Kentucky experience.
To make conversation upon a chance encounter on the summer recruiting circuit, I asked UMass Coach Travis Ford last week if he'd gotten over Kentucky killing what he thought was a game scheduled for Boston this coming season.
"No," Ford said in one of the more direct responses ever uttered by a coach to a reporter.
Ford, a native Kentuckian and point guard of UK's 1993 Final Four team, clearly was still hurt by the cancellation. Despite his non-threatening size and boyish appearance, he had been a gutty street fighter for UK. His finest moment as a Cat came during the miraculous second-half rally from a 31-point deficit at Louisiana State in 1994.[...]
Maybe that kind of tenacity makes it difficult for Ford to accept Kentucky exercising its contractual right to buy its way out of a rematch game against UMass in Boston.
As Ford recalled it, former UK coach Tubby Smith agreed to a home-and-home series with UMass. Smith and UK administrators were doing a favor for an alum. Knowing its place in the pecking order, UMass ceded control of dates and sites to UK, Ford said.
The first game played in Rupp Arena last season went smoothly (translation: Kentucky won). Then UK's No. 2 man in athletics, Rob Mullens, called to say that Dec. 22 wouldn't work for the rematch. The Cats had a made-for-TV game. So UMass agreed to a switch to November.
The game would help Ford continue to sell his UK ties to a New England audience. UMass had sold more than 2,000 tickets for the game.
Then Billy Gillispie is hired. Kentucky Athletics Director Mitch Barnhart calls his UMass counterpart on 5 p.m. on a Friday to inform him that UK will buy its way out of the game. When told, Ford thinks his athletic director is joking.
"I wasn't mad," Ford said. "I was disappointed."
UK spokesman Scott Stricklin said that the school gave UMass ample warning that the game might not happen. With a new coach (Gillispie) and dependence on freshmen (Patrick Patterson, Alex Legion and -- who knows? -- Leonard Washington?) and sophomores (Jodie Meeks in particular), UK wanted an easier schedule/more home games.
Ford does not accept that explanation because he thinks UK is a Final Four contender. Besides, UK dictated the terms of the home-and-home contract.