Big 12 Blog: How’d he do that?

If you do not recognize the picture of this^ man, then I can promise you that one day, you will. Just like Bill Self, this man’s mentor and former boss, I can tell you early in his career that he is going to be successful over the long haul.

With that said, I just wanted to issue a huge CONGRATULATIONS to the Big 12’s Basketball Coach of the Year, Billy Gillispie.

Gillispie won the award in his FIRST YEAR at one of college basketball’s most traditionally horrendous programs, Texas A&M. A&M has struggled in basketball since the dawn of time, and former coach Melvin Watkins put together a string of seasons that ended in disaster last season as the Aggies did not win a single conference game en route to a 7-21 record and an RPI of #246. The Aggies have made a single NCAA Tournament appearance in the last 16 years. (And, it isn’t like they made a whole lot of appearances BEFORE that).

In Gillispie’s first season in College Station, the Aggies have compiled an 8-8 conference record and 19-8 overall record to create an RPI of #62 and land the Aggies squarely on the NCAA Bubble. For those of you keeping score at home, NC State’s current RPI is #86 in the country in our coach’s 9th season.

I could continue drawing parallels to the many differences between A&M and NC State’s history and resources to complement that obvious time horizons with which Gillispie is able to produce results when compared to the expectations of Lee Fowler and the performance of Herb Sendek. Can you imagine how the HSSers could find a way to rationalize how Texas A&M’s players who couldn’t win a conference game last year were really much more talented than you thought? I guess that would be consistent with how Bobby Knight and Rick Barnes BOTH achieved IMMEDIATE success at Big 12 schools that had spotty tradition before their arrivals.

Rocket Science:
Past Behavior & Performance indicate FUTURE Behavior & Performance

I’ve been following Billy Gillispie for a few years now, and it didn’t take long for him to become one of my favorites. Gillispie was the head coach at UTEP until he took the A&M job last year. At UTEP, he inherited a program with eight scholarship players and a serious morale problem. He went 6-24 in a disasterous first season and immediately turned the Miners into a 24-7 NCAA Tournament team in his second year.

LOL!! I can see Herb Sendek and Lee Fowler scratching their heads right now trying to figure out just how someone didn’t need 6 years to bring a program with infitinely more stature than that of UTEP and A&M. Again, they probably never figured out that the insightful way that Texas Tech and Texas both knew that Knight and Barnes were going to be successful was because THEY HAD A HISTORY and TRACK RECORD of SUCCESS at other schools. Something tells me that when the Athletics Directors of these schools analyze data, they don’t subjective carve out half of a coach’s actual career performance to help them make decisions!!!!

“Those who choose to ignore history are doomed to repeat it”

I am sure the supporters of Texas, Texas Tech, and Texas A&M are glad that their Athletics Directors don’t close their eyes to history.

A stranger in a strange land
With both A&M and Rick Barnes’ Texas Longhorns now boasting energized basketball programs, then maybe my stay in Texas won’t feel so foreign.

But, please don’t misinterpret my term of “energized” to correspond to what energized would mean in the Triangle. As an example of just how under-appreciated the game of basketball is in the state of Texas, the Big 12 Awards got a nice little column on page four of Tuesday’s Houston Chronicle. Houston is the 4th largest city in the county and only a 90 minute drive to College Station. A news website named has not even announced the honor yet!

Additionally, the University of Texas has never experienced basketball success like they have under Rick Barnes. Despite 6 consecutive 20+ win seasons, 3 consecutive Sweet 16 appearances that includes a Final Four…UT still only averages about 11,000 fans in their dated 18,000 seat on-campus arena.

In the Comments section below, I will share CNNSI’s story on Gillispie from earlier in the year, “Extreme Makover”.

General NCS Basketball

One Response to Big 12 Blog: How’d he do that?

  1. Archive 03/09/2005 at 11:46 AM #

    Extreme makeover
    Gillispie has turned A&M into surprise of the year
    Posted: Monday January 17, 2005 6:05PM; Updated: Thursday January 20, 2005 10:46AM

    COLLEGE STATION, Texas — With his team getting slapped around by Texas Tech less than 24 hours earlier, I was worried Texas A&M coach Billy Gillispie might be in a sour mood when I met with him Sunday evening.

    I couldn’t have been more wrong.

    Wearing an A&M pullover, jeans and a baseball cap from The Masters, Gillispie strolled into the hotel lobby with the grin of a guy who’d just spent a lazy afternoon on the golf course.

    Actually, he’d just come from taking his team to a 4 p.m. showing of Coach Carter, something he’d decided to do at about … oh, 3:30. Had he at least put them through a backbreaking practice first? “Actually,” said Gillispie, “it was probably lighter than usual.”

    It didn’t take long into our conversation to figure out that one lopsided loss wasn’t about to damper the mood of a man whose team has already performed far beyond anyone’s wildest expectations — especially a man who’s quickly making a habit of such things.

    Last Wednesday, Gillispie’s Aggies knocked off No. 9 Texas 74-63, a result made all the more stunning considering a year ago they went 0-16 in the Big 12. The game before that, Texas A&M, which hasn’t had a winning season in 11 years, went into Allen Fieldhouse and hung ’til the end with the No. 2 Kansas before falling by five. And the Aggies did this despite having to rely on two lightly recruited freshmen, a juco transfer and a walk-on who starts at power forward despite standing no taller than 6-foot-3 1/2.

    “We know we’re going to take a lot of knots on our head, like [against Texas Tech], but that’s not going to derail us,” Gillispie said. “We want to take baby steps and become competitive on a nightly basis with these guys. If you do that, once you get your roster like you need to do, then you’re going to win your share of the games.”

    He knows what he’s talking about. Last year, the 45-year-old native of tiny Graford, Texas (population 578), led UTEP from a 5-24 record in his first season to 22-8 and an NCAA tournament berth the next. Now he’s taken over an A&M team that went 7-21 in former coach Melvin Watkins’ final season, one that lost six of its top eight players, and produced the school’s best start (12-1 prior to Saturday’s loss) since 1959-60.

    Much of that record can be attributed to a laughable non-conference schedule in which the Aggies played nine opponents ranked 260th or lower in the RPI and didn’t go on the road for the first time until Jan. 2 — and that trip was to Penn State. While most observers didn’t bother to take A&M’s 11-0 start too seriously because of it, Gillispie got exactly the desired result: confidence.

    “Most people want to practice well so they can win in games,” said Gillispie, “but I’m kind of different in that I want to have some success in games so that we can practice better.

    “If you’ve got a situation with a bunch of new guys, and a new coach, and you’re getting beat all the time, it’s really hard for those guys to buy in. If you’re winning games, though, then they start to think well, maybe those tough practices we have to go through are really helping us win.”

    Gillispie’s team plays with much the same style as that of his mentor, Kansas’ Bill Self, whom he worked under at both Tulsa and Illinois. With an aggressive pressure defense, the Aggies have held opponents to the lowest field-goal percentage in the nation (35.2) and held Texas to even lower than that (32.3), though Texas Tech didn’t have such troubles on Saturday.

    The Aggies have three very good players in junior swingman Antoine Wright (17.1 points per game), a former Big 12 freshman of the year who’s taken his game to another level; much-improved sophomore point guard Acie Law IV, whose suffocating defensive performance against heralded Texas freshman Daniel Gibson raised a lot of eyebrows; and freshman center Joseph Jones (12.5 points, 7.9 rebounds), who’s performed at a far higher level than Gillispie expected.

    After that, though, it gets pretty thin. Dominique Kirk, one of three players Gillispie found at the 11th hour last spring, starts at shooting guard but barely shoots. Chris Walker, the aforementioned undersized walk-on who Gillispie affectionately refers to as his “powerless forward,” last played basketball three years ago at Division III UT-Dallas and gave up an internship at Hewlett-Packard just to try out for the Aggies. He now finds himself starting in the Big 12.

    “We have to battle for our lives just to have any kind of chance to be in a game,” said Gillispie.

    While an NCAA berth remains a long shot, even the NIT would be a huge step for a program that’s made one such appearance in 16 years. Aggies fans have jumped on the bandwagon, producing a school-record crowd of 12,811 and turning 7-year-old Reed Arena into a hostile venue for opponents. No. 25 Oklahoma visits Tuesday.

    They may have much more to cheer about in the years to come. When AD Bill Byrne hired him last spring, Gillispie became the first Lone Star native to head the program since J.B. Reid in the ’30s. A former Texas high school coach himself, Gillispie is revered on that circuit and figures to make major inroads recruiting.

    In fact, Gillispie’s down-home persona more closely resembles what you might expect from one of his high school brethren than that of a so-called “rising star” in the college world.

    “There are a million guys like me, who are better than I am, but they didn’t get the breaks or the opportunities I’ve had,” said Gillispie. “I know I’m not anything special.”

    There are a few people around the Big 12 right now who would disagree

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