Do you remember reading about Abraham Lincoln’s reply when told that his best general was a drinker?
The president ordered, “Find out what whiskey he drinks and tell all of my other generals to start drinking the same thing.”
Which brings us to Billy Clyde Gillispie.
In Kentucky, only the governor comes close to being more under a microscope than the University of Kentucky basketball coach.
Oh, surely you have heard the whispers:
He likes to party.
He doesn’t have any trouble attracting attractive women.
Well, what’s wrong with that?
He is single.
He is a good-looking man in the prime of life.
He makes millions a year.
He owns a mansion.
And, for heaven’s sakes, he coaches the Wildcats. That’s a powerful position in Kentucky and reason enough to put him squarely in the public eye. You remember, don’t you, when WHAS-TV reporter Mark Hebert asked a good-looking woman about why she was in trouble. She was honest: “Mark, I dilly-dallied the governor!” (Dilly-dallied wasn’t the word she used, but this is, after all, a family newspaper.)
About the bad things you hear about Gillispie: An old codger who has been a close observer of UK sports for two generations told me, “Don’t believe all you hear about Gillispie. At least half of what you hear, isn’t the truth.”
The new Wildcats
For the first time, Gillispie had his Wildcats playing the way he wanted them to play in the victory over No. 3-rated Tennessee. Patrick Patterson, Gillispie’s star recruit, played like a man, not a college freshman. He dominated the way Chuck Hayes did for the Wildcats. Patterson led all scorers except one from Tennessee (more about him later) with 20 points and was the game’s top rebounder with eight. The rest of the Cats played hard and took no prisoners. Ramel Bradley repeatedly stuck daggers in the Volunteers from the free throw line, going 10 for 10, eight for eight for goodness sakes in the last 90 seconds.
Cat fans saw a new star born before their very eyes. Sixfoot nine Perry Stevenson, a sophomore from Lafayette, La., connected on six of his seven shots plus two of three free pitches.
Chris Lofton, Tennessee’s All-America candidate from Mason County High, wasn’t stopped – he hit five of his deadly three-pointers and was the game’s high scorer with 22. But he didn’t shoot from long range with his usual game-deciding accuracy, hitting just five of 10 treys.
The Wildcats will have to worry about Lofton (the biggest recruiting mistake in UK’s history) just once more for sure and possibly another time in the Southeastern Conference Tournament.
Attn.: Kentucky preachers
I am sorry to report bad news to ministers of churches full of Wildcat basketball fans. The final two Sundays of the regular season are going to be challenges for the preachers.
On Sunday, March 2, the Cats play their return game with Tennessee in Knoxville. At noon. The Vols will say good-bye to Lofton.
The next Sunday, March 9, the Cats finish out their regular season when Billy Donavan brings his Florida Gators to Rupp Arena. At noon. Cat fans will say good-bye to Bradley and Joe Crawford.
Both games will be televised nationally by CBS.
A mountain champ
Another basketball nut from eastern Kentucky and I were talking about mountain basketball recently, and I told him that I had recently written that I hoped I live long enough to see Kentucky beat Tennessee in football one more time.
That didn’t happen last season.
Now, I told my friend, I hope that one more mountain high school can win the State Tournament.
“Don’t be surprised if Elliott County does it this year,” he said. “They went to the State Tournament last year and they were a young team. Keep your eye on them.”
Elliott County is highly ranked.
So what happened? Before I could tell you about coach Rick Mays’s Lions they were upset by Rose Hill 62-55 in the All A Classic 16th Regional.
Yes, I know that Rose Hill is in Ashland in eastern Kentucky, but I wasn’t thinking about Tim Fraley’s team as a mountain school. Also, do all of the Royals live in Kentucky? Rose Hill, remember, is the school where O.J. Mayo began his wandering career that carried him to three states during his high school years.
Rose Hill’s star is Dakotah Euton, who has committed to UK. He scored 23 and collected 17 rebounds against Elliott County.
Except for Paintsville in 1996, the last honest-to-goodness mountain team to rule the state was Clay County back in 1987. That’s when coach Bobby Keith’s Tigers, led by Richie Farmer’s 51 points, edged Ballard and Allan Houston in the final.
You can just about bet your last dime that no team east of Winchester is going to have a good shot at a basketball title.