Every Practice a Test for Wildcats

By: Associated Press
By: Associated Press

LEXINGTON, Ky. (AP) -- Billy Gillispie used five starters all of last season at Texas A&M. Through four games at Kentucky, he's already used eight.

The new Wildcats coach insists his coaching philosophy hasn't changed alongside his area code. Every practice is a competition whose winner cracks the starting lineup in the next game, he said.

It just so happened, the same five Aggies won every practice last year. So far at Kentucky, injuries and inconsistent play haven't given him that luxury.

"If you don't play right, don't practice right, somebody's going to take your spot," Gillispie said Monday. "A coach can yell and scream all they want to, pat you on the back all you want to, but the best way to teach competition, raise competition, is to know, 'Hey, if I don't do that, I might lose my job."'

Gillispie's starters for Tuesday night's game against Stony Brook won't be known until after Tuesday's practice, he says.

Two new starters cracked his lineup Saturday in Kentucky's 83-35 victory over Texas Southern -- freshman A.J. Stewart and senior Joe Crawford, a regular starter last year under former coach Tubby Smith.

Gillispie had said he wants to see Crawford get into better condition and improve his defense, and Crawford put on a show against the Tigers with a career-high 32 points.

Regardless of the winners or losers in the daily competition, Gillispie's message -- particularly defense and shot selection -- seems to be resonating.

"He wants to instill a spirit of competition," said freshman Alex Legion, who cracked the starting lineup in the Wildcats' third game, against Liberty. "In high school, I rarely played any defense. Now I'm finding myself kind of excited to play defense."

After the Wildcats were shocked by Gardner-Webb, costing them a trip to New York for the semifinals of the 2K Sports College Hoops Classic, Gillispie said the one silver-lining was two weeks of uninterrupted practices.

The players may have dreaded that prospect, considering their coach's focus on conditioning. However, guard Michael Porter says the focus on fighting for jobs on the practice court has actually brought some of the same competitive fun the players might experience in a game.

"Coach tries to bring it out of you every practice," said Porter, who started the first three games. "Some other practices, I might have been able to slide by. He's not going to let you get by."

Porter was one beneficiary of Gillispie's system of picking starters. Another was forward Mark Coury, who says he didn't expect to be starting once Gillispie took over the reins from Smith.

"I just worked hard, did whatever I had to do," Coury said.

Gillispie says he would like to settle on five starters but is a long way from doing that, particularly with two key guards -- Derrick Jasper and Jodie Meeks -- sidelined by injury.

At Texas A&M, some of his starters were clear superstars, such as then-senior guard Acie Law. Others, such as sophomore guard Josh Carter, just worked hard to get a job, Gillispie said.

"He started starting and he liked it," Gillispie said of Carter. "He wanted to stay out there."

Copyright 2007 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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