when you are on the court with Coach you think, This sucker is crazy," says
Josh Johnston, an Aggies walk-on who followed Gillispie from UTEP to A&M.
"Between the lines he never lets up. But off the court, he would do
anything in the world for you. When I was at UTEP my sister was sick. He told
me, 'We'll put you on a plane right now.' This was the middle of the season. It
tears him up to see us upset. We're his family."
Gillispie grew up
in Graford, Texas (pop. 578), a tiny hoops oasis in a football-obsessed region
65 miles northwest of Fort Worth. His father, Clyde, drove a cattle truck and
worked in the oil fields, among other things, while his mom, Wimpy, who was
divorced from Clyde 20 years ago, worked checkout—still does—at Morrow's
Grocery. Billy Clyde, named for a rodeo-star uncle, Billy Weeks, was the one
boy in a family of five kids. For vacations the family piled in the car and
drove to Riodoso, N.Mex., to watch the horse races. Gillispie, who cried when
Barbaro died, has been in love with thoroughbreds ever since.
was the sport that occupied most of his thoughts. The local high school
couldn't afford football helmets, so there was no football team, and baseball
was played only in the summer. "Basketball was a way of life there,"
says Gillispie, a hardworking point guard who topped out at 5'10". "We
were really an Indiana town. Nobody in that state could have possibly loved
basketball any more than we did."
Every kid in town
had a key to the high school gym, and a disproportionate number of them grew up
to be basketball coaches. Among them is Gillispie's youngest sister, Jerry
Hoffman, who took Crockett High to the 3A state title last winter, and his
childhood pal Samantha Morrow, who won four 5A titles at Mansfield Summitt High
near Dallas before being named the head coach at UT- Arlington this spring.
his first crack at coaching as a junior at Sam Houston State, where he served
as student assistant to another son of Graford, Bob Derryberry. After three
more years with Derryberry at Texas State, Gillispie began eight years of
coaching and teaching history, geography and P.E. in the Texas high school and
junior college ranks. In 1994 he landed a gig as an assistant at Baylor, where
he helped sign the No. 6 class in the nation in 1996.
When Self got the
Tulsa job in 1997, he asked four people he respected to name the best recruiter
in Texas. "They all said, Billy Clyde Gillispie at Baylor," says Self.
"He got wind that I was asking about him, and he called me. Basically I
just hired him over the phone. I said, 'Do you need to come visit?' He said,
'No, we got work to do.' "
In his five years
on Self's staffs at Tulsa and Illinois, Gillispie distinguished himself as an
irrepressible prankster—among other plots, he had a friend pose as an official
threatening to bust fellow assistant Norm Roberts for illegal trash dumping—as
well as a tireless recruiter with a penchant for delivering genealogy-enhanced
scouting reports. "He'd get up in front of the team and say, ' Jimmy Jones:
I know his uncle, his uncle was a track star in Arlington, his grandmother was
a great shooter on the 1943 team,' " recalls Roberts, who is now the coach
at St. John's. "And the kids would be looking at him: Why are you talking
about his grandma? It would all be related to the point that this guy can
Gillispie absorbed Self's ideas about playing hard, playing smart and playing
together so well that when Gillispie's A&M team went into Kansas' Allen
Fieldhouse last Feb. 3, it overcame an 11-point second-half deficit to beat
Self's sixth-ranked Jayhawks, 69-66, for the first time.
What can Kentucky
fans expect of Gillispie's first Wildcats team? It may be inexperienced, and it
may be small, but the players will play hard, play smart and play together, and
in between the lines, the coach will never let up.