Bill Self had moved from Oral Roberts to Tulsa and needed an assistant coach with a recruiting roadmap of Texas.
“I asked five or six guys, and four or five of them said Billy Gillispie,” Self said.
That’s how their career paths connected. They’ve crossed a few times since then, on the recruiting trail and in games, and they will again tonight when tenth-ranked Kansas visits Gillispie’s Texas Tech Red Raiders.
Gillispie in his first year at Tech, getting the job after two seasons out of the profession. After turning around programs at Texas-El Paso and Texas A&M, fortune didn’t smile on Gillispie at Kentucky, and he was fired after the 2009 season.
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He knew he wanted back in coaching, and leaned on Self for advice.
“I think getting back to the league, getting back to his home state where he can recruit, is where he excels,” Self said. “He gets good guys and gets them to play at a high level.”
Gillispie’s travels over the past two years sometimes brought him to Lawrence. He’d attend KU practices, catching the likes of Thomas Robinson and Tyshawn Taylor.
A scouting advantage?
“No,” Gillispie said. “You can give them short cuts or hints but you can’t give them the answers to the test.”
And Kansas will be Tech’s second biggest test in a few days. The Red Raiders played Baylor tough at United Spirit Arena on Saturday before falling by 13. Gillispie refused to accept any pats on the back for a game that was close until the end.
“I’m really not a hang around guy,” Gillisipe said. “I couldn’t care less about hanging around. I’m not into that.”
But Gillispie was expected to take some lumps this season. The Red Raiders replaced nearly their entire roster from a 13-19 team. Only front-liner Robert Lewandowski, a senior who played at Blue Valley West, returned among starters.
The team’s top player is forward Jordan Tolbert, one of eight freshmen on the roster.
It’s quite a contrast from Gillispie’s previous debut season at Kentucky, where he was expected to maintain the blueblood tradition, or even at Texas A&M. There, he helped two around the Aggies with a pair of future NBA players already on the roster, Antoine Wright and Acie Law IV.
Tech figures to take longer to rebuild, but Self believes if anybody can it’s Gillispie.
“He’s hungry, and he’s going to get guys down there,” Self said.
He got guys for Self. Among Gillispie’s first assignments upon his hire at Tulsa was to work the Dallas area. A freshmen caught Gillispie’s eye, and the recruiting relationship paid off when Deron Williams signed with Illinois, where Self and Gillispie had moved after the 2000 season.
Williams said he signed with Illinois because of Gillispie, and Gillispie has said there’s no telling where his career path would have taken him without that call from Self years ago.
The reunions haven’t always been pleasant for Self. In 2007, Gillispie’s Texas A&M team shocked Kansas with a comeback victory in Allen Fieldhouse. The Jayhawks started their school-record 69 game home floor winning streak after that night.
The Jayhawks might be better off watching tape of that game than anything from recent Tech history.
“It doesn’t do me any good to watch tape of our game last year with Tech,” Self said. “Totally different personnel, totally different style.”
And a totally different coach, although one so familiar to Self.