What if Acie Law IV had quit?
By BLAIR KERKHOFF
The Kansas City Star
Law, you remember, was the terrific Texas A&M guard who would have been Big 12 player of the year as a senior in 2007 had it not been Kevin Durant’s one season at Texas. Law was that good.
Law also hated his coach, Billy Gillispie, when he took over the program three years earlier. A brutal preseason boot camp is what nearly pushed Law out of the program. But Law’s mother persuaded him to stick it out and the Aggies achieved on the hardwood like they never had, contending for Big 12 championships and winning NCAA games.
Had Law quit before his sophomore season, Gillispie might not have enjoyed the success that got him the Kentucky job in 2008 or the Texas Tech job last year. And we might not be reading about the mistreatment of players in the program, originally reported by ESPN.com and amplified by CBSSports.com in a story posted on Wednesday.
That story, citing unnamed sources, alleged Gillispie practiced an injured player and reneged on promises made to coaches about jobs. Players have gone to Tech athletic director Kirby Hocutt with complaints about rules violations (practicing beyond the allowable time) and the mistreatment.
The allegations, if Hocutt concludes are true, are over-the-top and could cost Gillispie his job.
Throughout his head coaching stops, which started at Texas-El Paso, Gillispie has been called demanding, unapproachable and demeaning by his players. Gillispie has said over the years that he gets the best from his players with the hard-nosed approach.
It worked at UTEP and Texas A&M. It failed with the higher level players at Kentucky who resisted the drill sergeant antics. Enough of them rebelled against Gillispie to contribute to his firing after two seasons.
Texas Tech was his biggest challenge because of the lack of talent he inherited. But Lubbock looked to be the ideal landing spot. Gillispie rose through the ranks as an assistant because nobody recruited Texas talent better. He helped fill the roster of Bill Self teams at Tulsa and Illinois, and Self remains one of Gillispie’s close friends.
Gillispie has been hospitalized for high blood pressure and hasn’t communicated publicly since the stories broke. There may not be anything left to say. Texas Tech fired football coach Mike Leach for banishing a player to an equipment shed. How can the school keep a coach who made a player practice while injured?
In 2007, Law told me, he’d never been coached in such a demanding way, had never been pushed the way Gillispie pushed him. “He wanted me to get better, but it took me a while to see that,” Law said.
It worked for Law and the Aggies. It hasn’t worked since.