For the last 17 years, the UK basketball team has been an NCAA Tournament staple. Growing up as young boys and girls across the Commonwealth, it was almost certain the Cats would not only make the NCAA Tournament, but compete in Final Fours and â€” even more likely â€” hang another championship banner during our time here at UK.
No one saw this.
The losses the past two years sound off in a way never imagined. Losses to high profile teams like North Carolina, Louisville and others are bearable. Those defeats at the hands of San Diego, Gardner Webb and Virginia Military Institute â€” arenâ€™t.
When Billy Gillispie arrived at UK two years ago, he was smiling and grateful for the opportunity to coach the Cats. Now, Gillispie spends more time barking at officials, defending himself or his team at news conferences and snapping at any reporter who may have a question that isnâ€™t favorable in his mind.
Will the real Billy Gillispie, please show up? Maybe he already has.
In Lexington, the only thing that matters is winning. Gillispie knows and acknowledges this. Execution of that philosophy, as of late, as been non-existent, thanks to a current four-game losing streak. If it werenâ€™t for a sweep of Tennessee, the Cats would have crashed and burned down the stretch with a six-game losing streak.
Not just losses, bad losses: a 13-point drubbing in Nashville, 18-point trashing in Columbia, S.C., and embarrassments at home against Georgia and on the road against Florida.
The ways the Cats have finished have made the almost upset of Louisville, Jodie Meeksâ€™ 54-point explosion on Tennessee and winning 16 of 18 games from December to January forgettable.
Sometimes the losses are the players fault â€” which were quickly pointed out â€” and other times, they are the coaches. When they were Gillispieâ€™s, he was quick to admit fault and just as quick to move on.
With two players with the caliber of Meeks and sophomore Patrick Patterson, it takes effort to collapse the way the Cats have. The frequent lapses in play should have been cleared up by now.
Newcomers Kevin Galloway, Darius Miller and DeAndre Liggins are talented and have shown as much at various points in the season. But their lack of development is alarming, with Galloway mostly riding the pine during the beginning of the season, Liggins glued to the bench currently and Miller having an erratic spot in the rotation as well.
In addition, the regression of veterans Perry Stevenson and Ramon Harris is puzzling. Stevenson looked to be a strong compliment to Patterson at the end of last season and the beginning of this year. He doesnâ€™t seem that way now.
The way this team has finished and the multiple controversies the Cats and Gillispie seem to find themselves in week after week has ruffled feathers across the Commonwealth and frankly â€“ is embarrassing.
The rumblings are on message boards, in the hallways of schools and workplaces across the state and on streets from Paducah to Pikeville. No one is happy with these results. Not with the losses, the play of the team, the coaching of Gillispie or even his handling of the adversity.
To put it bluntly, a lot of people want Gillispie fired. But he shouldnâ€™t be.
Yes, Gillispie shouldnâ€™t berate any reporter, whether it is Jeannine Edwards of ESPN or beloved Tom Leach. Yes, the team has collapsed and it is Gillispieâ€™s job as head coach to stop the bleeding and prepare his team. Yes, it is Gillispie who is in charge of player development.
If Gillispie handled news conferences, interviews and questions about his coaching ability with a little more class, he probably wouldnâ€™t have a seat engulfed in flames. Maybe a seat thatâ€™s sparking at the seams, but not on fire.
UK Athletic Director Mitch Barnhart has mostly been quiet on the current situation of the basketball team, serving as No. 1 cheerleader for the players. A wise decision, because a vote of confidence is usually a sure-fire pink slip. This team doesnâ€™t need any more drama.
This season, or maybe the last two, hasnâ€™t been the best for UK. But a quick switch at the head coaching position isnâ€™t in order. There isnâ€™t much left for the Cats to accomplish â€” an SEC Tournament championship is hardly possible.
So the best thing for everyone to do is to take a deep breath and exhale. Then look up prices for plane tickets.
I hear New York is beautiful in the spring.
Kenny Colston is a journalism junior. E-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.