Gillispie: Recruiting His Way to Lexington Love

May 21st, 2007

Well that didn’t take long, did it?

Less than six weeks after being introduced as the new head coach at Kentucky, Billy Gillispie completed a major recruiting haul when highly-touted forward Patrick Patterson signed a letter of intent to play for the Cats. Patterson is the headliner for a class that should place UK squarely in the running in the SEC next year, with last year’s struggles a distant memory. Better yet, Gillispie’s early success on the recruiting path bodes well for a program that recently seemed to be a step behind the Carolinas and Dukes of the world when it came to landing the elite recruits.

Obviously, any talk of the class begins with Patterson, the McDonald’s All-American out of Huntington. Super-strong and athletic, Patterson will immediately fill the vacancy left by Randolph Morris, who jetted off to NBA riches at the “first” opportunity. With the oft-injured Jared Carter and lanky Perry Stevenson comprising the only returning front-court players, the Cats desperately needed a rugged body to hit the boards and provide offense in the post – roles that Patterson will fill immediately.

Joining him up front will be versatile forward A.J. Stewart out of Jacksonville and big man Mike Williams, from Alexandria (Va.) Both will likely see action early in a thin frontcourt. Stewart’s athleticism will allow him to play either forward spot, while Williams, although a project, is a big body who will be asked only to rebound and defend as he adjusts to the speed of the college game.

Shooting guard Alex Legion was another great find for Gillispie. Originally a Michigan commit, Legion re-opened his recruitment when Tommy Amaker was fired, and UK jumped at the chance to get the super-smooth scorer. He will join a crowded backcourt that includes Ramel Bradley, Joe Crawford, Jodie Meeks and Derrick Jasper, but Legion’s scoring ability and size should find him plenty of minutes. There’s even been talk of UK going with a four-guard line-up, with Patterson manning the middle, to get as many scorers on the floor as possible. Given UK’s offensive woes at times last year, Legion’s ability to put the ball in the basket will be a welcome addition in Lexington.

While talk of UK’s demise has been greatly exaggerated, there’s no doubt that UK’s recent struggles have been tied to inconsistent recruiting. That shouldn’t be a problem much longer, as Gillispie obviously has made recruiting a top priority in his short time on the job. He hit the ground running in Lexington, and his hard work paid off, as he landed a fantastic first class. UK fans can only imagine what he’ll do with a full year to go after recruits, especially if this year’s class enjoys early success.

Of course, there are no guarantees in the recruiting world. Conference rival Florida is coming off consecutive national titles with only one McDonald’s All-American in the line-up, while Duke and Arizona were sent home early last year despite rosters loaded with highly-touted recruits. But Cats fans should delight in knowing that Gillispie has apparently placed a very high priority on upgrading the roster, and he’s willing to put in the work to do just that. It remains to be seen what this class will mean for UK, but it’s a good first step for a coach and a program that are hoping to start a long journey together.