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The Battalion

The Student News Site of Texas A&M University - College Station

The Battalion

The Student News Site of Texas A&M University - College Station

The Battalion

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One step away
June 8, 2024

Floor commanders

As members of the Texas A&M men’s basketball team sprint up and down the court, Head Coach Billy Gillispie squats in the shadows of a goal quietly observing, much like an eagle searching for its prey.
Then Gillispie suddenly sees his next target of attack and swoops in for the kill.
“WHAT was that?” Gillispie asks the heavily breathing player. “Why did you dribble the ball that way? There was absolutely no reason for that. That could cost us the game.”
Before the player can respond, the culprit is standing on the sideline, watching his replacement run the play.
It may seem that Gillispie has a bit of a temper problem to the casual observer, but those who are close to him would say quite the opposite.
“Off the court, you can joke with him all day long,” said junior Antoine Wright. “On the court, though, it’s time to get serious. Everybody knows that when he walks in the gym, it’s time to go.”
After an illustrious but short career as head coach at the University of Texas-El Paso, Gillispie is taking over the reins of an A&M team that didn’t win a single conference game last year. But why would Gillispie want to leave a team he guided to an 18-game win turnaround in one season, an NCAA tournament berth and a defeat of the Harlem Globetrotters, ending their 288-game winning streak?
“I like challenges,” Gillispie said. “This is a great university, and it has the great capability to be a tremendous basketball program. Of course a lot of things have to be done before it gets there, though, starting with the fans. I don’t care how well you coach or recruit, it’s not going to be good if you don’t have a home court advantage.”
Gillispie is tackling his challenges head on, starting with his players. Gillispie put the players through a rigorous two-week boot camp to get them in shape for the season, something none of the players had experienced.
“I didn’t know what to expect from him,” said sophomore Marlon Pompey. “He told us to get ready and get in shape, but I just took it for granted and did my normal running. Around 5:30 a.m. in early October – the last day of chips and soda, the last day of my regular life – he put it on us. I knew then he was for real.”
Joseph Jones, a highly ranked freshman prospect from Normangee, said that although he knew the collegiate level would be much tougher than high school, he didn’t know Gillispie’s training regimen would be extraordinarily strenuous.
“This is a 360-degree turnaround for me,” Jones said. “In boot camp, I did more running than I probably did in all of high school. And in high school, you get breaks all the time. Here, the only break you get is if you mess up. And you don’t want that break.”
But though the players may be sweating more than normal and waking up earlier than previous seasons, all said they recognize that Gillispie’s straight-forward demands don’t stem from being a hot-head, but instead from the desire to win.
“He’s definitely crazy. And every crazy thing he does is for a reason, it just takes you a couple of weeks to realize why,” Wright said. “He’s a perfectionist, but that’s what we need. You’re not perfect until you have five guys on the same page, and you won’t win much until you’ve got that.”
As players conduct a speed drill to get the ball down court quickly, Gillispie stands with his arms folded across his chest with a daunting stare in his eyes, looking for the smallest mistake. It’s all part of his big plan, though; Gillispie knows that eliminating the smallest mistakes brings forth big wins.
“It’s a tough game, and it’s tough to win,” Gillispie said. “If you don’t play tough, hard and with intensity, you’re not going to win. And I like to win.”

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