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Gillispie hired as Kentucky's basketball coach

LEXINGTON, Ky. &

Kentucky's restless two weeks are over. Billy Gillispie is the Wildcats' new coach, and he insists the winningest school in college basketball history is on solid ground despite an early ouster from the NCAA tournament.

The former Texas AM coach agreed to a seven-year contract to succeed Tubby Smith, university spokesman Jay Blanton said Friday. Financial terms weren't immediately available.

The architect of remarkable turnarounds at UTEP and Texas AM, Gillispie doesn't think there's much work to be done with the Wildcats. Kentucky went 22-12 this season, losing to Kansas in the second round of the tournament.

"This program got turned around like 2,000 years ago and it's been turned around ever since," Gillispie said just before a campus rally. "Since they started putting those nets up there and used a round ball, they never needed a turnaround."

Fans were trickling into Memorial Coliseum 90 minutes before his news conference. Bruce Springsteen's "Glory Days" blared from speakers while students gathered before a makeshift stage. Blue pompons were in place on the first few rows of the bleachers.

Gillispie becomes Kentucky's sixth coach in the last 76 years and follows Smith, who spent a decade in the glare of the sport's brightest spotlight before bolting to Minnesota. Gillispie led the Aggies to the NCAA tournament's round of 16 this year for the first time since 1980.

The Wildcats turned to Gillispie after another Billy &

Florida's Billy Donovan &

decided Thursday to stay with the Gators. Texas' Rick Barnes also indicated Thursday he wasn't interested, but the job was never formally offered to anyone other than Gillispie.

Smith left the Wildcats after 10 seasons to coach Minnesota last month, with four years left on his contract.

Gillispie is 100-58 in five seasons as a coach. He spent the last three years with the Aggies, molding the longtime also-ran into a Big 12 power. Texas AM went 27-7 this season.

His success made him a hot commodity. He was approached by Arkansas after Stan Heath was fired, but he decided to stay with the Aggies, agreeing to a $1.75 million contract.

The 47-year-old coach, however, never signed, and he didn't hesitate when Kentucky came calling. AM athletic director Bill rne gave Kentucky AD Mitch Barnhart permission to speak to Gillispie on Thursday night. Friday morning the job was his.

Gillispie was an assistant under Bill Self at Tulsa and Illinois before coaching UTEP in 2002. He coached the Miners for two seasons, surviving a 6-24 season in 2002-03, then producing a 24-8 record the next year.

Texas AM lured him in 2004, and Gillispie didn't waste time turning around a program that went winless in Big 12 play the year before his arrival. The Aggies made it to the NIT his first season and the NCAA tournament the next two.

Behind senior point guard Acie Law, the Aggies spent most of the 2006-07 season ranked in the top 10. They finished 13-3 in the Big 12.

Gillispie's finest moment came at Rupp Arena, guiding the Aggies to wins over Penn and Louisville in the opening rounds of this year's NCAA tournament. The Louisville game featured Smith's predecessor, Rick Pitino, coaching against Smith's successor, Gillispie, on Kentucky's home court.

Gillispie is the sixth Kentucky coach since 1931, when Hall of Famer Adolph Rupp began a 42-year reign that turned the Wildcats into a national power. Rupp won four national titles, with Joe Hall, Pitino and Smith adding one each.

Kentucky's failure to return to the Final Four since winning the title in Smith's debut season of 1997-98 was a sore spot for Wildcats fans accustomed to success.

Smith compiled a 263-83 record as the Wildcats' coach and his teams advanced at least to the second round of the NCAA tournament in each of his 10 seasons. But because the program lost 10 or more games under Smith five times, some critics labeled him "10-loss Tubby."

Kentucky went 22-12 this season and was seeded No. 8 for the second straight year, with the tournament outcome the same as well. Last year, top-seeded Connecticut knocked off the Wildcats in round two. This year, it was top-seeded Kansas.

Gillispie inherits a team facing a number of questions. Star center Randolph Morris, who played perhaps his best ball in the SEC and NCAA tournaments, signed with the New York Knicks.

Morris' top backup, Lukasz Obrzut, was a departing senior, as was starting power forward Bobby Perry and his backup, Sheray Thomas. The top center now appears to be Jared Carter, who missed almost the entire season after shoulder surgery. Seldom-used freshman Perry Stevenson could start at power forward.

The team returns three starting guards &

freshman Derrick Jasper and juniors Joe Crawford and Ramel Bradley &

as well as freshman Jodie Meeks.

Smith's departure leaves Kentucky's recruiting class in limbo. Smith had concentrated on forward Patrick Patterson, a teammate of O.J. Mayo's in Huntington, W.Va., and guard Jai Lucas of Houston, son of former NBA player and coach John Lucas. The players have yet to sign letters of intent.

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AP Sports Writer Will Graves contributed to this report.

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