LEXINGTON, KY. Billy Gillispie used five starters all of last season at Texas A&M. Through four games at Kentucky, he already has used eight.
The new Wildcats coach insists his coaching philosophy hasn't changed alongside his area code. Every practice is a competition whose winner cracks the starting lineup in the next game.
It just so happened, the same five Aggies won every practice last season. So far at Kentucky, injuries and inconsistent play haven't given him that luxury.
"If you don't play right, don't practice right, somebody's going to take your spot," Gillispie said Monday. "A coach can yell and scream all they want to, pat you on the back all you want to, but the best way to teach competition, raise competition, is to know, 'Hey, if I don't do that, I might lose my job."'
Gillispie's starters for Tuesday night's game against Stony Brook won't be known until after that day's practice.
Two new starters cracked his lineup Saturday in Kentucky's 83-35 victory over Texas Southern - freshman A.J. Stewart and senior Joe Crawford, a regular starter last season under former coach Tubby Smith.
Gillispie had said he wants to see Crawford get into better condition and improve his defense, and Crawford put on a show against the Tigers with a career-high 32 points.
Regardless of the winners or losers in the daily competition, Gillispie's message - particularly defense and shot selection - seems to be resonating.
"He wants to instill a spirit of competition," said freshman Alex Legion, who cracked the starting lineup in the Wildcats' third game, against Liberty. "In high school, I rarely played any defense. Now I'm finding myself kind of excited to play defense."
After the Wildcats were shocked by Gardner-Webb, costing them a trip to New York for the semifinals of the 2K Sports College Hoops Classic, Gillispie said the one silver-lining was two weeks of uninterrupted practices.
"Coach tries to bring it out of you every practice," said guard Michael Porter, who started the first three games.