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Under pressure, Gillen prospers

(This is part two in a three-part daily series on the Virginia men's basketball program under Coach Pete Gillen.)

Some things are worth the wait.

When Virginia men's basketball Coach Terry Holland left Charlottesville in 1990 to become the athletic director at Davidson, Xavier head man Pete Gillen was a candidate to replace him at the helm of the Cavalier program.

Gillen interviewed with Jim Copeland, Virginia's athletic director at the time, but soon withdrew his name from consideration, deciding that he wanted to keep his family in Cincinnati for the time being.

"I was tremendously impressed with the Virginia job," said Gillen, who was interviewed at the Pittsburgh airport and never visited Grounds. "But I went to Xavier and that was home. I was happy with what we had done there. I was happy where I was at the time and didn't want to move after traveling a lot in several assistant coaching stints."

Related Links
  • href=""> Part One of the Gillen Series

  • href="">Virginia Men's Basketball Page

  • Gillen spent four more years at Xavier and four at Providence. When Holland, Copeland's successor as Virginia athletic director, went looking for another coach after Jeff Jones resigned in 1998, Gillen's name again was on the list.

    Holland said he became impressed with Gillen when his 1997 Providence squad made a surprising run to the NCAA Elite Eight. Holland saw how Gillen dealt with the intense pressure of leading an underdog Friar team past Duke before succumbing to eventual champion Arizona.

    "I kept an eye on Virginia [after 1990], but I never thought I'd have a chance for it to come up again," Gillen said.

    Once he took the Cavalier job, Gillen set out looking for players who fit his style of basketball, a pressing, running style he brands "chuck and duck." He inherited floor burners Donald Hand and Adam Hall and recruited guards Majestic Mapp and Roger Mason Jr.

    Yet Gillen and his staff want recruits who can do more than fill up a box score. A host of prominent Virginia players ran into problems with the law during Jones' tenure, but Gillen concentrates on a player's personality as well as his vertical leap.

    "Number one, we want a good person," Gillen said. "We don't want someone who is a reclamation project, somebody that is doing a lot of rotten things, drinking a lot, doing drugs, beating people up or stealing. We want somebody who will represent the University of Virginia [well]. That's the most important thing."

    To stay competitive in today's win-at-all-costs college basketball world, many coaches are known to sleep in their offices, dissecting film and developing game strategies until sunrise. Gillen is no exception.

    "It's unbelievable; it's like 'War and Peace,'" Gillen said. "I'd say [I work] a minimum of 90 to 100 hours per week during the season. It's something that you love to do but it takes a lot of you. You can only take so much."

    Gillen does all he can to prevent his demanding job from interfering with his family life. He gets up most mornings to eat breakfast with his two children, 16-year-old Brendan and 10-year-old Shannon. He tries to get home for dinner as often as he can before returning to the office to prepare for the Cavs' next opponent.

    "I'm playing Russian roulette - I don't know how many bullets are in the chamber," Gillen said. "I'm spinning it and I get sick, or you get a problem with the family, with my children getting in trouble because I haven't paid attention to them. I wouldn't want to do anything else, but I wouldn't recommend it to anyone because I know the hazards."

    Yet the long hours can bring rewards beyond conference titles and NCAA appearances. Getting doused by his players with a cooler of water after Saturday's overtime upset of Maryland and working with individual athletes are some of the aspects of the job Gillen said he particularly enjoys.

    "You can be a big influence," Gillen said. "Seeing kids grow and blossom, that's a thrill for me. To see where they started, where they couldn't talk, they mumble and shake when they had to get up to talk ... then see them come in with a nice suit and polished - that to me is a thrill."

    Gillen has gone to great lengths to instill a sense of camaraderie among his players. The word "family" is embroidered on the back of the Cavaliers' practice shorts.

    "I have a good relationship with him because he's a player's coach," said Majestic Mapp, freshman point guard and Gillen's first Virginia recruit. "He is like a friend - you can just go in his door. It's just something you want to have in a coach. It goes a long way as far as being happy, as far as being committed to this basketball team."

    One-liners are a common occurrence at a Gillen press conference and also serve to loosen up his players when he is around the team. Some of his best catch phrases describe Josh Hare's tenacious defense as a "ravenous boar" and compare Duke to Noah's ark because "they have two of everything."

    "I was an English major and James Joyce was my idol," Gillen said. "Sometimes it's irrelevant, it doesn't mean anything, sometimes it does. It helps me selfishly deal with the stress, and I want people around me to have fun because life is too short and you want to have fun and enjoy the journey."

    Gillen also uses humor to deflect the criticism that comes with the job. Even his wife, Ginnie, second-guesses some of his moves.

    "People have to take a ticket to criticize me," he said. "It's a big line; I can't reach all the critics. I do the best I can. I know I make mistakes but I have to make a lot of decisions, so you roll with it. That's part of the job, I'm in Macy's window, and every time I make a mistake, every time I get a pimple, people know. You are not going to please everyone."

    Gillen said he does not envision retiring from coaching anytime soon, but when he does, don't count on him spouting witticisms as a television analyst.

    "My next stop [will be working at] 7-11 here in Charlottesville," he joked. "I will not be coaching, but I'll be working in charge of frozen ice."


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