LEXINGTON, Ky. - Three pictures on the cover of the Kentucky basketball media guide seem to capture the first 10 games of Billy Gillispie's tenure at one of college basketball's most demanding jobs.
In one, Gillispie is clapping his hands, staring intently into the distance. The two above it are of senior guards Joe Crawford and Ramel Bradley. Crawford has the ball in his hand, searching for an opening. Bradley crouches, mouth agape, eyes focused straight ahead.
Perhaps it's telling that the coach and players are looking in different directions. The giddiness that surrounded Gillispie's arrival from Texas A&M as he took over for Tubby Smith in April, has been replaced by anxiety as the Wildcats and their hard-spun coach struggle to get to know each other.
Kentucky (5-5) is off to its worst start since the 2000-01 season. Injuries and off-the-court problems have frustrated the coach and left his team's confidence shaken.
Though many fans are quick to place the blame on his predecessor, nicknamed "Ten-Loss Tubby" during his decade leading the Wildcats, they didn't expect Gillispie to be halfway to the 10-loss mark just 10 games into the season.
Though the Wildcats snapped a four-game losing streak - the school's longest in 17 years - with a relatively easy win over Tennessee Tech on Saturday, Kentucky has hardly played with the crispness or intensity Gillispie promised.
"We just haven't competed as hard as we can," Gillispie said.
The evidence came early in a stunning 84-68 loss to Gardner-Webb on Nov. 7. Though some dismissed the performance as an anomaly, the last six weeks have brought more of the same.
Outside of freshman forward Patrick Patterson, Kentucky has been largely unimpressive in victory and looked overmatched against quality teams. The Wildcats never threatened No. 1 North Carolina and were blown out by then-No. 15 Indiana.
Gillispie has been quick to dismiss injuries as part of the problem, though he never imagined he would spend most of the first six weeks of the season without guards Derrick Jasper and Jodie Meeks.
A stickler for good practice habits, Gillispie has emphasized that those who practice hard will get the first chance at playing, regardless of how they perform during the games.
It's a lesson Crawford, a starter each of the last two seasons, has learned the hard way. Crawford has spent most of the early season in Gillispie's doghouse, and both he and Bradley watched from the bench in the first half against Tennessee Tech after being late for a team function.
Highly touted freshman guard Alex Legion played well in bursts during the first four games, then abruptly transferred to Illinois after playing just a handful of minutes in the loss to North Carolina.
Gillispie has been tight-lipped through much of it. His players, however, have risen to his defense.
"It doesn't matter if you're the best player on the team to the last guy on the team, if you know he's going to treat each and every player on the team fairly, it makes you feel better," Bradley said.