Jasper reunites with Gillispie
Three years ago, Derrick Jasper informed then Kentucky basketball coach
Billy Gillispie that he was leaving the Wildcats program for a new start closer to home. Three years later, the first big break in the next chapter of Derrick Jasper's basketball life has been provided by...you guessed it...Billy Gillispie.
Gillispie, hired in March to take over a Texas Tech program that struggled to just 13 wins a season ago, has offered Jasper - who helped lead UNLV to back-to-back NCAA Tournament appearances during his two seasons as a Rebel - a spot on the Red Raiders coaching staff as a graduate assistant. Jasper confirmed on Sunday that he has accepted the position.
"I will be headed to Lubbock on Saturday night," said Jasper. "It's definitely an honor that he offered me that position."
Jasper's time at Kentucky - particularly the single season he played for Gillispie during the 2007-08 campaign - makes Gillispie's hiring of his former player all the more interesting.
Following his freshman season at UK, Jasper underwent microfracture knee surgery in June of 2007. Just six months later, the sophomore guard returned to practice for the Wildcats, and for Gillispie, who had been hired in April to replace longtime Kentucky coach Tubby Smith.
Jasper went on to play in 20 games for Kentucky during the 2007-08 season, including playing all 40 minutes of the Wildcats first round NCAA Tournament loss to Marquette.
Soon after the season ended, however, rumors began circulating that Jasper planned to transfer to a school closer to his Paso Robles, California home. In June of 2008, Jasper decided to transfer to UNLV.
Even then, according to Jasper, Gillispie laid the groundwork for a possible reunion between the two one day.
"When I decided I was going to transfer completely, he told me that the door was always open on his side," said Jasper, who played in 54 career games at Kentucky. "To have a coach tell me that…that the door's always open to come back and rejoin him again…I really appreciated that, and I'm excited about this opportunity"
Despite redshirting in 2008-09, which allowed him to further rehabilitate his surgically repaired left knee, Jasper played with pain throughout his time at UNLV.
"My knee just didn't respond like I wanted it to each season, kind of got worse as this season went on," said Jasper. "I just didn't think that my knee would hold up even a couple more years with the pain I was going through."
It was that realization - that the pain in his knee would almost certainly persist as long as he continued to play - that allowed Jasper to relinquish thoughts of a professional playing career, thus speeding up his decision to pursue a career in coaching.
"My Plan B has always been to coach," said Jasper. "I would love to help young players achieve their goals, so I always wanted to do that my whole life So I thought it would be a good opportunity and a good route to go to Texas Tech and start my career there."
Like another former Runnin' Rebel who began his coaching career immediately after his college playing days ended, Jasper aspires to follow a similar path to that of new UNLV head coach Dave Rice. He understands, however, that reaching his ultimate goal will require both time and hard work.
"I'm just trying to take it a day at a time because I know it's going to be a grind, and a lot of hard work," said Jasper, who averaged 5.7 points and 4.5 rebounds in his two seasons as a Rebel.
"Nothing's handed to you. You've got to work for it."