On April 6, 2007, Billy Gillispie was introduced to a crowd of more than 4,000 fans at a pep rally announcing his hiring as the 21st coach in UK Basketball history. Prior to coming to Lexington, the Graford, Texas native was honored as his conference's Coach of the Year four times, doing so three times in the Big 12 at Texas A&M and once in the Western Athletic Conference at UTEP. In addition, Gillispie was a finalist for the 2007 Naismith National Coach of the Year and Jim Phelan National Coach of the Year.
After starting out the 2008 season 6-7 in pre-conference action, the Wildcats caught fire and posted a 12-4 mark in league play, including wins over No. 3 Tennessee and No. 12 Vanderbilt resulting in Gillispie being named SEC co-Coach of the Year by league coaches. The honor marked the fifth straight season, Gillispie received his league's coach of the year award. The Cats in-conference heroics helped them secure their NCAA record 49th NCAA Tournament berth.
In two years at UK, Gillispie posted a 40-27 record (20-12 in the SEC) while being named the 2008 SEC Co-Coach of the Year.