Barnes attended the introductory press conference for new Texas women's basketball coach Gail Goestenkors within a couple of hours of Florida coach Billy Donovan's decision to remain in Gainesville. It had been widely assumed that Donovan, Barnes, Memphis coach John Calipari, Michigan State coach Tom Izzo and Texas A&M coach Billy Gillispie were the leading candidates to succeed Tubby Smith at Kentucky. Barnes declined to discuss the Kentucky vacancy with media following Goestenkor's press conference. He then conferred with Texas Men's Athletic Director DeLoss Dodds in what our source described as "an annual evaluatory meeting that was already on the calendar" prior to Donovan's decision.
Freshman phenom Kevin Durant also met with Barnes Thursday, our source added. According to Barnes, Durant is still weighing his decision on whether to return to Texas for his sophomore year or turn pro and has yet to make a decision. Barnes and Durant are scheduled to depart Friday for Los Angeles where Durant is thought to be the frontrunner for the John Wooden Award honoring the nation's top collegiate basketball player.
Two weeks ago, Barnes announced that his intent was to return to Austin. But red-hot rumors swirled this week that Barnes' stock was soaring in Lexington, and that was before Donovan (a former Wildcat assistant) announced Thursday that he would remain at Florida. The general consensus is that Barnes' has always been on Kentucky's short-list of successors to the oft-criticized Smith who abruptly resigned last week to become the head basketball coach at Minnesota, and that the Wildcat job is one of the few that would be tempting to the Texas head man. Within the past two weeks, Calipari received a five-year contract extension while Gillispie's salary was bumped up to a guaranteed $1.75 million annually. (The Aggie coach has yet to sign his contract extension, according to reports.) Barnes' guaranteed annual salary ($1.8 million) is second only to Ohio State's Thad Matta, and reports indicate that Dodds already has a salary increase in the works that could push Barnes' and his assisntants' salaries even higher.
Kentucky Men's A.D. Mitch Barnhart released a statement Thursday indicating that the process of securing the head coach would be a patient and deliberate affair. ("Finding the right coach is more important than finding the next coach quickly," Barnhart stated.) However, it is expected that Barnhart will name a coach prior to the spring signing period that begins April 13.