By Pranay Malempati | Sports Writer
“Like losing a relative.”
That was how Baylor senior forward Freddie Gillespie described his emotions when he found out his college basketball career had come to an abrupt end. Due to the NCAA canceling the March Madness tournament due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Gillespie had played his last Baylor game without knowing it.
“We put our heart and soul and our passion and it was our main focus, especially during postseason time,” Gillespie said. “We put all this work in and this effort in and it’s taken away. We kind of have to go through the five stages of grief.”
After the NCAA announced the postseason cancellation in March, Baylor head coach Scott Drew made a statement showing a similar stance on the situation.
“Student-athlete safety is always our highest priority,” Drew said, “so I understand the decision to cancel the 2020 NCAA tournament, but I’m overwhelmingly disappointed that our team won’t have the opportunity to finish what was arguably the best season in program history.”
Gillespie started playing organized basketball in eighth grade and suffered multiple significant injuries in high school, prompting him to play Divison III basketball at Carleton College in Northfield, Minn. He them transferred to Baylor, taking a year off as a redshirt player before becoming a defensive anchor on a top five Division I team.
Gillespie said that now, he is focused on taking the next leap in his basketball career.
“Making the NBA was one of the goals I had when I first came to Baylor,” Gillespie said. “To play in the NBA and be a special basketball player — nothing’s changed.”
Gillespie said that while the “unprecedented global pandemic” makes it even more difficult than it already is to reach the NBA, he is still staying in shape, talking to agents, and pushing forward.
Because of the closure of gyms, Gillespie said that he and the other basketball players have had to get creative with their conditioning.
“I’m kind of going back to the Rocky Balboa training method; those old-school methods,” Gillespie said. “I do a lot of hill sprints, a mile run, do spinning — try to keep my body conditioned.”
Gillespie said his experience playing at Baylor has given him much to remember, especially with the people he has bonded with. He also said playing under Drew helped him understand “the process of getting better.”
“The number of drills I’ve learned,” Gillespie said. “I’ve learned how to watch film, how to study my own game, how to improve my own game, how to build chemistry with others. [Drew] developed my game in every aspect. That’s what Baylor’s given me as I move on in my career.”
And as much as Baylor has given him, Gillespie said that he wants to help the players who will have an opportunity to continue this program’s success next season.
He said he is passing on what he knows to the younger players, including two of his roommates, transfers who are eligible to play next season.
“One thing I told them is keep caring about each other and keep trying to get better,: Gillespie said. “Those are two things that took me really far. Those two principles: if you care about each other and always try to improve your game and be competitive and be better, those will take you to a national championship.”