“Determined. Leader. Winner.”
That’s how Villanova point guard Collin Gillespie described his own on-court demeanor to the New York Post after the Wildcats’ first-round NCAA Tournament win against Delaware.
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Now, a week and a half later and thanks in large part to Gillespie’s demeanor, he and his Wildcat teammates are preparing to play Kansas in the Final Four in New Orleans.
𝗖𝗛𝗔𝗠𝗣𝗦. South Region. 🏆 #LetsMarchNova pic.twitter.com/ssBcvKA0Tv
— Villanova MBB (@NovaMBB) March 27, 2022
Gillespie, a fifth-year senior and two-time Big East Player of the Year (2021, 2022), has been here before. He experienced what he dreamed of from a young age as a freshman role player on Villanova’s 2018 national championship team.
Now, he is Villanova’s undisputed leader as he attempts to lead the Wildcats back to the top of the sport. He’s averaging a team-leading 15.6 points, 3.3 assists and 1.0 steals per game while shooting 40.9% from the 3-point line this season.
The 2021-22 season has been Gillespie’s best statistical season, but one year ago at this time, it seemed almost unthinkable to him.
He went down with a torn MCL in his left knee on March 3, 2021, just as Villanova was gearing up for what it hoped would be another deep tournament run. The senior could only watch while his team lost in the Big East Tournament quarterfinals and then again in the NCAA Tournament’s Sweet Sixteen to the eventual national champion, Baylor.
“It was tough not to be able to play in any of the postseason tournaments and not be able to be out there with my teammates,” Gillespie told the New York Post a week and a half ago. “God has a plan for everything, and it’s a part of my journey.”
Gillespie’s Villanova career seemed over, and he admits he had doubts about whether his basketball career in general was done. He had his knee surgically repaired, put his trust in God and began to work on his recovery. Eight days after his injury, he posted a photo of himself on Instagram with a caption that simply read, “2 Corinthians 5:7,” which is a Bible verse that reads, “For we live by faith, not by sight.”
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Thanks to the NCAA granting an extra year of eligibility to athletes because of the effect COVID-19 had on college sports, Gillespie had the option to return to Villanova for a fifth season, and that’s just what he did.
“When you have a major surgery like that, you always question whether you’ll be the same player,” Gillespie told CityOfBasketballLove.com before this season. “But just understand that it’s a part of your journey, and a part of God’s plan, believing that I would be back was important. When I started rehabbing and was able to lift and jump (in April and May), it’s when I probably started to believe I would be back.”
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The Villanova program is on the verge of doing something that hasn’t been done since UCLA’s glory days in the 1960s and 70s: win three national championships in the last six NCAA Tournaments. But Gillespie says he doesn’t feel the pressure. He simply remains thankful for the blessing to be able to play.
“I’ve never taken basketball for granted, even before my injury,” Gillespie told CityOfBasketballLove.com. “Basketball is something that has given me a lot in life. I’ve been very blessed with the people that I have met through basketball and the places that it’s taken me.”
Villanova will tip off against Kansas in the first semifinal on Saturday at 6:09 p.m. ET.
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