Summer 2024

Purdue's Mason Gillis finds strength in Isaiah 40:31 at men's Final Four

The matchup between big men Zach Edey of Purdue and D.J. Burns of N.C. State is getting much of the attention ahead of the men’s college basketball Final Four. But Purdue’s sixth man, Mason Gillis, might prove to be the X-factor.

>> Subscribe to Sports Spectrum Magazine for more stories where sports and faith connect <<

Gillis, a 6-foot-6 senior forward, has been described as Purdue’s “glue guy.” He rebounds well, plays tenacious defense and is a knockdown shooter. Perhaps more importantly, he knows exactly what head coach Matt Painter needs from him.

“Just a hard-charger, plays hard, competes, gets on the offensive glass, gives you everything,” Painter said of Gillis in 2022. “You can’t have enough of that. He’s got a lot of substance as a player.”

Gillis has averaged 6.6 points this season while also grabbing a career-high 3.9 rebounds and dishing out a career-high 1.8 assists in 21 minutes per game. The New Castle, Indiana, native is also incredibly efficient from 3-point range (47.5%) and the free-throw line (85.4%).

His play earned him the Big Ten’s Sixth Man of the Year award, and he’s a key reason why Purdue has been able to put together a 33-4 record, win the Big Ten Conference regular-season title, earn a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament, and now advance to the program’s third-ever Final Four (and the first since 1980).

Gillis has fit the sixth-man role for the 2023-24 Boilermakers to perfection, but his basketball journey hasn’t always been so seamless.

In April 2018, as he was finishing his junior season of high school basketball, Gillis suffered a small meniscus tear in his right knee. The surgery to repair the knee went fine, but Gillis tried to return in June. It was too soon.

After the knee kept swelling, Gillis made the decision to undergo microfracture surgery that July, which would end up costing him his entire senior season of high school.

“He knows that there’s a greater plan for him in God’s hands,” Gillis’ mother, Tammy McCall, said at the time according to The Star Press, “and I think that’s what gives him peace.”

Gillis sought respite in his favorite Bible verse, Isaiah 40:31, during the difficult moments of his recovery, so much so that it became his first tattoo. The verse is enumerated on his inner left forearm, bracketed with eagles’ wings.

“But those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint.” — Isaiah 40:31


View this post on Instagram


A post shared by Mason Gillis (@masongillis_)

“It really started with my mom and her brother,” Gillis told Purdue Athletics in 2019 about gravitating toward Isaiah 40:31. “They grew up with that verse and that was their favorite passage. I just kind of adopted it.”

Gillis has fond memories of his childhood, going to church every Sunday with Tammy already at the piano when he, his sister, grandmother and aunt would arrive.

However, hardships continued for Gillis once he stepped foot on Purdue’s campus in West Lafayette, Indiana. He redshirted his freshman season and had to watch from the bench as the Boilermakers limped to a 16-15 record before the pandemic ended the season. In the summer of 2021, Gillis was suspended for the first four games after a July 26 arrest led to a misdemeanor count of operating a vehicle while intoxicated.

Gillis has since bounced back, and even with a busy basketball schedule, he managed to earn a business degree in just three and a half years. Now, he’s only two classes away from an MBA in management.

Gillis has thrived on the court as well. He trains with Jordan and Courtney Delks at Complete Training Academy, whose vision statement is, “To see people transformed by Jesus Christ through our resources, presence, and time.”

Gillis has proven to be a reliable piece and part-time starter for Purdue throughout his career. Yet when 2023-24 rolled around, Painter made the decision to move him out of the starting lineup for good. Gillis accepted the role with a selfless, team-first mentality.

“I wanted to provide for the team and play to the best of my ability, just because that’s who I am,” Gillis told CBS Sports last week. “No matter what anybody else does, I can control what I’m doing.”

With Gillis’ unique energy off the bench, Purdue’s starting five has been the same for every game this season. It’s the first time that’s happened for the Boilermakers since 1978.

So as Purdue seeks to vanquish the Cinderella Wolfpack and extend its stay at the Final Four in Phoenix, it will need Gillis to be at his best. Gillis, meanwhile, will seek to continue to find strength where he always has: in the words of Isaiah 40:31.

>> Do you know Christ personally? Learn how you can commit your life to Him. <<

D.J. Burns thanks God as N.C. State makes Sweet 16 run in NCAA Tourney
Purdue’s Jaden Ivey, mother Niele bonded by faith amid March success
SS PODCAST: Former Purdue star Courtney Delks on sharing hope via hoops
Mark Sears leads Alabama to Final Four: ‘Give all honor and glory to God’
Coach Dan Hurley leads No. 1 UConn with his ‘faith in Jesus Christ’