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Q&A with Freddie Gillespie: Former Carl close to making NBA dream a reality

Freddie Gillespie’s pandemic-shortened NCAA DI basketball season ended with his team, the Baylor Bears, ranked fifth in the country (after a five-week run at number one). Gillespie was the Big 12 Player of the Week in December 2019, the Big 12 Most Improved Player, and was named to the Big 12 All-Defense team and Second Team All Big 12. Now, he is preparing for the NBA draft. 

Just three years ago, however, Gillespie was playing DIII basketball as a Carleton Knight. When he decided to transfer to DI after his sophomore year, he was not yet guaranteed a spot on the Baylor team. After sitting out what would have been his junior season due to NCAA Transfer rules, during which he refined his skills and prepared for the physicality of DI play, Gillespie was awarded a scholarship and joined the Baylor Bears team for the 2018-2019 season.  Needless to say, Gillespie’s epiphany, while watching a University of North Carolina basketball game during the winter of 2017, that he could play at the Division-I level, has certainly been confirmed. NBA scouts, fans, and analysts have taken notice of Gillespie’s talents, and many expect him to be selected in the upcoming NBA Draft. Carletonian Editor-in-Chief—and Carleton Intramural basketball player—Sam Kwait-Spitzer spoke with Freddie to discuss preparing for the draft during a pandemic, his transition from Carleton to Baylor, and his go-to Sayles order. 

Sam Kwait-Spitzer: I’ll just dive right into it. Could you talk me through what your daily routine looks like now? How has social distancing has impacted your training and the lead up to the draft?

Freddie Gillespie: It’s different, I’m still at my home in Waco, and we have to get pretty clever with our training. I’ll wake up and get some schoolwork done. Then, I’ll do some conditioning based on the exercises that the athletic trainers have given me. At this point, it’s mainly hill sprints and mile sprints. We also have a barbell and weights that we grabbed from the weightroom. My training partner and I will find a basketball court and work on ball handling and finishing around the rim—basic stuff like that. We also push our cars. Someone will be in the front driving, and then I push it from behind. That all will take about five hours a day. 

SKS: Looking forward, what excites you most about having the chance to play in the NBA?

FG: Just being able to focus everything on basketball. It would be the first time I’ve ever done that. I’ve always been a student-athlete, so this would give me the chance to truly just be an athlete. The thing that makes me most nervous—well, not nervous—but there’s just the question of “Are you good enough?” That self-doubt that sometimes creeps in. 

SKS: Going back to the beginning, what drew you to Carleton? How did you find balance as a student-athlete here?

FG: As I’m sure you know, Carleton is one of the best liberal arts schools in the country. That’s what drew me there—the academic prestige. Being a student-athlete at Carleton made me feel like I was part of a tight-knit community. It felt regular. People would ask me about my game, but people really knew me as a student first. Carls put an emphasis on the “student” part of student-athlete, and all the student-athletes supported each other. 

SKS: What was the most difficult aspect of the transition from Carleton to Baylor, then? Both on and off the court.

FG: The most difficult part of the on-court transition was the physicality and the level of athleticism. At Carleton, I never faced anyone who was as big, physical, or athletic as I was. But at Baylor, I was nowhere near the tallest, fastest, most physical or most athletic guy on the court. 

Off the court, Baylor is a school of around 60,000 people, which is a lot larger than Carleton. It was weird living off-campus, separate from the student body. At Carleton, be it the dining hall or your dorm room, everyone was hanging out and interacting with each other. I don’t run into people and have conversations while doing laundry anymore. Here, classes have a hundred people in them, and you don’t know anyone in them. When you are walking around campus, everyone has a place to go, and people don’t just stop and chat. Our student union is full of strangers, so you really have to work to make friends and get to know people. That was the hardest part. 

SKS: Have you seen any differences between how student-athletes are perceived on Carleton’s campus versus on Baylor’s campus?

FG: At Carleton, if you were a student-athlete, people saw you as yourself first. When I made friends with people or just walked around campus they knew me as Freddie Gillespie. Of course, people knew I was on the team, and they would say “good game,” but that didn’t really change who I was. At Baylor, the first thing people see is Freddie Gillespie, the basketball player, and that’s usually all they know. One is not better than the other. Here, we are on TV all the time. We were the number one team in the country for five weeks, so it was really different, and people don’t know me personally.

SKS: Have there been any lasting influences of Carleton’s athletics, academics, or social life on your on-court play now and who you are as a person?

FG: Carleton has certainly influenced how I interact with my teammates. It was so small and tight-knit, and there was such an emphasis on inclusion. When I first transitioned to Baylor, I tried to bring that energy because I know there is a transition that all of my teammates go through. So, my ability to make connections and develop team chemistry is something I attribute to Carleton.

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SKS: And now, for a Carleton Flash Round: What was your favorite class at Carleton?

FG: Political Philosophy.

SKS: Burton or LDC?

FG: LDC. For sure!

SKS: Do you have a favorite Carleton memory?

FG: New Student Week was fun, because you got to meet your friends for the first time. It was very exciting. I also have to say late-night Sayles. [Laughs.] I would go there all time. And Spring Concert. I always liked that. My first year was Kehlani and my second year was Goldlink, both of which were crazy!

SKS: What was your go-to Sayles order?

FG: I don’t know if they still have it, the buffalo chicken. 

SKS: Of course they still have it! Were you a sauce on the tenders or sauce on the side type of guy?

FG: Sauce on the side. 

SKS: If you could compare your basketball game to any building on Carleton’s campus, what building would it be and why?

FG: I would probably say Goodhue. It was its own place, different, and separate from everybody. And that’s how I played. I played with a different intensity, and did things that other people didn’t do. 

SKS: Alright, to conclude I’d love to hear your takes on some questions that I’m sure are on top of minds of many basketball fans. You are coming off a remarkable season. Could you point to some of the highest of highs and lowest of lows of the year?

FG: The highest of highs was being ranked number one for five weeks. That was a pretty big high. And the lowest of lows was losing to Texas Christian University two days after we lost to Kansas, because we blew a big lead in the game, and it pretty ended our chances to win the Big 12.

SKS: If you could build your ideal player, so choosing a trait from any player in basketball history, how would you compose this player. Here are the traits: basketball IQ, shooting ability, rebounding, passing, attitude

FG: 

Basketball IQ – John Stockton

Scoring – Kevin Durant

Shooting – Steph Curry

Rebounding – Dennis Rodman

Passing – LeBron James

Attitude – Magic Johnson

SKS: Well that sounds like one solid player. Alright, next question. You are a defensive-minded player, and were named to Big 12 All-Defense Team this year, so if there’s any past or current player you would most like to defend playing one-on-one, who would it be?

FG: I would want to defend Larry Bird. They said he wasn’t really crazy athletic, but he still found a way to get points and still destroyed dudes on the offensive end. 

SKS: Who is the best collegiate player you have faced?

FG: I would say Brandon Clarke of Gonzaga University. He played their last year. He plays for the Memphis Grizzlies in the NBA now. He had great coordination and bounce. He knew how to use it to. He was so experienced. I think he had 36 points when we played against him. 

SKS:  I play intramural basketball at Carleton. If you could give a single piece of basketball advice to a not-very-skilled player who just plays recreationally, what would it be?

FG: The one thing I would say is shoot the ball. And offensive rebounding. I’ve seen some intramurals and there are a lot of missed shots. Oftentimes, people are too lazy or tired to stop you from putting shooting the ball back in. When anyone dribbles, take the ball from them. They are probably not a good enough ball-handler to get it back. Go for steals and offensive rebounds. 

SKS: And lastly, the next time you are back on campus, would you consider joining my team?

FG: For sure! I might have to take you up on that one when this is all over.

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