In 2015, first-year student and Saint Paul native Freddie Gillespie was studying computer science and riding the bench on the Carleton Knights Men’s basketball team. It would be safe to say that after playing a total of 16 minutes during his first year on the roster, no one expected Gillespie would end up where he is today.
Last Thursday, Gillespie signed a 10-day contract with the Toronto Raptors: a team two years removed from winning the NBA Finals. After scoring his first NBA points in the Raptors’ 135-115 trouncing of the Cleveland Cavaliers on April 10, Head Coach Nick Nurse awarded Gillespie the game ball. Through 4fourgames with the Raptors thus far, Gillespie has averaged 4.8 points, 3.5 rebounds and 1.2 blocks in 15 minutes per contest.
Gillespie’s journey from Division III to the NBA is an inspiring story of perseverance. Having only started playing basketball as a sophomore in high school, Gillespie’s fundamentals initially lagged behind his athleticism, yet that did not stop him from working relentlessly on his game. As a sophomore at Carleton, Gillespie eventually earned his way into the Knights’ starting rotation and produced a statline of 10 points, 8.3 rebounds and 2.6 blocks per game, enough to achieve Second Team All-MIAC honors.
Combined with Gillespie’s success as a sophomore in the MIAC, his 6-foot-9-inch frame and 7-foot-6-inch wingspan drew attention from Scott Drew’s coaching staff at Baylor University: a Division I powerhouse with a reputation for successfully developing raw talent.
After transferring to Baylor as a walk-on and taking a redshirt year, Gillespie earned playing time during his junior campaign with the Bears and started every game as a senior, averaging 9 points, 9.6 rebounds and 2.2 blocks per game during the 2019-2020 season. As a senior, Gillespie earned Second Team All-Big 12 honors, along with the Big 12 Conference’s Most Improved Player Award and a spot on the Big 12’s All-Defensive Team.
Things were shaping up for Gillespie to become drafted in the second round of the NBA draft before COVID-19 prevented him from further boosting his draft stock in the NCAA Championship Tournament. With Gillespie as a leading contributor, Baylor boasted a record of 26-4 and was poised for a March Madness run before the pandemic canceled the tournament before it even started.
Gillespie’s name wasn’t called in November’s NBA draft, but the Dallas Mavericks signed him to their training camp squad shortly thereafter. After opting out of the NBA G-League’s modified 2020-2021 season, the Mavericks forfeited their rights to Gillespie, who subsequently became eligible for the G-League Draft. Gillespie was drafted second-overall by the Memphis Hustle, a developmental affiliate of the Memphis Grizzlies, for whom he averaged a double-double (10.5 points and 10.3 rebounds) in 15 games.
One game removed from the playoffs with 16 games remaining in this year’s season, the Raptors hope that Gillespie can provide a much-needed spark down the stretch. Ten-day contracts are typically viewed as glorified tryouts, where a coaching staff can evaluate promising talent from the G League and obtain a better sense of how a particular player will fit on their roster.
Gillespie will suit up for the Raptors against the Orlando Magic on Friday and the Oklahoma City Thunder on Sunday, after which the team will make a decision on whether to extend him for the remainder of the season or sign him to another 10-day deal. Teams are ultimately permitted to sign a single player to two separate 10-day contracts before they are required to make a final decision on whether or not they will formally sign a player to a season-long contract.
Gillespie and Miami Heat sharpshooter Duncan Robinson are currently the only two players with Division III experience who are under contract in the NBA. Robinson played a single season for the Williams College Ephs before transferring to the University of Michigan in 2014.