What a difference a year makes.
Last summer, it seemed like Division II basketball was the road Collin Gillespie would take after high school.
If he shined on the basketball court, maybe he could get the attention of a low to mid-major Division I team. Unfortunately for Gillespie, an ankle injury sidelined him for most of the July live recruiting periods.
However, Gillespie bursted onto the scene once the high school season began, playing at a much higher level than he had previously showed. CAA schools like Albany, Drexel, Delaware, and Hofstra started getting involved, but that was only the beginning.
What first seemed like a long shot became more of a reality, as he continued his red-hot play on the court. High-major programs began asking about him—Virginia, Notre Dame, and Stanford, to name a few.
Villanova’s Ashley Howard witnessed him dismantle Our Savior Lutheran (N.Y.) with a 26 point, 12 rebound performance, with six assists and three steals to cap off the lopsided victory. A few days later, he kept up his excellent play against New Jersey powerhouse Roselle Catholic, posting a team-high 21 points in the win.
Villanova kept a close eye on Gillespie after that Our Savior Lutheran game and eventually offered the local talent almost a month later, while he visited the school. A few days later, on January 14, he committed—becoming the third and final member of a recruiting class that includes Jermaine Samuels (Weston, Mass/The Rivers School) and Dhamir Cosby-Roundtree (Philadelphia, Pa./Neumann-Goretti).
While he already had his college plans made, the 6-foot-1 point guard didn't display any signs of senioritis. As a matter of fact, instead of coasting, he dialed up the intensity on the basketball court.
Just less than two weeks after committing, he dropped an eye-popping 42 points on Cosby-Roundtree's Neumann-Goretti squad. Gillespie would later lead Archbishop Wood to another victory against Neumann-Goretti, except this time, in the Philadelphia Catholic League title game.
Archbishop Wood didn't stop there, going all the way to the top of the PIAA 5A rankings, as it won a state championship behind the play of Gillespie. The Vikings won the one-sided affair with Meadville in a 73-40 victory.
For his play this season, in which he averaged 22.7 points per game, Gillespie was named the PIAA 5A Player of the Year and a Maxpreps All-American honorable mention.
He even went on to play in the Jordan Brand Classic Regional Game back in April, suiting up with Samuels and Cosby-Roundtree in the process.
While Cosby-Roundtree was out for the game with an injury, he and Samuels gave a brief display of what their future might be like on the Main Line. In a couple of instances during the game, Gillespie served up a few alley-oop passes to Samuels to flush down.
Gillespie struggled early on in that game, but grew more confident and comfortable as the contest unfolded. He finished with 16 points and seven assists, including a 4-of-9 showing from beyond the arc.
Although Cosby-Roundtree was sidelined, Gillespie is very familiar with the Villanova-bound big man. They've known each other very well since the start of high school, and while they compete on opposing sides during the season, they have teamed up together in the Donofrio Classic.
Despite his ascension to becoming one of the top point guards in the Philadelphia-area, some pundits question whether or not he will be able to keep up his improvement when faced with tougher competition from around the country.
After all, he was somewhat of an enigma nationally, as he was deemed a two-star prospect by ESPN and 247 Sports--with the latter promoting him to a three-star recruit as the high school season unfolded.
However, if this past season was indicative of anything, it's that he was able to rise to the occasion, maintaining a completely revamped higher level of play than he's shown in years past.
Gillespie, a former two-sport athlete, gave up football after 10th grade to focus on basketball full-time. As a junior, he barely cracked double figures in scoring average, but the decision would finally pay off the following year.
It's a meteoric rise that not many saw coming, but now, he’s playing for one of the top programs around.
He seems to be a great fit for Jay Wright’s system, another Philadelphia-area product that comes in unheralded like recent graduates Darrun Hilliard and Darryl Reynolds—both of which, were able to eventually find their own niche and make a name for themselves.
Gillespie can see the floor well and has great court vision. He is excellent off catch-and-shoot situations and has improved as a finisher around the basket. He has a high motor and plays on both ends of the court with great intensity. He may lack the foot speed and lateral quickness to keep up with some of the quicker guards out there.
The Wildcats have a crowded backcourt going into this season, with Jalen Brunson, Phil Booth, and Donte DiVincenzo all able to play the point guard position. His minutes may be limited to start, but he’s primed for a big increase once the point guard situation clears up over the next couple of seasons.