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Freshman’s Division I dream becomes a reality

Mike+Gillespie%2C+a+UMass+freshman%2C+made+the+UMass+Men%27s+Basketball+team+after+a+walk-on+tryout+this+fall+%28Lianne+Gillespie%2FContributed+Photo%29.
Mike Gillespie, a UMass freshman, made the UMass Men's Basketball team after a walk-on tryout this fall (Lianne Gillespie/Contributed Photo).

Mike Gillespie, a UMass freshman, made the UMass Men's Basketball team after a walk-on tryout this fall (Lianne Gillespie/Contributed Photo).

Mike Gillespie, a UMass freshman, made the UMass Men's Basketball team after a walk-on tryout this fall (Lianne Gillespie/Contributed Photo).

Abigail Desvergnes, Writer

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AMHERST — Mike Gillespie, a freshman at the University of Massachusetts, had no intentions of playing Division I basketball. But when he found out the university’s men’s basketball team was hosting open tryouts, he decided to go.

Gillespie grew up in Pembroke, Massachusetts and was a star high school basketball player at Xaverian Brothers High School in Westwood. He was offered multiple positions on Division III basketball teams, but didn’t take any of the offers.

Instead, he chose to attend UMass to study biochemistry.

“I just fell in love with the campus and knew it was the place for me,” Gillespie, 19, said. “Honestly, I thought my basketball career was over after high school.”

Basketball was never something that Gillespie was forced into doing, rather it was simply one of his passions.

“I would say that I’ve always been self-motivated with basketball. My parents never pushed me to do it, it was just something that I always loved,” he said. “Whenever I got the chance, I would go out and practice shooting.”

Gillespie’s love of the game transpired into a world of competition, which led him to play basketball competitively, from first grade until his senior year of high school.

By the time he got to college, he still couldn’t get away from the game.

During the first couple of months at UMass, Gillespie utilized much of his free time in the recreation center with his friends playing pickup basketball games, until he received word that the UMass basketball team would be hosting tryouts.

“To be a part of a D1 sports team was always a dream of mine. Even though I knew there was a great possibility that I wouldn’t make it, I didn’t want to have any regrets,” he said.

With just a week left until tryouts, Gillespie trained each day at the rec center working on various shooting drills.

On tryouts day, Gillespie walked into the Mullins Center with confidence in his skills and high motivations to achieve success.

At the end of tryouts, Gillespie and one other freshman were called back to practice with the UMass men’s basketball team the next day, and the coaches examined how both players worked with the rest of the team.

Gillespie met with head coach Matt McCall the day after practice and he informed Gillespie that he had made the team.

“My whole world lit up. I couldn’t believe that I made the team and would become a D1 athlete,” he said. “It was just a dream come true. I was overwhelmed with joy, to say the least.”

When he walked out of the meeting with McCall, the first person he called was his mom.

“The conversation started off pretty casual. It was her birthday and I asked her how her day was going,” Gillespie said. “By the end of the conversation, I told her I made the team and she broke down in tears. She said it was the best birthday present she could’ve got.”

In an emailed statement from Gillespie’s mom, Lianne, she wrote, “We have always been proud of Michael’s dedication and self-motivation in the classroom and on the basketball court. He is an excellent student as well as a dedicated athlete.”

Now that Gillespie has a spot on the roster, he said he wants to make sure that he proves to his team, coaches and himself that he deserves to wear his number 40 jersey.

“I’ve basically achieved everything I’ve ever wanted,” said Gillespie. “Now, I need to prove that I deserve this spot, even if everyone else believes it, I need to believe it myself.”

This article was updated with a correction to the spelling of a name. 

Email Abigail at [email protected] or follow her on Twitter @abbydesjournal.

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Freshman’s Division I dream becomes a reality