Photo Credit: USA Today
Freddie Gillespie is now a household name among Toronto Raptors fans, who have taken to the wiry big man for his high energy play, fun exchanges with media and perhaps the greatest performance of Party in the USA ever. (sorry, Miley)
Gillespie’s strong play off the bench and his spectacular dance moves were enough to secure a two-year contract from the Raptors after successive 10-day contracts.
But where did New Freddie come from? How did he go from being relatively unknown in pro basketball to becoming an important rotation piece for one of the NBA’s best coaches?
Buckle up, folks. The story of Freddie Gillespie is a good one.
Frederick Gillespie was born in St. Paul, Minnesota on June 14, 1997. Freddie played football in his early years, only getting into organized basketball in eighth grade. He grew to 6’4 in his sophomore year in high school, when he made the junior varsity basketball team. After struggling with injuries throughout his high school career, worst of which was a torn ACL in his junior year, Gillespie received no scholarship offers from any Division I or II colleges. He was left with little choice, and decided to attend and play for Carleton College in his home state of Minnesota.
Gillespie starred for the Carleton Knights, averaging 8.8 points, 7.4 rebounds, 2.2 blocks and a 53.2 percent field-goal percentage in two seasons playing Division III collegiate basketball. He felt like “the most athletic, biggest guy in [the] whole conference”, earning second-team All-Minnesota Intercollegiate Athletic Conference honours.
In 2017, Gillespie met Baylor head coach Scott Drew through a family connection, and was invited to join the team as a walk-on. After sitting out a year due to NCAA rules on transfers, Freddie was offered a scholarship ahead of his redshirt junior year. Following his senior year, in which he averaged 9.5 points, nine rebounds and 2.2 steals, the big man was named Big 12 Most Improved Player and made Second-Team All-Big 12 and All-Defensive Team.
Photo Credit: Pioneer Press
Prior to the 2020 NBA Draft, Gillespie was considered a longshot to be picked, with scouts saying “[his] path to the league is undoubtedly as someone who will do the dirty work on both ends of the court.” Having never attempted a three-pointer in college, Gillespie would present spacing issues on offence, but could be very useful on defence with his hustle and impressive 7’6 wingspan.
Freddie went undrafted, but was given a chance by the Dallas Mavericks with a tryout contract. He was cut prior to the start of the regular season.
In January of 2021, the 6’9 center was selected with the second-overall pick of the NBA G League Draft by the Memphis Hustle. In the G League’s bubble, Gillespie averaged 10.5 points, 10.3 boards and 2.3 assists on 57 percent shooting from the field in 15 games.
Following a successful stint in the NBA’s developmental league, Freddie got his shot in the big leagues, signing a 10-day contract with the Toronto Raptors on April 8, 2021. He signed another 10-day deal before Nick Nurse and the Raptors front office awarded the 23-year old a well-deserved two-year contract on April 28.
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Gillespie has managed to carve a role in the Raptors rotation, helping shore up some of the issues that have plagued Toronto’s frontcourt all season. His defensive rotations and quick hands have impressed Nurse and his staff, who have shown a lot of trust in the rookie since his arrival in early April.
While Freddie’s role is unclear beyond this season, as the Raptors will surely look to bolster the center position in the off-season, there is no doubt that Gillespie has captured the attention of many in his first year in the league.
His path to the pros has been tumultuous, and will surely lead him through some more time in the G League once its usual operations resume, but Frederick Gillespie has been a welcome bright spot in an otherwise dark season in Tampa.