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For a kid who’s been fighting doubters his whole life, Eric Gillespie certainly has me convinced. Not to mention plenty of others this season.
The Warren point guard is just 5 feet 8 and has always been the shortest guy on every basketball team he’s ever played on, dating back to when he was just starting out at 5 years old.
“Everyone has always underestimated me,” Gillespie said. “I try to play like I’m showing them all that height doesn’t always mean everything.”
Toughness means a lot in sports and I’ve seen Gillespie hit some of the toughest shots I’ve ever seen, and they look even tougher given his stature.
Gillespie specializes in dramatic fadeaways that he arcs high over taller defenders. He routinely hits off-balanced shots as he maneuvers around defenders while falling out of bounds.
He is a master at pretending he’s going to drive hard to the basket only to slam on the breaks, shed his defender and step back for a 3-pointer.
In finding ways to create separation from taller, longer defenders, Gillespie has found a way to go from a seldom-used reserve to one of the most dangerous perimeter players in Lake County. All in one season.
After averaging about three minutes of playing time a game last season, Gillespie rarely comes off the floor and currently leads Warren in scoring at about 18 points per game. He’s also averaging about 5 assists and 2 steals per game.
“Last year, I didn’t shoot the ball nearly as well as I do now. My shot was flat, and I didn’t get off the ground. And I had way too many turnovers,” Gillespie said. “I worked out every day over the summer with my AAU coaches trying to get better. I wanted my senior year to be different.
“I knew I had gotten better, but I didn’t expect to play this good.”
Gillespie’s improvement was obvious right out of the gates. He racked up a career-high 37 points in the Blue Devils’ season opener against Barrington at the Mundelein Thanksgiving tournament. He hit six 3-pointers.
“I was just so excited to play. It was my first (varsity) start,” Gillespie said. “I wanted to show Coach (Ryan Webber) what I could do.”
Since then, Gillespie has had other big games, like a 32-point outburst against Bloom at the Pontiac holiday tournament.
“He’s having a really good season,” Webber said. “He’s a really quiet kid off the court, but he’s a really good kid.”
Gillespie has spent a lot of time quietly reflecting over the last year.
Warren’s little dynamo is missing one of his smallest (and most important) fans.
Gillespie’s brother Ehrren (pronounced Aaron) died last February of brain cancer. He was only 4 years old.
Along with Gillespie’s other younger brother Michael, 5, Ehrren was a basketball nut. The two little boys were Gillespie’s biggest fans.
“Michael loves playing basketball and so did Ehrren. They always wanted to play in the house,” Gillespie said with a laugh. “Ehrren was born with brain cancer but was a regular little kid, always running around, up until about three months before he passed.
“It’s been tough for my whole family. I wasn’t really into basketball last year as much as I am this year. I just tried to keep going day-by-day.
“Now, I think about Ehrren before every game.”
Before every game, Gillespie also reviews all the things he can do to make his height a nonissue. He’s spent his entire basketball career finding ways to compensate.
“I used to get my shot blocked a lot,” Gillespie said. “My sophomore year, they brought me up to varsity to practice with them (for the state tournament), and I think I got every one of my shots blocked.
“I’ve worked on my focus and concentration while shooting fadeaways. I practice a lot of tough shots, falling away and falling out of bounds and I practice them until they go in.”
They’ve gone in a lot this season.
“That gets me going,” said Gillespie, who is hoping his knack for hitting tough shots catches the eye of the right college coach. “I like making plays that no one expects out of me.”
Follow Patricia on Twitter: @babcockmcgraw