Villanova’s Collin Gillespie talks injury, Big East title, March Madness

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Senior point guard Collin Gillespie of Big East champion Villanova takes a shot at some March Madness Q&A with Post columnist Steve Serby.

Q: You’re considered by many as the best point guard in the country.

A: It’s an honor, but I just want to continue to get better. I want to stay humble and hungry and know that I have more work to do, and there’s a lot more room to grow. It’s definitely something that I worked hard to try and become, and I’ve had a lot of great people in front of me, guys like Jalen [Brunson] and Phil [Booth] who helped me learn how to work hard and just never settling and never getting complacent is something that I always pride myself on.

Q: Paint the picture for me what it was like the night Villanova won the 2018 national championship.

A: It was something that you dream about as a kid playing in those games, and it happened in my first year, it was definitely a surreal moment. I remember it pretty clearly. I just remember everybody ran on the floor, got on a stage and they did the whole postgame stuff that you normally do.

Q: Do some of your younger teammates ask you what that moment was like?

A: No, not really. We don’t talk about championships here. We just talk about becoming the best Villanova team we can at the end of each year. Every year it’s a different team and a different identity, but our core values are all the same.

Q: What would you say if they did ask you?

A: Special feeling. There’s a lot of ups and downs, but in the end everything that you go through is all worth it. It’s definitely a special day to do it together.

Collin Gillespie
Collin Gillespie had 14 points, four assists and four rebounds against Delaware in the NCAA Tournament.
Getty Images

Q: Describe Kris Jenkins’ buzzer-beater to beat North Carolina in the 2016 national championship.

A: I just remember sitting on the couch in my living room watching the game. That was the year before I had been offered a scholarship, so I wasn’t really a ’Nova fan that much.

Q: Have you watched clips of the ’85 Villanova title game win over Georgetown?

A: I have not.

Q: What have some of the former players from that team told you?

A: It’s just fun to be able to interact with those guys and be able to meet ’em. It’s just cool that they still come around, and that’s the type of environment that we have here and the culture that the past guys still come around, but we don’t talk about their championships.

Q: What would you tell your teammates who have never played in an NCAA Tournament about what the atmosphere will be like?

A: There’s a lot of distractions, just remain locked-in to your teammates and coaches and 94 by 50 feet.

Q: What do you like best about your current team?

A: Just how close we are as a group … the bond that we all share. How we can be joking one minute, we could be serious another minute, but we know when we get on the court, it’s all business and we’re brothers, and we’ll do anything for each other.

Q: What adjectives would you use to describe Collin Gillespie on the basketball court?

A: Determined, leader, winner.

Q: Coach Jay Wright says you have no fear of failure in the clutch moments. Why is that and where does it come from?

A: From all the work that we put in during practices and all the extra workouts and shots.

Q: Describe Jermaine Samuels.

A: He’ll do anything for his teammates, he’ll play through injuries, he’ll do whatever’s asked of him.

Q: Justin Moore.

A: Killer. He’s the silent assassin.

Q: You’ve been described that way, too.

A: Well, yeah. Probably sometimes.

Collin Gilespie, right, helped lead Villanova to the Big East Tournament title this season.
Collin Gilespie, right, helped lead Villanova to the Big East Tournament title this season.
for the NY POST

Q: Brandon Sister.

A: Uber-talented.

Q: Eric Dixon.

A: Beast.

Q: Caleb Daniels.

A: Beast. He’s built like a middle linebacker.

Q: What is the biggest obstacle or adversity you had to overcome?

A: Probably my injury [torn MCL] last year. Obviously it was towards the end of the season my senior year. It was tough not to be able to play in any of the postseason tournaments and not be able to be out there with my teammates. God has a plan for everything, and it’s a part of my journey.

Q: How difficult was that rehab?

A: It was tough. It was good days and it was bad days. Some days are way harder than others, but that’s just a part of the journey of comeback from serious injury, but there were people that were in my corner that just kept me confident and kept me going.

Q: Why were you so under-recruited?

A: I guess my growth kind of happened a little bit later in my high school career. I didn’t play on a circuit in AAU, so that’s where you get seen a lot of the time.

Q: Did that fuel your fire?

A: Yeah, obviously you want to get recruited, and you want to be recruited by the best schools, and I felt like I was good enough, so I kind of just kept working and kept my head down and do what I had to do.

Q: Describe your on-court mentality.

A: Just always locked in. We just kind of talk about being 94 by 50 feet and playing within the lines and just being locked into your teammates and coaches.

Q: Were you that way in football, too?

A: Yeah, whatever sport it is. You just kind of always stay into the game and kind of don’t really interact with the fans while the game’s going on because I just want to be kind of engaged and present in the moment. I try to block out as much as I can and just focus on the game and my teammates.

Q: What makes Jay Wright a Hall of Fame coach?

A: Just the way that he is to his players, how he is as a person, not just a coach. How he develops you on and off the floor and try to become the best person you can be, and try to become the best man you can be as well as the best player.

Jay Wright speaks with Collin Gillespie
Jay Wright speaks with Collin Gillespie
Getty Images

Q: If you could pick the brain of any NBA player in history, whose would it be?

A: Steve Nash or Kobe Bryant. … Steve Nash because of his IQ, just the way he sees the game, and Kobe Bryant’s mentality,

Q: How does your mentality compare to Kobe’s?

A: I don’t think anybody’s mentality compares to him. He’s one of the greatest players to ever play the game of basketball. If I did half of what he did, I would be proud. He’s just a killer at all times, and you saw that the way that he acted on the floor, and off the floor how hard he worked.

Q: Where were you when his tragedy happened?

A: My dorm room.

Q: What were your emotions?

A: I was sad, definitely shocked and confused.

Q: If you could go one-on-one with any NBA player in history, who would it be?

A: Michael Jordan.

Q: On your social media: Know who’s in your circle and keep it tight, not everyone wants you to succeed.

A: I just like to keep my circle small. I like to stay close to my family and my close friends. Obviously I love a lot of people around me here at Villanova, the fans are amazing. But I’m just a real laid-back kind of guy.

Q: What is a criticism that bothered you or you thought was unfair?

A: I don’t look at it.

Q: Boyhood idol?

A: Allen Iverson.

Q: Why him?

A: Just a Philly sports athlete. I used to watch the Sixers, and he was probably my favorite Philadelphia Sixer at the time when I was younger.

Q: How exciting was it for you when the Eagles won their Super Bowl?

A: It was really exciting. That was like a really anticipated time in Philadelphia ’cause they hadn’t won in a while, or even been in a Super Bowl in a while.

Q: What are your thoughts on James Harden with the 76ers?

A: It’s good for the city of Philadelphia. Everybody here seems to love it.

Q: What is it about Bryce Harper that you like?

A: I think how he just embraces the city of Philadelphia. He doesn’t complain about criticism, but it can be tough to play in this city. I think everybody knows that, but if you embrace it and don’t kind of complain about the criticism, they’ll embrace you back. That was something that I thought was cool.

Q: What drives you?

A: My family.

Q: Tell me about your father.

A: He was a Philadelphia cop when I was growing up. And now he’s been moved around a little bit, he’s not on the streets anymore, he oversees some things now.

Q: What is the Philadelphia Blue Flame?

A: That was the police football team that he played for when I was younger.

Q: How good of a quarterback do you think you could have been?

A: I thought I was pretty good. Obviously I don’t know where that would have taken me. I stopped my sophomore year, but I feel like if I was gonna continue to put the work in, I could have been pretty good.

Villanova's Collin Gillespie cuts down the net at Madison Square Garden.
Villanova’s Collin Gillespie cuts down the net at Madison Square Garden.
USA TODAY Sports

Q: Did it pain you to give up football?

A: Yeah, it was tough. That was my favorite sport growing up. I kind of lost the love for football in the middle of high school, and basketball was kind of what I wanted to do.

Q: Favorite quarterback growing up?

A: Drew Brees. When I was younger, I liked the Eagles and I liked the Chargers, and I liked him when he played for the Chargers.

Q: Your brother played wide receiver at Widener.

A: My brother is a year older than me and my sister’s eight years older than me. They kind of raised me as well. My sister used to watch us all the time, and my brother gets a lot of credit for who I am today as an athlete and as a person as well.

Q: In what way?

A: (Chuckle) He was never easy on me when I was younger. He never let me win a lot of things being an older brother. He hit a growth spurt way before I did, so he was bigger most of the time.

Q: What was your best high school moment?

A: Winning the Catholic League championship or in-state championship.

Q: Best Villanova moments?

A: National championship or this Big East championship.

Q: What was so special about this Big East championship?

A: Coming back from an injury, being a senior, and kind of going through the year with this group was really fun.

Q: Describe the first time you played at the Garden.

A: It was like being on a stage for one of the most famous arenas in the world.

Q: Describe indefatigable rising star Fox college sports play-by-play broadcaster John Fanta.

A: Amazing dude.

Q: What’s amazing about him?

A: His energy and his passion.

Q: Three dinner guests?

A: Michael Jordan, LeBron James, Kobe Bryant.

Collin Gillespie
Collin Gillespie
Getty Images

Q: Favorite movie?

A: “Coach Carter.”

Q: Favorite actor?

A: Will Ferrell.

Q: Favorite actress?

A: Jennifer Aniston.

Q: Favorite singer/entertainer?

A: Drake.

Q: Favorite meal?

A: Salmon.

Q: The best cheesesteak in Philadelphia?

A: Dalessandro’s.

Q: What are your goals after basketball?

A: I have not thought about it yet, I want to play for as long as I can.

Q: What would you tell an NBA GM on why he should draft or sign Collin Gillespie?

A: I’m gonna work really hard and be a great teammate, and I’ll do whatever the team needs me to do.

Q: Do you visualize successful things happening?

A: Yeah I do. But you have to work hard to achieve ‘em. It won’t just come true if you just visualize it.

Q: Did you visualize a national championship in 2018?

A: I thought it was possible for that group. But never really talked about it, just kind of put our heads down and worked hard..

Q: Is it possible for this group?

A: We’ll see, we’re gonna work really hard, and wherever we end up in the end, as long as we play Villanova basketball we’ll be happy.

Q: What would be your message to Villanova fans?

A: We’re gonna compete and play hard on every possession.

Q: What do you hope your legacy will be or is?

A: That I was a winner. And I played Villanova basketball.

Q: And you define Villanova basketball how?

A: Playing hard, together, smart, with pride, defending, rebounding, running and executing with your teammates … for 40 minutes.

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