Collin Gillespie sits at the edge of a training table, his legs dangling over the foot of it. From the other side of the wall of the training room come the sounds of basketball — the familiar beat of a dribbling ball, and the squawking and squeaking of cutting sneakers. Players pop in every now and again. Jermaine Samuels nukes some lunch in the microwave. Kevin Voigt spends a few minutes on a rehab exercise, grabbing marbles with his toes and placing them in a small paper cup. Bryan Antoine does a little bit of work in the corner before heading to the practice court.
But for the most part, it is just Gillespie and Villanova athletic trainer Dan Erickson alone in the quiet of the training room this Tuesday morning, doing the mundane yet critical work of rebuilding a likely preseason All-American’s knee.
Gillespie tore his medial collateral ligament March 3, in his last (at the time) game at Villanova and the first game, thanks to COVID-19, his family could watch him play live. Theresa and Jim sat in the stands helpless as their son was helped off the court seven minutes before halftime in the game against Creighton. Gillespie says he heard a pop or a crack, but then the pain subsided. He told the medical staff he was fine. They suggested he try to walk. Every time Gillespie took a step, his knee gave way. “I realized there was no point,’’ he says now.
At the time it looked like the cruel conclusion to a bittersweet career that began with a national championship as a freshman and ended twice denied an NCAA Tournament appearance, once by a pandemic and then by the first serious injury of Gillespie’s career. But that which COVID-19 took away it returned, giving Gillespie a super senior season opportunity, which he wisely grabbed, realizing few NBA teams would take a chance on a kid who couldn’t play.
Finding the silver lining in the timing of the injury requires a little searching, but there is mercy in the fact it grants Gillespie a full eight months to recover. Gillespie is itchy to cross to the other side, if you will, to rejoin his teammates in full basketball drills. Thursday he inched a step closer. After a checkup with team physician William Emper, Gillespie received the green light to add some agility work and cutting to his repertoire, a big step toward full use of his knee.