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23-year-old Jimmy Gavin earns Division I scholarship having never played a varsity sport

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On Monday, 23-year-old Jimmy Gavin committed to Winthrop University after two all-conference seasons at the Division II level.

His transfer won’t be met with any kind of Twitter buzz from college basketball types, but Gavin’s journey to becoming a first-time Division I scholarship basketball player was anything but typical.

As a sophomore in high school, Gavin was 5-foot-4 and 90 pounds. He was never able to play a varsity sport in high school as he was dealing with Crohn’s disease, which made him progressively weaker. Three years after last playing organized basketball, the tragic death of his younger brother brought Gavin back to Chicago from Mississippi State.

This spring he heard from nearly 50 Division I schools during the recruiting process. Now he’s earned his chance to play college basketball at the Division I level in his final season. A far cry from a player who became winded after four possessions of a game during his later years of high school.

“There’s a difference in people wanting you to succeed and people believing that you actually can,” Gavin said. “And I think a lot of people doubted me.”

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Jimmy Gavin was a promising but scrawny and undersized starting point guard on the freshman team at Prospect High School during the 2006-07 season. Hailing from Arlington Heights, a middle-class suburb northwest of Chicago, Gavin was coached on the freshman team by John Camardella, a young and energetic former Division III player at Illinois Wesleyan. Camardella would soon be promoted to the varsity head job at Prospect by the summer of 2007.

Gavin and Camardella never had the chance to re-unite on the varsity level.

In his second year of high school, Gavin made the sophomore basketball team, but he had became noticeably slower. He was reluctant to share the struggle that he was going through.

“I had kind of started to get sick my freshman year. By sophomore year, it was kind of at its worst,” Gavin said. “I was about 90 pounds; about 5-foot-4.

“Sophomore year, I was on the team and I was getting sick non-stop. But I did finish out the season. I definitely missed time, but I was still a member of the team.”

During the winter of his sophomore year, Gavin was diagnosed with Crohn’s disease, a bowel ailment that causes inflammation of the lining of the digestive tract.

Crohn’s can cause abdominal pain, fatigue, weight loss and malnutrition. The malnutrition and constant struggle to retain nutrients leaves many Crohn’s patients weak and makes them lose weight. The disease can be painful; at times debilitating. Life-threatening complications can arise. There is no cure for Crohn’s disease, but medical treatment options and lifestyle changes can help prevent issues from regularly recurring.

Gavin tried different combinations of medications to help with Crohn’s but each one came with unique side effects. Things started to get better once Gavin found the proper combination of medication and diet to reduce the inflammation caused by the Crohn’s. Gavin had to get rid of things like bread, soda, foods with seeds and fried foods from his diet, but it helped to limit the effects of Crohn’s.

By his junior year of high school, competitive basketball really wasn’t an option. As a senior, the 5-foot-11 Gavin admitted he “halfheartedly” tried out for the Prospect varsity team but he wasn’t physically ready to compete at such a level. He ended up playing in a local park league and spent some time in intramurals. Gavin never played a minute of high school varsity basketball or any other varsity sport at Prospect. His body, and his battle with Crohn’s disease, wouldn’t let him. Gavin came up near his normal weight by the end of high school, but it was already too late.

“I was kind of a stubborn kid, so I never really told anyone what was going on,” Gavin said. “It had to get so bad where it was physically obvious that I needed some help. I just felt that basketball would kind of pass me by.”

“He just wasn’t himself,” Camardella said. “He just wasn’t and you could tell. He was giving everything he’s got.”

As Gavin graduated from Prospect, he moved on to college as a student at Mississippi State. He had no ambitions of attempting to play competitive basketball even though he still had a love for the game.

“I would still go play pick-up sometimes. But it was hard for me to watch basketball and even sometimes play,” Gavin said. “I still knew how to play, it was just hard to be connected to the game because I knew how much I loved it. It was tough. There was definitely a period where I wouldn’t watch basketball at all.”

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Everything changed for Jimmy Gavin on March 24th, 2011, a month before the end of his freshman year at Mississippi State.

Sitting in the passenger seat as his friend drove, Jimmy’s younger brother, John “Jack” Gavin, was killed in a one-car accident. Jack Gavin was 16 years old, just a sophomore at the same high school Jimmy had gone to.

Jimmy had an urge to be there for his family during a time of need. He felt like he needed to be at home, so during the fall of his sophomore year, he opted to withdraw from Mississippi State and returned home to Arlington Heights.

“Everything kind of came to a halt for me. It was a lot of pain that I had to go through,” Gavin said. “Nothing can prepare you for a pain like that.”

At home in Arlington Heights, Gavin began attending community college in the spring semester. As a way to keep his mind occupied in his free time, a healthier Gavin, who had grown to over 6-feet tall, decided to start playing basketball again. By learning to get plenty of rest, eating a proper diet and balancing medication, Gavin was able to reduce the effects of Crohn’s disease enough to consistently be on the court near full strength.

The promising ability Gavin showed early in high school started to return. Finally showing signs of returning to full health, Gavin began playing basketball again on a regular basis by working out on his own.

“There’s definitely a lot of motivation to succeed just to kind of honor [my brother] — and my whole family,” Gavin said. “I kind of wanted to play just to put a smile on my family’s face, for one thing.”

A taste of success, every improvement, added fuel to Gavin’s fire. Camardella said Gavin would show up any time basketball was being played at Prospect just to get some time in at the gym. When that wasn’t enough, Gavin would travel all over the Chicagoland area to get a run in. Getting better, playing whenever possible, it became an obsession, not just because he was trying to cope with the loss of his brother, but because Gavin, quite literally, was never able to play before.

“Jimmy was everywhere when it comes to hoops,” Camardella said. “He was at Prospect, then all the sudden he’d be in the city, then he’d be going somewhere else for an open gym. And someone would be like, ‘Hey, I saw your guy Jimmy at this place.’ He was non-stop.”

During the summers, Gavin played in open gyms with high school players and ran summer-league games in Chicago with NBA players like Patrick Beverley and Shawn Marion. His goal was to soak up every bit of knowledge that he could. Former college basketball stars like Jerome Randle and Jeremy Pargo played against Gavin. Whenever he played with talented players of any background, Gavin would pick their brain to see how he could add moves or learn about operating a certain play.

By chance, while running pick-up ball at a local XSport Fitness health club, Gavin ran into Kyle Miklasz, a guard at local NAIA Roosevelt University. The duo grew up in Arlington Heights and played in youth leagues together as kids. Miklasz was soon calling his trainer and former AAU coach at Full Package, Steve Pratt, asking if he could bring Gavin with him to workouts.

Pratt was initially hesitant to work with the now 6-foot-2 Gavin. As the trainer of professional, college and competitive high school basketball players, Pratt didn’t know how a player with no varsity basketball experience would acclimate to high-intensity basketball training.

“Kyle brought him to the gym; had [Jimmy] come to the gym. We started training,” Pratt said. “Jimmy’s a freak athlete — and really slippery. But he was really raw, like a pick-up player. And we worked on tightening up his handle and really working on his shooting mechanics to help him become a great shooter.”

“When I was working out that summer, I was trying my hardest to create opportunities for myself,” Gavin said. “But they’re hard to come by because the basketball world is small. I was pretty much an unknown commodity with zero resumé or experience. So I ended up working out with Full Package’s gym.”

Working out with Pratt nearly every day, Gavin showed athleticism that nobody back at Prospect ever believed he would have. The full-time workouts and being in better shape transformed Gavin into a completely new athlete and basketball player just a few years after he couldn’t physically compete in a high school varsity game.

“I remember when [Jimmy] came down he jokingly said, ‘Hey, I can dunk now.’ And I said, ‘No you can’t, no you can’t, no you can’t.’ And he goes up and just hammers one,” Camardella said. “That’s the number one thing that just blows me away. The speed, the strength, the athleticism out of a kid that, back in high school, couldn’t get up and down the court three times without looking winded. And now you’ve got a kid who is able to windmill dunk.”

After taking the year to be home with family, Jimmy looked to enroll back in school with a chance at playing college basketball. Gavin went to a few local coaches, including Pratt, asking for potential opportunities at a college basketball program. Pratt recently had a guard from Full Package’s AAU program, Ka’Darryl Bell, go to in-state Bradley in Peoria. Braves head coach Geno Ford agreed to let Gavin play in an open gym with his players.

“I explained to Geno, the kid has never played varsity basketball and he’s sick,” Pratt said. “And I go, ‘But he’s really good…'”

All Gavin needed was a chance to prove himself. Ford was shocked by the results.

“[Geno] calls me up and goes, ‘I can’t believe what I’m watching. It’s like the movie ‘The Natural,'” Pratt said. “‘[Gavin] just went, like 15-of-20 3s scrimmaging with our guys. What’s his story? Who is this guy?’ And we were just laughing.”

Ford offered Gavin a chance to walk on at Bradley. Gavin accepted and returned to college full time in central Illinois. After dealing with illness and family tragedy, Gavin would finally have a chance to re-start his basketball career as a Division I walk-on.

It was a great first step for Gavin but he still had dreams of ascending as high as he could within college basketball. It was about continuing to build confidence as he looked to reach his professional basketball dreams.

“It’s all about rebuilding that confidence in yourself. Because at one point, I don’t know that anybody probably believed I could do it besides myself,” Gavin said.

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Starting anew at Bradley, Jimmy Gavin joined the Braves for the 2012-13 season as a 6-foot-2, 180-pound walk-on guard. His first season of competitive basketball since his sophomore season in 2007-08 when he began to miss time with Crohn’s. With the Braves, he began lifting weights while attempting to get into proper basketball shape for the first time.

Gavin had completed a year of coursework at Mississippi State and some classes at a local community college for a semester and was a considered a sophomore at Bradley with four years of eligibility remaining.

At the Missouri Valley program, Gavin made 10 appearances during the 2012-13 season and averaged 1.8 points per game. His season ended after having an intestinal resection procedure to help with his Crohn’s disease. The intestinal resection removed the Crohn’s-affected section of Gavin’s intestinal tract and his healthy intestines were attached back together.

He hasn’t had any problems with Crohn’s since the operation.

Having a potentially limited basketball career due to Crohn’s made Gavin seek out more playing time than his situation at Bradley. He sought out scholarship opportunities in hopes of getting a chance to prove himself with consistent minutes. Wisconsin-Parkside, fresh off an NCAA tournament appearance at the Division II level, was the only school to offer Gavin a full basketball scholarship. He was a risk; Gavin hadn’t completed a full season of basketball since his freshman season in high school.

“You could see the ability,” UW-Parkside coach Luke Reigel said. “When we signed him we didn’t know if we could even get a full year of basketball out of him. With everything he had battled from Crohn’s, we really rolled the dice and hoped that he could stay healthy. Because from an ability standpoint, we saw the potential was there to be an all-conference type of player. We didn’t know if three games in, 15 games in, if he’d be done playing.”

UW-Parkside was returning experienced wings in a three-guard offense. The Rangers needed an offensive spark off the bench and it quickly became apparent that Gavin could more than hold his own playing at one of the better Division II programs in the country. Reigel compared Gavin to noted former Detroit Pistons sixth man Vinnie “The Microwave” Johnson. Now at 6-foot-3, 190 pounds, Gavin played 30 games and started four in his first season at UW-Parkside, averaging 16 points per game while shooting 40 percent from 3-point range.

In his first full-and-healthy season since the 2006-07 campaign, Gavin was a second-team all-conference selection for the Rangers during the 2013-14 season.

“There were multiple times early on where he’d have four or six points in the first half and was just trying to get a feel for the game,” Reigel said. “Then he’d have times where it was 16, 18, 20 points in the second half of games. And it was scoring every way possible. Getting to the rim, he was knocking down threes, scoring in transition. That’s when we knew he was at a little bit different level than maybe some other guys around the league.”

The Rangers once again made the NCAA tournament in Gavin’s first year with the team. Being the new guy in a college program was a tough enough transition, but Gavin still needed to pick up nuances to the game like help defense and the lingo that comes with playing in a basketball program. For as talented as he was, he was still a bit unpolished at the college level. After his first season at UW-Parkside, Gavin got in the gym again and wanted to improve his defense and using his right hand.

source:
(Kevin Poirier/Kenosha News)

To start his junior season, UW-Parkside made Gavin a starter in his second season with the team. Starting every game for a team that won 26 games, Gavin led the Rangers in points (17.4 ppg) and assists (3.0). He was a first-team all-conference selection and UW-Parkside once again made the NCAA tournament. He scored in double-figures in 28 of 30 games on the season.

“This year we asked him to guard the other team’s best player, get better on help defense and making plays away from the ball — which we talk about all the time. And he took a huge step forward this year,” Reigel said. “From his first year to his second year, he got much better defensively.”

He also put together a number of highlight-reel performances. There was the two-handed alley-oop that Gavin threw down. The 40-point performance on the road at Illinois-Springfield. Gavin also had some big performances in the Great Lakes Valley Conference tournament. Playing an aggressive, attacking style on offense, Gavin wasn’t afraid to pull-up and shoot 3-pointers from anywhere within NBA range with his smooth left-handed jumper.

After two all-conference seasons in a row at UW-Parkside, the graduating Gavin faced a difficult decision with one year of college eligibility remaining. Would he leave behind a successful UW-Parkside program that gave him his shot at playing time? Or ascend to Division I immediately as a graduate transfer and do everything possible to play basketball at the highest level?

“For me, I know what I want. I know what my ultimate goals are,” Gavin said. “I want to become a professional. I want to do different things with it. I’ve been trying to make sure the situation [I’m going to] is good.”

After fielding calls from mid-major programs all over the country, Gavin officially visited Pepperdine and Winthrop this spring before opting to play in the Big South. Playing time was an important factor for Gavin and he wanted a good fit for his style of play. He’s also happy to pursue a Master’s degree in the liberal arts program as another fallback option for life after basketball. Gavin might be moving on to Division I but he’s thankful of the opportunity he had to play at UW-Parkside and play for Reigel when no other school would offer him a full scholarship.

“It’s been great,” Gavin said. “I’m really appreciative for the opportunities that Coach Reigel gave me. He took a chance on me when he didn’t have to. I’ve been fortunate to play with some talented players.”

The goal now for Gavin is to make an impact at Winthrop and, maybe, make some money playing professional basketball when he’s done. It sounds crazy, but Gavin doesn’t care.

“People have doubted him his whole life with regards to his disease and moving forward,” Camardella said. “He doesn’t really listen to the outside world telling him what he can and can’t do.”

“I’ve had to fight for every opportunity that I’ve had, and it just kind of puts this chip on my shoulder,” Gavin said. “It’s just… Why not? There’s nothing that someone can put in front of me that I can’t overcome.”

Three Things To Know: Auburn’s rolling, Kentucky’s struggling, Mizzou is tough

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It was a relatively quiet night in college hoops, but there were still three things that were worth discussing.

1. IS AUBURN THE BEST TEAM IN THE SEC?

I’m trying to come up with a reason to argue otherwise, and it’s just not working.

Despite the fact that they lost their three best players from last season’s Final Four team, the Tigers look like they are going to once against have a shot of getting back to the final weekend of the college basketball season.

This year’s group is a little different than last season. They’re not forcing as many turnovers as they did last year, but they are running the floor and they are shooting up a ton of threes and, right now, they are playing with as much swagger and confidence as anyone in the country. Colgate is a solid, veteran mid-major team and they were absolutely mollywhopped by Auburn. The final score was 91-62, but don’t forget that Auburn led 53-21 at halftime. The spread of 16 points. Auburn was covering midway through the first half.

Now, if we’re going to talk about them in terms of being the best anything, it’s important to note that they haven’t really played anyone yet. Colgate and South Alabama are fine. Davidson was, apparently, entirely overrated. Hopefully Auburn will get a showdown with Wisconsin in the final of the Legends Classic, otherwise we may not see them face a tournament team until they host N.C. State.

In other words, expect a lot of wins from Auburn in the month of December.

2. KENTUCKY CERTAINLY ISN’T, NOT RIGHT NOW

We have already spent quite a bit of time on Kentucky in this space. The Wildcats struggled with a mid-major foe in Rupp Arena for the second straight game. They did not lose on Monday night, but they did leave us asking the question: Can Kentucky actually cure what is ailing them this season?

3. MISSOURI IS GOING TO BE A TOUGH OUT ALL SEASON LONG

I’m not sure there is a team that is flying further under the radar than Missouri right now. The Tigers improved to 3-1 on the season with a 75-56 win over Wofford on Monday night. They’ve also beaten Northern Kentucky and took No. 18 Xavier to overtime in Cincinnati.

As of today, they are a top ten team defensively, according to KenPom. They are ninth nationally in defensive effective field goal percentage. They have an assembly line of talented perimeter players that can all get out and pressure while Jeremiah Tilmon has embraced being the defensive anchor for this group while also becoming an efficient catch-and-dunk offensive weapon that can draw fouls.

I’m going to hold off on going all-in on Missouri until we see them in the Hall Of Fame Classic next week (they open with Butler, another sneaky-good team) but at this point, it looks like the Tigers should be a tournament team.

Cassius Winston addresses Michigan State crowd: ‘I lost a piece of my heart’

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Michigan State guard Cassius Winston spoke publicly for the first time since his younger brother died by suicide nine days ago.

He thanked the crowd at the Breslin Center:

Can Kentucky cure what is ailing them?

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For the second straight game against mid-major competition, the Kentucky Wildcats looked like everything but the team that beat No. 1 Michigan State in the season opener.

On Tuesday night, the Wildcats blew a 14-point second half lead and allowed Mark Madsen’s Utah Valley Wolverines to have a couple of shots to take the lead in the final three minutes of what eventually turned into an 82-74 win. This came just six days after the Wildcats, as the No. 1 team in the country, found a way to lose to Evansville, who turned around and lost to SMU at home Tuesday.

So things have been better in Lexington.

Much better.

But panicking over anything would be silly right now.

Because the thing that this Kentucky team needs more than anything else is the only thing that cannot be rushed: Time.


What’s wrong with Kentucky? We broke it down last week.

One of college basketball’s most annoying bits of coachspeak and cliche is the saying, “This will be a different team come March.”

Sometimes it’s accurate. Sometimes it’s a coach or a columnist trying to explain away the dumb mistakes that a team keeps making.

And sometimes, it’s said in regard to this iteration of the Kentucky Wildcats, who will be a completely different team in, what, two weeks? A month? Surely not much more than that. Right now, Kentucky more closely resembles a MASH unit than it does a college basketball. Look at this seemingly ever-growing list of injuries:

  • E.J. Montgomery has missed the last three games with an ankle injury he suffered in the opener against Michigan State.
  • Ashton Hagans has been dealing with some kind of leg injury that John Calipari hasn’t specified but that had limited him early on this season.
  • Nick Richards is still battling an ankle injury that has kept him out of practices.
  • Immanuel Quickley missed the Utah Valley game with what was termed a chest injury.
  • Dontaie Allen is still recovering from a torn ACL.
  • Kahlil Whitney appeared to dislocate a finger with three minutes left before popping it back in himself. He did not return to the game.

Do the math, and the Wildcats finished this game with six scholarship players, two of whom are not at 100 percent.

That’s rough for any team to deal with, especially when three of the opening night starters are on that injured list.

But the issue is magnified for Kentucky.

The Wildcats are not only incredibly young, but they also lack the kind of elite talents we typically associate Big Blue with. There is no surefire lottery pick on this roster. More importantly, there may not be a college All-American on this roster. Tyrese Maxey is the most dangerous scorer they have, but he’s shooting 28 percent from three, has eight assists and nine turnovers in four games and has looked far from the star guard he played like against Michigan State. Ashton Hagans and Nick Richards were terrific on Tuesday, but if they’re the two best players on this team that’s a far cry from Devin Booker and Karl-Anthony Towns, or John Wall and DeMarcus Cousins, or Michael Kidd-Gilchrist and Anthony Davis.

Hell, there isn’t anyone on this roster that is as good as P.J. Washington or Tyler Herro were last season.

At least right now. That’s the important part here.

Because, if you remember, neither P.J. Washington or Tyler Herro were as good in November as they were in February and March. They got better as the season went on, just like the guys on this roster will get better (and healthier) as the season goes on.

So when you put it all together, what you have is a team that we knew was going to need time to gel dealing with injuries to half their roster that is keeping key pieces out of games and, perhaps more importantly, out of practice. Don’t gloss over that. If injuries are keeping these guys from practicing, it’s keeping them from getting better, from learning their roles, from growing into the player they will hopefully be once league play begins. That is in no way insignificant.

Frankly, Maxey going absolutely bonkers in Madison Square Garden while Michigan State paired foul trouble with 5-for-26 shooting from three papered over a lot of these cracks.

We knew Kentucky was going to take their lumps early on these season and we ranked them where we ranked them anyway.

They are taking their lumps.

And if you are patient, they’ll look like Kentucky again soon enough.

No. 9 Kentucky gets another scare, holds off Utah Valley

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LEXINGTON, Ky. — Ashton Hagans scored a career-high 26 points, and No. 9 Kentucky survived another close game against what should have been a lesser opponent, beating Utah Valley 82-74 on Monday night.

The Wildcats (3-1) dropped out of the No. 1 spot in The Associated Press Top 25 after losing at home to Evansville last week, and they had to overcome a late surge to hold off the Wolverines.

Kentucky led by 16 points early in the second half, but Utah Valley steadily chipped away until T.J. Washington’s 3-pointer got the Wolverines (3-2) within one at 68-67 with 3:26 remaining. Nate Sestina responded with a three-point play that helped the Wildcats pull away.

Kentucky was without second-leading scorer Immanuel Quickley, who sat out because of a chest injury. Quickley has scored 16 points in each of the last two games.

The Wildcats also have been without forward EJ Montgomery, who has missed the past three games because of an ankle injury. Coupled with Quickley’s injury, Kentucky’s roster has dwindled to seven scholarship players, leaving the Wildcats short-handed in practice.

Nick Richards had 21 points and 10 rebounds, while Tyrese Maxey added 14 points.

Washington led the Wolverines with 22 points, followed by Trey Woodbury with 17 and Jamison Overton with 10.

BIG PICTURE

Kentucky: The Wildcats are used to shooting free throws and averaged 29.7 attempts per game in their first three. Kentucky made 31 of 34 from the line against the Wolverines, including 14 of 15 in the first half. The Wildcats held a 46-27 edge in rebounding, including 34 on the defensive end.

Utah Valley: Just as Evansville did in its upset, the Wolverines spread the floor and forced the Wildcats to play defense in the open court. The Wolverines made 11 3-pointers to keep the game close.

POLL IMPLICATIONS

The Wildcats play two more games this week and could move up a spot or two with three victories, although games like this will surely give voters pause. The Wildcats don’t play a ranked opponent again until they take on No. 10 Ohio State at Las Vegas on Dec. 21.

UP NEXT

Utah Valley hosts Lamar on Thursday.

Kentucky hosts Mount St. Mary’s on Friday

Villanova’s Antoine medically cleared for game action

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Freshman guard Bryan Antoine has been medically cleared for game action, Villanova announced on Monday.

Antoine is a former five-star prospect that has missed the first two weeks of the season. He underwent surgery on his shoulder on May 31st.

“Bryan has been fully cleared to play in games and we’re happy for him,” head coach Jay Wright said in a statement. “He’s worked extremely hard in his rehab with Jeff Pierce and John Shackleton to get to this point.

“Our plan is to bring Bryan along slowly. He’s only just returned to practice and the learning curve is steep for any freshman. Bryan’s working hard to catch up and we’re going to do all we can to help him in this transition.”