West Lafayette – Mason Gillis had everything a baseball star needed.
A 6-foot-6 outfielder and pitcher, he could hit 90 mph as a teenager and once led a team from his hometown of Newcastle, Indiana, to the Little League World Series in a winning run. It is famous for recording hits.
At first he liked baseball, but he liked basketball more.
Gaming wasn’t the only thing Gillis felt a kinship with.
The more time Gillis spent in the gym, the less time he spent on baseball diamonds. Or to football and soccer.
“I slowly came to love basketball more,” Gillis said.
Gillis is currently the captain of the No. 1 college basketball team.
He and Ethan Morton were named to the honor by their teammates.
“We vote for the captain and that’s what his teammates think of him,” said Purdue coach Matt Painter. “Part of leadership is being happy for others when things don’t go your way. He’s done a great job of that.”
Gillis didn’t always get his way.
Quite the opposite, in fact.
While in high school, he underwent two surgeries on his right knee and Gillis missed his senior year at Newcastle because he and current Ball State Guard Luke Bunbureau were just short of qualifying for the 2018 State Championship. It was after a season when they were only a few plays away. .
After redshirting his first year at Purdue, Gillis was 985 days apart before appearing in the opening game of the 2020 season. He ended up starting 23 games as a redshirt freshman, but his sophomore season began with a four-game suspension after pleading guilty to OWI charges.
He returned to the starting line-up, a spot reserved for him in the first seven games of the year as well.
He’s coming off the bench now.
“You can learn from the negative influences rather than suffer from them,” Gillis said. “What I went through was difficult, but I am very grateful to the people who helped me.”
That’s what Gillis tries to convey to his teammates, and part of the reason they chose him as their leader.
Gillis has always claimed to have been a vocal player. But Gillis says he talks to some just for the sake of it. It’s more important to him now to be heard.
“The vocal part is the part that comes out more,” said assistant coach Terry Johnson. “After practice, we don’t talk too much in the huddle. Find out, and then Mason will speak normally.”
On the court, Gillis has all the skills.
He is a mismatched nightmare at 6-6. He can play physical with his fat body and can pull you out on the perimeter and knock down three-pointers.
Gillis found his niche at Purdue doing the dirty work that has embodied what Boilermaker basketball has been all about for decades: diving for loose balls and hustling play. Move the glass and play defense.
It’s dripping into a currently undefeated team with many players who have a similar drive to do small things that can end up being big things.
“Such a mentality starts top-down,” said sophomore Caleb Furst. “Having him as a leader and having that mentality means a lot to us. This is definitely a key factor in why we have been so successful.”
Once one of Indiana’s top reserve baseball players, Gillis put away his old-looking bat and glove.
Sometimes I wonder what would have happened if he had chosen that exit for his sporting future.
But Gillis has no regrets.
“I don’t know what would have happened if I had kept playing baseball. Who knows,” he said. “I can think about it all day. I think I made the right decision. Thinking and thinking about my decision won’t get me anywhere. I just have to keep moving forward. I’m happy wherever I am.” “I’m here”
Sam King covers sports in the Journal & Courier. Email email@example.com and follow @samueltking on Twitter and Instagram.
Rutgers (9-4, 1-1) vs No. 1 Purdue (13-0, 2-0)
Monday, 7 pm
tv set: BTN
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