Hammer Strength Standard: Jimmy Gavin's Unlikely Basketball Career
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The route to a professional basketball career is far from easy. If you’ve never played high school varsity hoops, it’s nearly impossible. But don’t tell that to Jimmy Gavin.
The 6-foot-3 shooting guard with a quick release and smooth left-handed jump shot has an impressive basketball resume that includes an all-Big South Conference honor, invites to NBA summer camps and a career playing overseas. What Gavin doesn’t have is an impressive stat line from his days playing varsity basketball at Prospect High School in Mount Prospect, Illinois. That’s because he never played. The effects of Crohn’s disease sidelined Gavin during high school and the late bloomer’s basketball career had to wait until college to get off of the ground.
An Unexpected Turn
After high school, Gavin enrolled at Mississippi State University as a regular student focused on academics instead of athletics. But in the spring of 2011, tragedy brought him back home, after his younger brother John was killed in a car crash. Jimmy Gavin returned home to focus on his family and his grieving. In the winter of 2011, Gavin turned his focus to training and basketball.
“Somethin like that gives you a sense of urgency, because you never know what's going to happen tomorrow,” said Gavin. “And that's when I decided that I was going to give (basketball) a try. I worked out throughout that period and was able to connect with schools and get some tryout opportunities. Playing basketball, it gave me my life back because when I was concentrating on it I was solving everything that was defeating me. And everything I was battling against internally I was able to work through.”
A Meteoric College Basketball Rise
In 2012, Gavin walked on at Bradley University. It was his first time being a part of a varsity basketball team. The next year he transferred to the University of Wisconsin-Parkside, and it was at the Division II school just outside of Kenosha, Wisconsin where he found his groove. He managed to score 1,004 points in just two seasons at Parkside. As a senior for the Rangers, Gavin averaged 17.4 points per game and was a first-team All-Great Lake Valley Conference selection. During that season he scored in double figures in 28 games, and had a 40-point outburst in a game in which he made 7 of 13 three-point shots.
"I was pretty obsessive about (training)," explained Gavin. "I had a really deep sense of urgency with everything that had happened to me. And I just tried to use every hour in the day to get better. And, like I said, there was a lot of whatever you want to call them, demons, or things that I was battling against. And I think that my focus was so intense, was so laser focused because I wanted to escape that and pour everything I had into my goal."
After graduating from Parkside, Gavin was able to spend one year playing as a graduate transfer at Winthrop University in Rock Hill, S.C. The step up to NCAA Division I didn’t bother him at all and Gavin lit up the Big South Conference. He averaged 18.7 points a game in his final college season and connected on 41% of his three-point attempts. He earned first-team all-conference honors for his performance and interest from professional hoops teams.
"Everyone has obstacles for sure, so, I'm not alone with that." explained Gavin. "I just had something I wanted to do, and unfortunately in life when you want to do something it doesn't just come right away. And a lot of times things don't go like how we expect them to. For me, I think that the biggest thing was shifting my perspective, because what I've learned is that what everyone perceives as a disadvantage can become your greatest weapon or your greatest blessing."
The Next Level
In 2016, Gavin was invited by the Orlando Magic to the NBA Summer League. It was an astonishing achievement for the kid from Illinois who never suited up for his high school varsity team. His professional career is in full swing. Gavin has spent time playing in Lithuania, Poland, and Russia. In the fall of 2019, he joined Bulgaria's Cherno More Ticha.
High achievement rarely comes without sacrifice. And to get to where he is, Gavin paid his dues in full. The difficulties he's encountered along the way have given him a wise perspective well beyond that of most 28-year-olds.
"(Your) standard becomes what do you do when you're not feeling your best. And how much do you give and how do you push through all those days," added Gavin. "And I think that the standard ultimately becomes what you hold yourself to. And for sure some days I miss that mark and that's just how it is. But ultimately the standard is continually going and reaching back for it and trying to bring yourself to that level where you can be your best."
Photos: Karol Slomka and Getty Images