One afternoon visit.
That’s all it took for Gavin Skelly to know he wanted to play Division I basketball at Northwestern University.
Going in to his senior year, he visited Northwestern for a few hours.
“Right afterwards, my dad and I were like, ‘Oh, it would be so cool to go here,’” Skelly says.
That summer, Skelly stayed in touch with the staff and soon enough, he received his offer. However, unlike most recruits, Skelly jokes that he never received an official offer.
Skelly smiles, “I was at a tournament and they called me and they were asking me different questions: ‘Would you commit if we offered a scholarship?’ After a week, I said, ‘If you offer me a scholarship, I’ll commit.’ And they said, ‘cool we commit to you, you commit to us.’ There was never an offer set on the table and I always give Coach Collins a hard time about it because I kind of offered myself a scholarship, in a way, and took it.”
As soon as Skelly arrived on campus, he quickly realized he had a tough task ahead of him both on and off the court.
“It was difficult coming from a public school [that] never made it out of districts never made it to state. [I] played against normal kids that still haven’t touched a basketball since high school,” says Skelly. “Now I’m on a big stage playing against the best of the best. It was difficult for me to kind of catch up to speed.”
In addition to adjusting to the physicality and pace of play, Skelly adjusted with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, or more commonly known as ADHD. In high school, his coaches never ran plays or sets against opponents, so he had to learn how to focus and learn plays. Skelly credits the seniors, who took him under their wings and helped him have a successful freshman season.
Skelly learned he could make simple adjustments to take his concentration away from everything and instead focus on just one thing. The staff adjusted to it as well and did whatever they could to support him and make him successful. In huddles and on the sidelines, he always had to be near a coach to focus. Often times a friendly tap on the sideline or talking to him kept him active.
“I think the coaches did a tremendous job with it,” Skelly says confidently.
Skelly says transitioning with the support of his teammates and coaches behind him made it easier. Skelly also credits his success freshman year to his roommate, Bryant McIntosh.
Know Your Role and Star in It
McIntosh taught Skelly what it looks like to play at the college level: from watching film, to eating right, to studying the game. McIntosh also taught Skelly the most important thing he learned about the game in college: know your role and star in it.
”You always want to have an identity when you’re playing. Am I the bucket-getter? Am I the energy guy? Or whatever role you play on the team,” says Skelly. “I can be high energy so for me you know, I loved it that was kind of my identity and whether other people [saw it or not] the team was winning. To be a part of that and to be a big piece of what the team values [were] was special to me.”
Skelly embraced the role of “The Energy Guy” and grew in to it. Each season his role increased, as well as his minutes and points.
His freshman year, he came off the bench. He averaged 7 minutes per game and just over a point per contest. Sophomore year, he averaged 12.5 minutes and just over three points coming off the bench. Junior year, he averaged just under 18 minutes and scored just under six points per game. Senior year, he started 21 games, averaged 22 minutes per game and just over six points. He also performed better on the defensive end- adding blocks and rebounds every year.
Coming off of Northwestern’s historic season in 2017, Skelly worked hard to have the best senior season he could possibly have. He worked to get better on both ends of the floor. After analyzing film and working with the staff, Skelly looked at the shots he was getting in-game and how he could work to improve all of those.
One of the shots he worked on included the three-point shot. In his junior season, he surprised opposing teams by showing when he had the opportunity to take an open three, he didn’t hesitate. Junior year, he shot 30% from behind the arc. Senior year, he shot 41% from three, the highest percentage on the team.
Skelly worked hard in the offseason before his senior season to earn the respect of his younger teammates. He set a goal of having a bigger role on the team, and it came to fruition when he earned the opportunity in his senior season.
“Obviously, this year didn’t show it unfortunately, but for me it definitely clicked and I think this year was as best as I could get,” says Skelly. “That’s all I really wanted out of college.”
Eyes on the Future
Although his senior season wasn’t what he wanted it to be, Skelly accomplished a dream he had: playing Division I basketball at a great institution. He grew up playing this sport that helped him grow on and off the court.
“Basketball has been such a huge part of my life and [it has] built my character,” Skelly says. “A lot of the values and core things that I believe in relate to basketball.”
He’s contemplating a career overseas, and also staying in Chicago to work and possibly join a recreational league. He laughs as he sets his goal of becoming an MVP.
Regardless of where he plays, the lessons he learned from Northwestern and playing Division I basketball are invaluable to him and will stick with him no matter where he goes. Above all, he is thankful.
“I’m always going to love the game just because it has been such a huge part of my life.”