EAST LANSING, Mich.–The folding chair was probably really uncomfortable; however, the person sitting in it–Michigan State forward Gavin Schilling–was quite the opposite.
Dressed in the Spartans’ home whites, the 6’9″, 245-pound junior sat sprawled behind a portable table set up at the far edge of the floor at the Breslin Center, fielding questions from television reporters and writers as the Spartans ready for 2015-16.
He was visibly content.
A year ago, he often wore the opposite expression. And that’s kind of when it happened. He said something that his coach had been longing to hear for two seasons.
“Each year with this program, I just fell in love with the game more and more,” Schilling said.
His reply came on the heels of a mention that he’d probably rather forget. During his 2014-15 season-finale press conference, Spartans coach Tom Izzo said that Schilling had to “fall in love” with basketball, essentially suggesting that one of his most versatile big men just wasn’t reaching his full potential.
Izzo was right on the money. His incredibly athletic forward averaged an unimpressive 5.1 points and 3.8 rebounds per game as a sophomore. And on top of that, Schilling was held scoreless during two of the Spartans’ five games in March Madness.
Making matters worse, he had four fouls, shot 0-for-2 from the line and didn’t score a point during his team’s 81-61 Final Four loss to Duke, the eventual national champion. He topped out with a so-so eight points and two rebounds during the Spartans’ 62-58 Sweet 16 victory over Oklahoma–but he had some issues with positioning in the paint.
That’s all in the past, though. Schilling seems to be an entirely new man.
“I spent a lot of time, you know, working on my game this summer,” he said. “I spent a whole month-and-a-half in Indianapolis, working out with a trainer out there–we’d work out two to three times a day, you know, basketball workouts.
So I think that really made me, you know, get into a routine and made me improve and get better. And it obviously showed this summer and in the fall. Because I’ve been playing pretty well lately. After the European trip, you know, that kind of boosted my confidence up on the court…”
Those summer workouts paid dividends prior to flying across the Atlantic. The early-morning cardio with resistance training did its job. So did the afternoon shooting sessions and footwork programs. At night, he’d scrimmage. Sometimes they’d be 1-on-1 or 2-on-2. Other times, they’d be team vs. team.
During the Spartans’ trip to Italy, where they played experience pros and All-Star teams, Schilling bodied-up with 27- and 28-year old forwards who have been swatting shots since he was in elementary school. Earning those stripes against proven players kick-started his desire to do more.
“That’s a big part part of the reason why I’ve been playing so well,” he said.
Schilling has always had the ability. He just needed a spark.
“Yeah, yeah–confidence, the mental part of the game is so much, you know, more than the physical part of the game,” he said. “That really has a lot do with it.”
The mental aspect is always referenced by everyone. Sport and player doesn’t matter, as having mental control is a universal goal for everyone who competes. Sharpness comes with time. Some guys immediately adjust, while others need more time to get fully acclimated.
“The mental part of the game really comes from experience–just experience you have playing on the court and knowing what to expect,” Schilling said. “Because now this is my third season here, I know what to expect this year. I know what’s coming, as opposed to the previous years–maybe my freshman year, you know, I didn’t know at all what to expect.
You know, my sophomore year, I was starting to get in the groove of things, and now I really know what to expect and what to do. I’m prepared for this year. I’m prepared to make an impact and contribute.”
That’s good news for the Spartans. In 2014-15, he provided glimpses of huge progressions. Sprees such as his 11-and-10 versus Penn State (W, 66-60), his 13-and-6 versus Northwestern (W, 84-77 2OT) and 10-and-9 versus Indiana (W, 70-50) must become common this season.
There are higher expectations, and he knows that.
“Yeah, I am comfortable with that,” Schilling said. “You know, we even have expectations as a team to get to the national championship and win it. I’m really focused in on that. That’s really, that’s all I’ve been thinking about, is just getting to that step and doing whatever I can, whatever it takes to get there.”
That wasn’t just a friendly ‘say the right thing on media day’ kind of quote. There was no fluff. Schilling was absolutely serious. He has put in more work. He has plenty of reasons to be proud of his efforts.
Izzo has seen improvement. Things are coming together for Schilling, who has a great mix of power and finesse. Teammates haven taken notice of his renewed dedication to the sport, too.
“I’ve seen a lot from Gavin over the summer–finishing a lot better, a lot better moves now,” said senior guard Bryn Forbes, who tabbed Schilling as one of many who made significant jumps during the offseason.
“(I had) Seen him in the gym every day. He went from, last year, not being a very good free-throw shooter (.524) to I’m surprised when he misses now. Around the hoop, he can finish (with) either hand, you know. Great moves. He spent a lot of time in the gym. A lot of times when I was in here, I saw him–which I didn’t see the summer before as much.
That was impressive.”