Gavin Schilling went through plenty of ups and downs in his career at Michigan State, among them starting in the Final Four as a sophomore and missing a year with a torn ACL. Schilling, who was actually born in Germany, has started his professional career in Europe and is in the middle of his third season in the BBL, Germany’s premier basketball league. After spending two years playing for ratiopharm Ulm, he is now playing for the Löwen Braunschweig, and with averages of 11.8 points (on 54.4 percent shooting) and 7.7 rebounds Schilling has truly taken the next step in his development as a player. He joined The Only Colors for an interview and some of his favorite memories from his time in East Lansing!
The Only Colors: Gavin, we reach you during a quarantine period as your team’s athletic trainer has tested positive for COVID-19. How are you dealing with the unexpected time off?
Gavin Schilling: Everything’s been OK. We got a lot of fitness workouts to keep our bodies in shape and stay sharp. I’ve also developed my cooking skills and try to read a lot. Currently I’m getting through “The Energy Bus,“ which deals with using your energy for yourself and how a positive approach can fuel your life.
The Only Colors: When was the first time Michigan State got in contact with you?
Gavin Schilling: The first time I heard of their interest was during my junior year in high school, when I played for De La Salle in Chicago. One of my coaches told me that MSU had called and that they were interested in me. At first I was surprised, but also really excited. I knew about the winning tradition, I watched them a lot on TV back then. And of course I knew about Coach Izzo. I first met him on an unofficial visit as I was shown around the offices and the whole facility.
The Only Colors: What made you choose Michigan State over the other programs that were recruiting you?
Gavin Schilling: Basically there were three reasons for my decision. First, I wanted to go to a team that had a rich basketball tradition and had built a winning culture in the past. Second, I wanted to go to a place where my Mom could visit and see me play. We live in Chicago and it’s only about a three-and-a-half-hour drive to East Lansing. And third, I was looking for a place where the degree that I would earn would carry weight. My mom always made sure I understood that getting a degree was very important. Of course I also looked for a place where I could go develop as a basketball player.
The Only Colors: You started 33 games as a sophomore during the 2014-2015 season and then went to the Final Four in Indianapolis. What was that year like for you and the team?
Gavin Schilling: Obviously reaching the Final Four was a tremendous experience. Nobody expected us to get there during that year. We had a bad loss against Texas Southern at the beginning of the season, but that was the moment everything changed for us. It hit us deep and we knew that we were better than that. Even when we started to turn it around, many people had doubts on our success in the NCAA Tournament that year as a No. 5 seed. We cherished that and every time we stepped on the court we played like it, too.
The Only Colors: Going into your junior season you had high hopes, but then the injuries hit, right?
Gavin Schilling: Yes, unfortunately. That summer we took a preseason trip to Italy and I was playing really well. Yet when we came back I tore a ligament in my toe in a preseason game and I developed turf toe. So I missed a lot of time with that. Later in the year I was dealing with sciatic nerve pain. I played through it, but I never really got back into rhythm. And then the next season I tore my ACL which of course was a crushing blow. My senior year, it was hard to make the impact I wanted to due to one and done players at my position.
The Only Colors: Do you ever look back and think about what could have been if the injuries hadn’t occurred?
Gavin Schilling: No, not at all. I don’t ever think about how things could have gone differently. I learned a lot from all the experiences and they make me the man I am today. I came back stronger because of everything I went through and mentally it helped me a lot. It was just the way it was written for me and I have no regrets.
The Only Colors: What is life like for a student-athlete at MSU?
Gavin Schilling: It is a special experience, especially being a basketball player in East Lansing. Everyone knows who you are and recognizes you on the street. In the end it is a college town and it is really cool. Of course you also don’t have a lot of privacy and you have to realize that you are in the spotlight so to speak. We always had to maintain a balance between being a player and a student. We practiced every day, we watched a lot of film and did a lot of work in the weight room yet also had to make sure we got our classes in order. The university did a great job helping us out. We had a tutoring center just for the athletes and whenever we needed help someone was there for us.
The Only Colors: Do you still stay in contact with your teammates from back then?
Gavin Schilling: Yes, I’m still very close with Alvin Ellis. We came in together and he is from Chicago as well. Of course I stay in touch with a lot of guys on social media like Gary Harris, Denzel Valentine, Jaren Jackson Jr., all those guys. Even if you leave you are still part of the family. A lot of people talk about that and it truly is a special atmosphere. After I graduated I came back for a golf outing in Grand Rapids and everyone was there, that was really cool. I was talking to Coach Izzo then and he urged me to come back over the summer, something I really want to do every year. Unfortunately last year COVID happened so I couldn’t go.
The Only Colors: Speaking of Tom Izzo, what is he like?
Gavin Schilling: He brings the best out of you, both personally and on the court. He is not for everybody, especially not for the weak. You have to learn to deal with his coaching style, it is really intense. But he truly turns you into a man if you play for him for four years, or in my case, five. He is always keeping it real and he never tells you what you want to hear, but what you need to hear. Of course on and off the court he is like two different people. His attention to detail, his preparation and all that are just off the charts. Whenever you walked by his office he was in there, he even slept there at times during the season. He is truly a sincere guy who wants the best for you as a player and person after leaving MSU.
The Only Colors: After you finished your NCAA career how did you get to Germany?
Gavin Schilling: My agent Patrick King had a lot of contacts there and I got a few offers from different BBL clubs. I was always sure that I wanted to play professional basketball, one hundred percent. Ulm was a good place to start. At first the transition wasn’t easy and it was an adjustment from the college game to the European style of play. In the NCAA everything was fast paced, very athletic, up and down. In Europe, the spacing is a lot tighter, therefore you have to use your IQ to make quicker reads due tot he tighter spacing. The European game is also a lot more pick and roll oriented, which also has to do with reading the help and making the right pass. Once I got used to it, got more time on the court and developed everything was a lot easier.
The Only Colors: What kind of goals have you set for the future?
Gavin Schilling: Oh, I definitely have a lot of unchecked boxes. I’m sure people would laugh when I tell them about some of them, but I feel it’s better to aim high. For example I haven’t totally written off the NBA yet. Overall though you could say I just want to get better and take my career day by day.
The Only Colors: Thinking back, what is the one moment that you will never forget from your MSU career?
Gavin Schilling: Oh, there are a few, but I guess I have to say the Final Four. Playing in front of 60,000 people is really a once in a lifetime thing, it was incredible. I also remember us beating Purdue my senior year, it was a key game on our way to winning the Big Ten outright for the first time since 2009. I did really well in that game.
The Only Colors: Was that the game against Isaac Haas? When you guys had to play him one on one and Izzo never sent anyone to double?
Gavin Schilling: Yes, exactly. We battled him all night long and were pushing him as far out as we could. I didn’t feel my forearm for at least a week after that game. But it was worth it. The Louisville game that got us to the Final Four was special, too. And I also remember the football team going to the Rose Bowl when I was a freshman. There is no better time in a place like East Lansing when the football and the basketball team are good at the same time. There really are so many great memories.
The Only Colors: Gavin, thank you for sharing those with us, we really appreciate it and all the best for any future endeavors.