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When aspiring NBA point guard Jimmy Gavin of Arlington Heights starts meeting with curious league executives next week at a pre-draft showcase in California, one thought will go through his mind: Please ask.Please ask about dealing with Crohn's disease,...

Local prospect Jimmy Gavin overcomes disease, tragedy to chase NBA dream

When aspiring NBA point guard Jimmy Gavin of Arlington Heights starts meeting with curious league executives next week at a pre-draft showcase in California, one thought will go through his mind: Please ask.Please ask about dealing with Crohn's disease,...

Local prospect Jimmy Gavin overcomes disease, tragedy to chase NBA dream

When aspiring NBA point guard Jimmy Gavin of Arlington Heights starts meeting with curious league executives next week at a pre-draft showcase in California, one thought will go through his mind: Please ask.

Please ask about dealing with Crohn's disease, which kept Gavin from playing varsity basketball at Prospect High School.

Ask about coping with the car accident March 24, 2011, that took the life of his younger brother Jack, compelling Gavin to return home after his freshman year at Mississippi State.

Ask how attending four universities, from Mississippi State to Bradley to Wisconsin-Parkside to Winthrop — where teammates named Gavin a captain before he played a game — helped the 23-year-old build character and learn to adapt quickly.

"That's part of professional sports, right? I had to go in every time and prove myself," Gavin said Monday. "I'm not a product of the AAU culture, the hype, the entitlement. I don't have any of that. I'm a leader on and off the court and I'm going to bring that to whatever NBA team has me. I'm just going to say look at the tape and my journey and see that nothing was handed to me."

After Gavin made Prospect's sophomore team, doctors handed his family news that appeared to dash his NBA dream. Gavin had developed Crohn's disease, a chronic inflammation of the intestines that causes abdominal pain, diarrhea and fatigue. His weight plummeted to 90 pounds. His face swelled. His body betrayed him.

"Some of the battles I had with Crohn's were mentally challenging too," Gavin said. "It had a lasting effect."

Forget staying on the court — Gavin's life became about staying healthy enough to function as a normal teenager. For three years, Susan Gavin had wondered what was wrong with her son, baffling pediatricians until the family's chiropractor discovered the disease. It was the answer Susan never wanted to get, satisfying only because it ended the questions.

"A huge blow ... I was devastated, crying," Susan recalled Monday. "But then Jimmy looks at me in the car and said, 'Mom, at least we know what it is now.' That is so him."

With medication and dietary changes to eliminate things such as bread and carbonated beverages, Gavin slowly began to regain weight and strength. A return to basketball followed but only in local park leagues and intramurals. When Gavin matriculated to Mississippi State, he accepted he never would play competitively again.

Then one morning in Mississippi, Gavin received a phone call every family member dreads. Jack Gavin, a 16-year-old volleyball player and honors student at Prospect, died when the car he was a passenger in skidded on a patch of ice and hit a tree. Jimmy rushed back to grieve with his parents, Susan and Mike, and youngest brother Grant.

He stayed home, dabbling in rec-league basketball and attending a nearby community college, until one day announcing something that assured Susan her oldest son always would carry Jack's memory wherever he went.

"Jimmy just said: 'Life is too short. I'm going to work hard to find a scholarship to play basketball,'" she said.

To Jimmy, playing basketball represented a way to make his parents smile again after so many tears. A season as a walk-on at Bradley accomplished that, but it ended after Gavin underwent an intestinal resection related to Crohn's.

His basketball dream revived, Gavin sought greener pastures and accepted his only scholarship offer to Wisconsin-Parkside, a solid Division II program where in two seasons the smooth left-handed shooter emerged as a 3-point threat and all-conference player.

One of Gavin's most rewarding games came against a team whose coach had rejected Gavin's interest — only to design a game plan around keeping the ball out of his hands. The Gavin family called it "poetic justice."

Now feeling destined for the NBA, Gavin took advantage of the NCAA graduate-transfer rule and sought his final season in Division I. He chose Winthrop over Pepperdine and averaged 18.7 points and hit 41 percent of his 3-pointers, scoring 38 against North Carolina State.

Jimmy Gavin Ethan Hyman / TNS

Jimmy Gavin celebrates after making a basket during the second half against North Carolina State in Raleigh, N.C., on Friday, Nov. 27, 2015

Jimmy Gavin celebrates after making a basket during the second half against North Carolina State in Raleigh, N.C., on Friday, Nov. 27, 2015

(Ethan Hyman / TNS)

Before his first game at Winthrop, Jimmy left Jack a ticket at the pass gate as a tribute. Before every game, Jimmy wrote his brother's initials on his shoes.

"I made a promise that I'm going to see the whole world and take him with me," Gavin said. "I want to keep his memory alive and make him proud."

The memories drive Gavin every day as the NBA hopeful works out under the watchful eye of local trainer Jeff Pagliocca of Evolution Sports, whose client list includes Luol Deng and Evan Turner. Even a veteran such as Pagliocca expressed surprise at how far Gavin has come since he was a 90-pound teen afflicted with Crohn's.

"That's what's so wild — his body doesn't need a lot of work," Pagliocca said. "He fits the mold now. There's no drop-off from the kid who came from a high-major program."

Ultimately, NBA teams will make their own determinations — four already have scheduled private workouts. Draft analysts consider the 6-foot-3, 195-pound shooter a long shot to go in either of the two rounds, but someone who has endured all Gavin has hardly needs to hear his name called to imagine seeing it on an NBA roster.

"He doesn't have to get drafted to play in the NBA," Susan said. "A lot of people haven't met Jimmy yet, so they might not know much about him. I really think things will change when those meetings start."

All they have to do is ask.

dhaugh@tribpub.com

Twitter @DavidHaugh

Our editors found this article on this site using Google and regenerated it for our readers.

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