Ottawa High grad adjusts to new role as preferred hoopster walk-on at ISU
Isaac Gassman said he has made a lot of changes, graduating from Ottawa High School and entering Illinois State, and he found out he likes it.
Such is the competitive nature of the former Pirates basketball star, who this fall is a freshman preferred walk-on in the Redbirds program.
“The amount of work you have to put in every day to be the player you want to be is crazy compared to high school, but I enjoy that competitive aspect to it,” Gassman told the Illinois Valley Times. “You also have to get used to living away from home and balance practice, academics, weights and whatever else you may have going on. It's a lot, but it's been fun for me.”
ISU was not where Gassman thought he would be playing after his great run at Ottawa – even with his parents both having attended ISU and him being familiar with the area. But what drew him to ISU was Redbirds Associate Head Coach Luke Yaklich. Gassman knew Yaklich when Yaklich was head coach at nearby LaSalle-Peru High School, where Gassman's mother taught. Gassman got to know Yaklich during a camp.
“I kept in contact with him throughout my senior year of high school, and he liked how I played and wanted to give me a chance on the team, which I am greatly thankful for,” he said.
Gassman's status as a preferred walk-on means that, in comparison to a regular walk-on, the coaches are familiar with his work and have given him a chance on the team. A normal walk-on would be unfamiliar to the coaches and would have to try out for a spot on the squad, Gassman said.
Knowing Gassman's basketball resume would pique the interest of many a coach. Earlier this year, he was named the Northern Illinois Big 12 Conference West Most Valuable Player, was picked for the Associated Press Class 4A All-State Honorable Mention Team, and made the Illinois Basketball Coaches Association 3A/4A All-State Fourth Team, according to GoRedbirds.com.
Gassman said the biggest difference between high school and college basketball is the level of competition he faces every day, forcing you to become a better player to survive.
“In high school, it's easy to maybe take a few plays off or lose your focus, but in college, that's something you can't afford to do,” he said. “In order to adjust to this, I just try to come with a productive mindset consistently and give 100 percent of my effort every practice.”
Part of Gassman's adjustment has included getting bigger and stronger. He said he has added 15 pounds since getting to ISU – he is listed as 6-foot-5,180 pounds, on GoRedbirds.com and has improved his physicality. That's a must to stand one's ground at the college level, he said.
“I also think my shot has gotten a lot better from 3-point rage, specifically in the areas of getting it off quicker and understanding that I needed more arc on the ball,” he said.
ISU's first game of the season is Friday, Nov. 11, at Murray State.