Florida State and Kiah Gillespie have developed quite the symbiotic relationship.
In FSU, Gillespie has found a school that has been able to realize her potential and give her the large role she’s shown she is capable of holding.
In Gillespie, FSU has found the high-volume scorer it desperately needed after losing five starters and nearly 75 percent of the scoring off last year’s team.
Gillespie’s capabilities in all facets of the game have played a key role in No. 23 FSU’s charge into the polls and strong 13-1 start.
Through 14 games, Gillespie is leading the Seminoles in both points (19.1) and rebounds (9.4) per game in her first season in Tallahassee. She’s also done so efficiently, hitting a team-high 52.5 percent of her shots.
Projected over FSU’s 29-game regular season, the pace Gillespie’s on would put her among the 10 best seasons in program history in points (525, No. 8 in FSU history) and rebounds (273, No. 9).
That’s not even factoring in any potential postseason games that would have her on pace for even more points and boards.
“She came here for that. We knew that she would step up and do great things,” FSU head coach Sue Semrau said.
“She waited her turn and for her to have the kind of success and be rewarded for the hard work is really fun to watch.”
In truth, Gillespie is finally emerging as the player she was always projected to be. She signed at Maryland out of Capital Prep School in Meriden, Connecticut as a five-star prospect and McDonald’s All-American.
Gillespie never realized that potential with the Terrapins as she sought a transfer elsewhere after two seasons at UM where she averaged 4.6 points and 2.8 rebounds per game.
After a second recruiting process, Gillespie chose FSU as her next destination in May of 2017.
“Coming from Maryland, I was just looking for something different. Coach Sue has a very different coaching style. She’s more of a player coach and on my visit I really felt that. She talked to me like we’ve known each other for years and that really stuck with me,” Gillespie said.
“Even since being here, she’s still the same person. I can just go into her office and we can have a conversation about anything.
“Just having that feeling and knowing that she’s always with me and I can call her if I ever need anything is definitely something that I really loved about Florida State, something I felt when I was on my visit.”
Upon her arrival, NCAA transfer rules forced Gillespie to redshirt and sit out the 2017-18 season. She watched from the bench while the Seminoles advanced to the ACC Tournament Championship Game before falling in the second round of the NCAA Tournament to Buffalo.
“It was very hard for me because I wanted to be a part of the team and wanted to contribute but I had to do that in other ways,” Gillespie admitted.
“I had to be the energy on the bench, I had to practice hard every day so that they can play against good competition in the games.”
Gillespie also spent the year wisely building relationships with the knowledge that she would be a leader on a young team in her first eligible season at FSU.
“It was huge. She developed relationships so then when she steps in and she’s a leader, she’s already developed the relationships,” Semrau said.
“A lot of times if you come in and you’re the best player and you’re trying to lead, you don’t have the time to make those relationships, build them.”
Added Gillespie, “I definitely think having a year with coach Sue and (assistant coach Brooke Wyckoff) helped me develop a relationship with them on the court. I built a lot of trust with both coach Sue and coach Brooke and that’s helped me step into this role that I got this year.”
This played a huge role in the redshirt junior being named a team captain along with fellow juniors Nicki Ekhomu and Nausia Woolfolk in her first season in the garnet and gold.
“She’s been a very big part of our success. She’s been a leader, a scorer, everything. She just knows how to talk to the team,” Ekhomu said of Gillespie.
Added freshman Valencia Myers, “With her being in my position, she’s someone I look up to a lot. She’s taught me to not fade under pressure. We fight with each other and for each other to get rebounds and make big shots, do hustle plays and stuff for the team.”
In true leader fashion, Gillespie was quick to direct praise for her success this season to her teammates.
“I credit a lot of that to my teammates. None of that would happen if I didn’t have people who support me and look for me and get me the ball,” Gillespie said.
“I think it’s a really great feeling to know that I have those people in my teammates and my coaches support while I play through this season.”
Making her long-awaited ACC debut Thursday, Gillespie notched her sixth double-double of the season with 19 points and 11 rebounds to lead FSU’s comeback win at Virginia.
Gillespie and the Seminoles will look to carry that success into Sunday’s game at North Carolina (9-6, 0-1 in ACC)
If FSU is to make its 14th NCAA Tournament in the last 15 years, Gillespie will play a huge part in making it happen.
No. 23 Florida State at North Carolina
When: Sunday, 1 p.m.
Where: Carmichael Arena, Chapel Hill, North Carolina
TV/Radio: Fox Sports Sun (Comcast Channel 28)/106.1 FM