By MIKE BLACKERBY
In this age of specialization in high school sports, Greeneville’s Jakobi Gillespie is an anomaly.
Gillespie, a standout guard, led the Greene Devils to their first state championship in basketball this season.
On the football field, the 6-foot-1, 165-pound junior is one of the area’s top cornerbacks for one of the state’s best programs.
The 5Star Preps Boys Basketball Player of the Year has shown that you can still play more than one sport at a high level.
In fact, the crossover can be beneficial.
“Football, and working in the weight room, has really helped my basketball,” said Gillespie, who helped the Greene Devils to a 31-6 record last season.
Greeneville won its final 17 games, culminating with a 47-46 win over Jackson South Side in the state Class AA championship game.
Greeneville coach Brad Woolsey said Gillespie brought the same physicality he plays with on the football field to the basketball court last season.
“Any time kids compete it’s a definite benefit,” said Woolsey.
“The transition back and forth between basketball and football has really benefitted him. I knew he was a good athlete, but I was surprised by his physicality and fearlessness on the football field,” continued Woolsey.
Those traits carried over to basketball this season and expedited Gillespie’s emergence as a star.
He was mighty good as a sophomore.
He was great as a junior.
“You look at Kobi as a sophomore and you saw his trajectory just take over,” continued Woolsey.
“Then, at tournament time last season, that changed a bit with his defense and aggressiveness. When he came back this year that just continued. He plays with great confidence.”
One stat is emblematic of Gillespie’s spike in confidence and aggressiveness over the last two years.
After having just one dunk as a sophomore, he had 24 slams last season.
Gillespie is glad to initiate contact and is unafraid to challenge taller defenders when he attacks the rim.
“He’s not afraid to challenge anybody,” said Woolsey.
Gillespie averaged 20.8 points, 4.1 rebounds, 2.4 steals and 2.3 assists a game in 2020-21.
He was a Mr. Basketball finalist and the MVP of the state AA tournament. He scored 22.7 points per game during three state tournament games.
Gillespie’s scouting report reads something like this: A nightmare to defend with his ability to score on multiple levels. A good 3-point shooter who also has perhaps the quickest first step off the dribble in the area. Has great court vision and is a finisher in the open floor, either by scoring or getting the ball to his teammates.
Woolsey said defenders are often in a quandary because they have to honor Gillespie’s uncanny ability to drive past them or shoot from the perimeter.
“His first step is great and he’s really shifty,” said Woolsey.
“You have to worry about him shooting it deep too. That makes him a much more dangerous player. A lot of time it looks like poetry the way he sets guys up.”
Gillespie takes great pride in his ability to drive and set up defenders.
“I have a very quick first step,” he said.
“I can beat most people off the dribble.”
Recruiters have begun to stand up and take notice of Gillespie.
He said Virginia Tech, East Tennessee State and Georgia State have been in contact with his AAU coaches.
Gillespie figures to be in the spotlight even more next season, and watch for his recruiting to take off.
The Greene Devils return three of five starters off this year’s state title team, with Reid Satterfield and Terry Grove also back for their senior seasons.
“We can repeat and do the same thing we did last season,” said Gillespie.
“We have some pieces coming back.”