For love of the game

Amy Carton
Justine?Boone drives in for the layup for Monmouth College.

A desire to continue playing the sport they love was the driving force for three former Geneseo athletes to take their basketball talents to the collegiate level.

Now in their final seasons, Justine Boone, Drew Croegaert and Bren?Gillespie, all 2007 Geneseo High School graduates, reflect on their experiences over the past four years.

“My high-school experience led me to play college basketball,” said Boone, a point guard for the Monmouth College women’s basketball team. “I’ve always loved basketball since I?started playing, and coach Steve Brucher inspired me to keep playing.

“I am extremely happy with my decision to play, and I feel blessed that I was able to play four more years. If I could play more, I would, and I would recommend it to anybody.”

“I just always had a love of the game and enjoyed playing in high school,” said Croegaert, a guard for the Augustana College men’s basketball team. “I was not ready to give it up after high school and wanted to keep playing.”

“I had a very sour taste in my mouth from high school because it didn’t end up the way I wanted it to, and I wanted to go to college where I could participate and make a better imprint,” said Gillespie, a guard for the St. Ambrose University men’s basketball team.

Boone decided on Monmouth College because the school was small enough where she could play on the team and at the competition level where she could excel.

“The team in general was perfect for me. I couldn’t have asked for more,” said Boone. “I always felt like I fit in.”

Croegaert selected Augustana because, during the time he was being recruited, he would attend open gyms with the team. He also knew the coach and thought it was a good fit.

Gillespie chose St. Ambrose because he liked the campus. It was close to home and he could play basketball there.

“I talked to the coach right before the season and walked on to the team,” said Gillespie. “And everything started working out.”

Boone said she was excited about getting to start over in college.

“No one knows you and you get to prove yourself,” she said. “It was a whole new experience and chance for me to step up as a person and player. To be a different player.”

Croegaert said there was a bit of an adjustment making the jump from high school to college basketball.

“Anyone in college basketball was a stud in high school and now you have to adapt to a new role,” said Croegaert. “For the team to be successful you have to play a different role.”

Gillespie said his college experience has been a complete change from high school.

“I am able to do my own thing. It has been a great time,” said Gillespie. “I have loved every minute of it. It started off pretty crummy, but really turned around the last few years.”

Boone’s first year was a humbling experience for the freshman after being a star in high school. She had to work hard and prove herself all over again.

“Coming in as a freshman,  a lot of people realize they are not the same player from high school. I challenged myself not to do that and kept working hard,” said Boone.

Boone’s hard work paid off the following year as she earned a starting role on the squad.

Now as a veteran on the squad, Boone was voted captain her junior year and said being a leader was the biggest change.

“Being voted captain was a big point for me because my team looked up to me and trusted me,” said Boone. “I took that role very seriously and worked hard every day.”

Having just finished her senior season, Boone said she has accomplished what she wanted to and she has no regrets. She also was named to the conference’s All-MWC first team.

Over the course of her four years at Monmouth, Boone played in 92 games, starting in 70 and saw a total of 2,406 minutes of action. She scored 665 points, including 48 three pointers. She totaled 256 rebounds, 285 assists, 31 blocks and 253 steals.

Boone holds records for season assists with 119, season steals, 90; career steals with 253 and is tied for games played in a career with 92.

“I am very proud of our team this year because we made the conference playoffs and took second place, which is only the second time in history that the team has done that,” said Boone.

Croegaert said his freshman year was a good experience for him because he was on a really good team and was able to learn the ropes behind a lot of veterans.

His sophomore year he played with the junior-varsity team.

“It was hard (not playing),” said Croegaert. “Especially in the role I play, I always had to be ready and keep my head up. The uncertainty as a player is hard.”

Croegaert said going into his junior year he thought he would see a few more minutes, but he didn’t play well in the preseason and got buried on the bench.

“I struggled with the decision to keep playing. Was it worth all the time not to play?” he asked.

“This summer I rededicated myself because it was my last year and it has paid off. I am glad I did it.”

During his senior year, Croegaert has been a regular off the bench.

“This season has been going great and I have been playing well the entire conference season,” he said.

During his career at Augustana, as of March 5, he has played in 64 games with one start and has played a total of 583 minutes with 147 points. He has 17 three pointers with 42 rebounds, 40 assists and 17 steals.

Augustana will play in the NCAA Sectional tonight at 8 p.m. against Mary Hardin-Baylor.

“I hope my biggest highlight hasn’t happened yet,” said Croegaert, as the Vikings are still alive in the NCAA Division III Tournament. “A highlight also was going to China with the team in the summer of 2010.”

Gillespie’s freshman year was an eye opener. He played on the junior-varsity team the whole year.

“I didn’t have confidence at all, but it was a good fresh start,” said Gillespie. “It let me go into the program with ease.?I just wanted to play basketball.”

Throughout his sophomore year, things began to turn around for Gillespie as he played the first half of the year on the JV squad and the next half with the varsity. It was that year after a trip with the team to Florida, he realized he could play with his teammates.

“The team was having a rough year and they put me in a couple of games and I did well,” said Gillespie. “Then everything took off.”

With some transfers to the team in his junior year, Gillespie went through a rough stretch, but gradually worked his way back into the rotation and kept building from there.

During his senior year, Gillespie started in half of the team’s games and came off the bench in the other half. He also was named one of the team’s captains.

“My senior year was my best basketball year I have ever been involved in because of the players and coaches,” said Gillespie. “I did whatever they needed me to do.?I was kind of the hustle guy and hit the shots when I needed to.”

Over his career Gillespie  has played in 79 games with 16 starts and 1,379 minutes. He has accumulated 455 points with 88 three pointers.

He also has 237 rebounds, 66 assists, five blocks and 49 steals.

“One thing that helped me stick with it was my background,” said Gillespie. “In high school, I didn’t get the time I thought I deserved, and I looked back on that and it helped me through my college experiences.

“My biggest motivation was proving to myself and my family that I can play better and be a better person than I was in high school. I really wanted to change myself in that way.”

“I have learned so much. It is more than just a sport, it is a total learning experience that is irreplaceable,” said Boone. “I can’t say enough about my teammates and having those relationships are huge. They all feel like my sisters.”

“Not getting the playing time I wanted and still trying to stay positive was the biggest obstacle for me,” said Croegaert. “The biggest thing I learned is what can I bring to the team and hopefully that will carry over to my job.”

“I have learned that anything is possible,” said Gillespie. “When?I went in, I had no expectations and right now the sky is the limit. I have no regrets.”

Boone will graduate in May with a double major in business administration and economics.

Croegaert will graduate in May with a degree in elementary education and will student teach in the fall.

Gillespie will graduate in May with a degree in finance and economics.

Drew Croegaert brings the ball up the floor for Augustana College.