MOREHEAD – Hunter Gillum may not go down as the greatest athlete in Ashland history, but he has to be in the conversation as one of the toughest.
And Gillum, who leads with his heart, is a winner where few others have tread.
You can add a second regional basketball championship to his resume, to go along with a football state championship where his grittiness was equally on display and a big reason why the Tomcats won that title last fall. He’s the kind of player that if he’s on the other team, you just hate him. But if he’s on your side, you sure are thankful.
“You can’t quantify toughness,” said Ashland coach Jason Mays. “You can’t put a metric on toughness. Whatever that metric is for Hunter Gillum, it’s off the charts. He says ‘my hearts as big, if not bigger than yours.’ He helped us win that game tonight. He understands everything execution-wise from the point guard spot. Coaching against him, he’s like an aggravating gnat.”
More like a maroon-and-white Murder Hornet.
The Tomcats’ marvelous basketball team was on the edge of the cliff, but Gillum’s toughness helped them cling to the edge and then will them to an improbable come-from-behind 62-58 overtime victory over Rowan County in the 16th Region championship game Saturday afternoon.
Ashland battled back from an 11-point deficit with its heart-and-soul point guard fouled out with 6:24 remaining on a questionable call (let’s leave it right there). It looked desperate. Maybe even impossible. No team had rallied from such a deficit in region championship game before in history.
It’s a history that said when a team took a lead into the fourth quarter of the championship game, it was all but net-cutting time. The biggest deficit overcome going into the fourth quarter was only four points when Mt. Sterling trailed Grayson 21-17 and won 24-21 in the 1942 regional finals. The biggest deficit overcome after three quarters of any regional tournament game was 12 points by Sharpsburg, which trailed Carter County 56-44 before rallying for a 74-72 victory in a first-round game.
But back to Gillum, who last year in the regional tournament emerged as a key player during the 33-0 Tomcat campaign. His last start because of football’s run to the title meant he was going to be coming along a little slower this season, and in fact he did. But his spark (more like a lightning bolt) has been apparent again toward the end of the regular season and especially in the postseason.
Gillum’s energy ignites the defense and he has become a cautious and efficient point guard he chooses when to shoot wisely. Even when Rowan County was daring him to shoot, he chose to penetrate and dish to the more reliable Cole Villers or Ethan Sellars. That’s evidence of a player who understands his role perfectly and has decided it’s team over me. Winning is all that matters and he gets it.
Ashland isn’t planning a trip to the Sweet 16 next week without Hunter Gillum, and the Class AAA state football championship trophy that the Tomcats own is in somebody else’s trophy case without him too.
History may reflect this as being the team of Cole Villers, Colin Porter and Ethan Sellars – and rightfully so – because those three guards are unflappable and tremendously talented. But sometimes you need that winning play and toughness that only some players have deep down inside them to become a champion.
Ashland has that in Hunter Gillum, a senior who will be remembered for being the toughest guy on the block. The Tomcats are glad to have that bully on their side.