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May 1, 2014

PREP TENNIS: West Point’s Millsap signs with Gadsden State

CULLMAN — Chris Millsap couldn’t really pinpoint just why he wanted to try out for his high school tennis team during his junior year at West Point.

He had never once played the sport competitively before asking Warrior coach Tim Garner for an opportunity to show his talent out on the tennis court. Garner agreed to give Millsap a tryout, and the now-senior didn’t disappoint.

“I could get to every ball and hit it back,” Millsap said. “But I really couldn’t do much with it. I would make people just hate playing against me, though.”

Millsap’s spontaneous decision almost two years ago paid off in grand fashion on Thursday, as he inked a scholarship to play tennis at Gadsden State Community College. He signed on the dotted line in front of family, friends and many others inside a packed school library.

To say he was surprised would simply be an understatement.

“I didn’t think I’d ever be playing college two years ago,” the Warrior tennis star said. “Not at all. Not at all. When I was able to get this scholarship, I was super excited that I’d get to keep playing tennis. Getting this opportunity is amazing.”

Millsap started as the No. 5 seed on the team before working relentlessly during the summer and offseason to improve every single aspect of his game. This past season, he earned the No. 2 spot on the Warriors’ squad and had a fine season to boot.

Garner has only coached Millsap for two years but has seen plenty to know just what kind of player Gadsden State will welcome to campus this upcoming fall.

“He’s probably the hardest-working kid I’ve ever had,” Garner said. “I couldn’t be more proud in Chris. Just in my experience, I’ve got the utmost respect for him. I can’t tell you how much improvement he’s made. It’s night and day. It’s really amazing.”

While Millsap was busy honing in his game, it was Garner who got busy behind the scenes, reaching out to Gadsden State’s tennis coach, Buster Stewart. After a friendly discussion, the latter offered to bring Millsap on campus for yet another tryout.

Following some hitting, chatting and visiting, it was clear Millsap had what Stewart was looking for.

“I really liked what I saw,” the longtime Gadsden State coach said. “He’s had some good coaching and has a good attitude. I can see his love for the game. I gave him an offer that day. He can come in and contribute for us, even as a freshman.”

For Millsap, it’s been a whirlwind journey that not even he can begin to believe is real. From his very first ground stroke to his John Hancock on a piece of paper two years later, his long road  at West Point is almost over. However, his tennis career will be alive and well for at least the next two springs.

And for that, he’s seriously pumped up.

“I’m so ecstatic about playing tennis,” he said. “I can’t get over it. I’ve worked my tail off for the past year, so this really means everything to me. I want to spend every day I can out on the courts hitting balls and improving my game as much as I possibly can.”

% Jake Winfrey can be reached at 256-734-2131, ext. 136 or at jwinfrey@cullmantimes.com.

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