As Davidson made its Stephen Curry-fueled run through the NCAA men’s basketball tournament in 2008, a 13-year-old kid in Westerville, Ohio, was paying close attention.
“It was just cool, I hadn’t heard of Davidson before that,” Jack Gibbs says now. “It was cool to see a team not from the ACC or Big 10 making noise. I liked seeing the underdogs win.”
Eight years later, Gibbs – while not in the same stratosphere as Curry, the NBA’s reigning most valuable player– has taken over as Davidson’s leading man.
Heading into the Wildcats’ Atlantic 10 game Friday against first-place Virginia Commonwealth (15-5, 7-0), Gibbs, a junior point guard, is the country’s fourth-leading scorer (24.8 points per game) and leads the A-10 with 5.4 assists per game.
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Curry-like numbers, maybe. But in fairness to Gibbs – who says he’s only met Curry a few times – the comparisons should end there.
“I just don’t want to engage in that,” Wildcats coach Bob McKillop says. “Steph Curry is in a world of his own, was in a world of his own when he was (at Davidson) and is continuing that as he goes through the NBA.”
Understood. But like Curry, McKillop knows that in Gibbs he has another player with the capability of putting his team on his back. During a season in which the Wildcats (12-6, 4-3 A-10) have been shorthanded because of injury, Gibbs has three 40-plus-point games and has scored at least 30 points six times. Only former Brigham Young star Jimmer Fredette (with six) has more 40-point games in the past six years than Gibbs.
I haven’t always been the quickest or tallest guy out there, so I have to find ways to get my shot or find people open.
“Jack does a great job of going out and attacking and making plays,” says teammate Brian Sullivan, a senior guard. “That’s his best talent.”
At 6 feet tall, Gibbs says he models his game after smallish point guards such as the Warriors’ Curry and the Clippers’ Chris Paul. Like those two established NBA superstars, Gibbs also has a flare about him, finding open players with clever passes or angling in tough shots off the backboard when he finds himself surrounded by taller players under the basket.
“I have to be crafty to score and get the ball to my teammates,” says Gibbs. “I haven’t always been the quickest or tallest guy out there, so I have to find ways to get my shot or find people open.
“You won’t really see me skying past people too often, so I definitely have to work the angles. If sometimes I need to touch it off the top of the backboard to get it in, that’s what I do. I’ve got to find other ways. You learn different moves and ways to get open or to get your teammates open.”
Says Sullivan: “Sometimes he’ll catch the big men off guard and they’ll be pretty surprised. I can’t really blame them. Not many people see what Jack sees. He keeps defenses really honest.”
There’s another unorthodox side of Gibbs’ game: his free-throw shooting. Gibbs’ routine doesn’t include the routine of pausing, dribbling a few times while taking deep breaths and carefully eyeing the basket. He receives the ball from the referee and shoots it, often from several inches behind the line. No dribble, no pause, no nothing.
“I just catch it like it’s going to be a jump shot,” says Gibbs, who makes 82.8 percent of his free throws. “I don’t think about it; I just shoot it.”
A political science major, Gibbs says he might want to be an attorney like his father. Gibbs’ grandfather, a prominent citizen in the Columbus, Ohio, area, has a street named after him: Jack Gibbs Boulevard.
“I get texts every once in a while from people asking if that’s me,” says Gibbs. “I tell them it is, but they never really believe me. Then I tell them the real story.”
Gibbs wasn’t highly recruited coming out of Westerville North High, and his college prospects dimmed even more when he tore his anterior cruciate ligament in a game during his junior season. Davidson assistant coach Matt McKillop was scouting Gibbs that night and assured him afterward that Davidson still wanted him.
To that point, Gibbs had decided he wanted to play at a mid-major, anyway. In addition to watching Davidson in 2008, he was transfixed by Butler’s appearances in two consecutive NCAA championship games a few years later. Gibbs was also recruited by Creighton, where he says he was hosted on his visit by former Bluejays star Doug McDermott.
“I think there’s a lot of hype around going to the biggest school possible, and sometimes that’s not the best fit,” says Gibbs. “So I wasn’t looking for a huge school, even though when I tore my ACL it turned a lot of them away. I think that was a blessing in disguise.”
Gibbs saw limited action as a freshman at Davidson but emerged last season, when he averaged 16.2 points while missing seven games with another knee injury. One of the bigger moments of his sophomore season came when he hit a 3-pointer from the corner with 10 seconds remaining to beat Rhode Island.
This season, Gibbs has had to take his game up another level.
And as much as McKillop doesn’t want to make comparisons with Curry, the coach sometimes can’t help himself.
“When Stephen came here as a freshman, he was put in the role as the leading actor, singer and dancer of our production,” says the ever-descriptive McKillop, a native New Yorker who knows his way around Broadway. “With his performance, he moved us from the Sullivan Street (Playhouse downtown) to the Majestic Theater up in the Broadway district, where he played the leading role. That’s transferred for him to Golden State, where he’s in the same role.
“When Jack got here, he was a bit player. By the time he was a sophomore, he was one of the ‘Jersey Boys,’ we just didn’t know which one. Now he’s Frankie Valle.”
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