Published Wednesday, October 30, 2013 at 9:19 pm / Updated at 11:07 pm
BASKETBALL
Shatel: Sixth year a gift for Gibbs ... and for us

Rejoice, all ye old-schoolers who've had enough of the one-and-done player in college basketball. Stand and cheer, you kings of the Wednesday night beer league, who would give anything to pull the uniform on one more time.

You have a hero.

His name is Grant Gibbs. And he's the anti-Andrew Wiggins.

Wiggins is a freshman hoop prodigy at Kansas, for about an hour, until he skywalks to the NBA.

Gibbs is the complete opposite of Wiggins. He's a six-and-done player.

He's 24 years old. He had a full career, five years including a redshirt year. He was ready to say bon voyage, off to pro ball in Europe, or start the clock on his coaching career.

But on Friday night, Gibbs will be back in a Creighton uniform, back in the CenturyLink Center. You only live twice.

Give it up to the NCAA, which stunned everyone last summer when it gave Gibbs and his two bad knees a rare sixth year of eligibility.

For a lover of the gym, it was like a gift. And that's how Gibbs sees this extra year of being around college basketball.

“Not many people get to look back, when you think it's over, and then get granted another year,” Gibbs said. “I didn't have any regrets, but it really was a gift to get one more shot.”

To each his own. The kids like Wiggins, like the wonder boys at Kentucky, use the college hardwood for one year of polish. Some hate the idea. Some say one year is better than none.

The college purists can rally around a guy like Gibbs. He's their mascot.

Small-town kid, sees the game like a coach, grinder, couple of bad knees, does little things to win games. That guy.

That guy with the game in his veins, that guy who will end up playing lunch-hour pickup games, and turning them into Creighton vs. Wichita State.

That guy got Christmas early, a chance to get cortisone shots, sleep in hotels and be a player — and teammate — one more time.

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“The camaraderie, being around the team, the locker room, the buses and hotels and games,” Gibbs said. “All those things. You want to be part of that as long as you can.

“I think I see things more from a coach's perspective than most players. I enjoy the daily challenge of a new opponent. Watching film, doing game plans and scouting reports. Those are things I enjoy.”

Gibbs has a graduate major in integrated leadership. He might as well be majoring in being the next Red Auerbach or Mike Krzyzewski.

He wants to coach, and this is an extra year of on-the-job training. Like a graduate assistant who plays. A player-coach, without the pay.

“That's my main job here, to be an extension of the coaching staff,” Gibbs said. “At times coaches forget what it was like when they were players. And when you're young, you have no idea what the coaches expect.

“Like after you win, you can have a brutal practice the next day. The young guy's going, we just won last night. But from the coaches' perspective, we can't coast through the next day.”

The only problem with this role is figuring out which table to sit at for dinner. These freshmen were entering eighth grade when Gibbs started college.

“I don't sit with the coaches, but I probably could,” Gibbs said. “I'll sit with the operations guys, the managers, guys who were in my graduating class. I've noticed with the recruits coming in, there's a definite generation gap.”

They're probably thinking, who's this old guy with the bad knees?

The knees are better. Yes, Gibbs had a cortisone shot the other day. But he says he feels healthier, thanks to an improved diet, a leg-muscle stimulator in the weight room, and his new training regimen.

“Yoga,” Gibbs said. “It's helped a lot, in my flexibility and strength. I try not to jinx myself, but this year has been the best preseason I've had health-wise.”

Beware the old yoga man who looks like he belongs at the 'Y.' That's a great thing about Gibbs' return. Watching the reaction of Big East teams and fans when Gibbs and Co. walk onto the court.

It will look like a scene from “White Men Can't Jump.” Who are these guys from the Missouri Valley? Got to be kidding, right?

“We're not going to scare anybody in warm-ups,” Gibbs said. “We're going to catch a lot of flak from opposing fans.

“But that's what we like.”

It would be the perfect sort of Gibbs way to go out, pulling the rug out from beneath Georgetown or Marquette. He's got a little con man, a little Danny Ainge and Bill Laimbeer in his game. Doesn't look like much, until you see the bounce passes and tipped balls and sleight-of-hand rebounds. A wink and an inbounds pass off an unsuspecting foe's backside.

It's that way with Gibbs' legacy, too. Where does he fit in Creighton history? In two seasons, he's eighth on CU's all-time assists chart. He's part of two teams that went 57-14, with one Valley regular-season title and two league tourney championships, and two NCAA tourney wins.

He's not a top 10 all-time Jay. Top 15? Top 20? Creighton Athletic Director Bruce Rasmussen, who has been at the school since 1980, compares Gibbs to former point guard Ryan Sears.

“I consider Ryan the No. 1 influential player since (1980),” Rasmussen said. “You could take Ryan and four chairs and you're going to win. Doug (McDermott) may take that place after this season.

“I put Grant in the same category as Sears. His influence on the game. He doesn't put up big numbers, but he has a major impact on the game. He finds a way to win.

“There are five levels of players. Grant is what I call a “Level 5” player. Level one, you figure out what you do. Level two, what the team is supposed to do. Three, who you're guarding. Four, What the other team is going to do.

“Level five is when you know how the game changes what you, your team and the other team do as the game is going on.”

Maybe then, he's about to enter Level Six.

Contact the writer: Tom Shatel

tom.shatel@owh.com    |   402-444-1025    |  

Tom Shatel is a sports columnist who covers the city, regional and state scene.

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