You’d never guess it by watching him orchestrate another Champlin Park victory, but there was a time when senior point guard J.T. Gibson and basketball were on the outs.
Gibson is a lifelong basketball junkie, but his eighth-grade year was one disaster after another. It got so bad that he even thought about the unthinkable: quitting.
“I couldn’t do anything right,” Gibson recalled. “It was a bad year. Everything went wrong. I really wanted to quit.”
He didn’t, but in the course of examining his basketball path, Gibson almost left his hometown of Brooklyn Park and all of his basketball buddies. High school hoops power Hopkins shone like a beacon on the western horizon, and Gibson nearly went into the light.
“I had my paperwork all ready, and I was going to transfer there,” he said. “But I thought about it, and about two weeks before school started, I decided I didn’t want to leave all my friends.”
That decision has paid off handsomely for Gibson, selected as the Star Tribune’s Metro Player of the Year, and the Champlin Park faithful. The Rebels are having their best season in team history: undefeated (29-0), ranked No. 1 in Class 4A and considered the favorite to win the state championship.
Gibson’s physical skills are more than enough to justify his selection. He’s a terrific slasher who can blow past defenders. He’s a 47-percent shooter from beyond the three-point arc who has an uncanny ability to come up with a clutch basket. He runs the break with precision, passes as well as he shoots (4.5 assists per game) and leads the team in scoring, averaging about 19 points per game.
Champlin Park has plenty of others capable of those types of numbers. All four of the Rebels’ starting guards — seniors Gibson, Marty Hill, Jeremy Johnson and sophomore McKinley Wright — would be the linchpin to most high-school offenses. Sophomore forward Theo John is a budding talent whose college recruitment is likely to get Tyus Jones-like scrutiny over the next couple of seasons.
But more than a few talented teams have imploded under the weight of personal goals. That’s where Gibson’s value as a leader elevates him among this season’s top prep basketball talent.
“He’s the type of player that can score 30 a night, but at the same time, he’s a very unselfish player,” coach Mark Tuchscherer said. “He not only does great things on the floor individually, but he makes his teammates better as well.”
That sums up Gibson’s motivation. He stuck around home, forgoing what looked to be a sure thing in the hope of accomplishing big things with his lifelong friends. Now, that dream is looking most possible.
“When we all came back together at the same middle school in seventh grade, we talked about winning state together,” said Gibson, who has signed a national letter of intent to play at Nebraska-Omaha. “That’s been our dream. There are no regrets. This team is like my family. I’ve never had more fun than this year.”