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Pitt's Gibbs focused on senior year
There will be plenty of college memories that senior guard Ashton Gibbs, one of the top three-point shooters in the nation, will take with him when he graduates from the University of Pittsburgh this spring and, with luck, heads to the NBA.
Hanging with teammates at his campus apartment. Walking down Forbes Avenue for a late-night bite with friends: McDonald’s in the offseason, Quizno’s during the season. Heading on the college athlete version of study abroad, to Ireland with the Pitt team and to China for the World University Games.
The thing he’ll miss most? Gibbs pauses a moment to think. He’s sitting in the bowels of the Panthers' home arena — the Petersen Events Center — on campus. Then his eyes light up: He’ll miss those college times of doing something crazy just because. A couple weeks ago, he went to a T.G.I. Friday’s with his teammate Nick Rivers. At the restaurant, Gibbs proposed a small bet: That Rivers run the three miles back to their apartment. So Rivers ripped off his shirt and started jogging. Gibbs followed in his car, blasting music to pump him up, laughing his tail off.
Soon, these carefree times of college will be over. The 21-year-old’s college friends will enter the real world and start looking for a job. And Gibbs will enter the NBA draft, hoping a team will take a shot on a guard just over six feet tall who, after pulling his name out from last year’s draft, added strength and quickness and worked on his defense, all to impress NBA scouts. He’s been working so hard that coaches have told him to go home, stay away from the gym, get some rest.
The expectations for his senior year are high. His Panthers are 8-1 and ranked 15th in the nation, and the reserved Gibbs is their unquestioned leader. He was named the Preseason Big East Player of the Year, and he’s one of nine Big East players on the watch list for the Naismith Award for college basketball's best player.
Gibbs ranked third in the nation in three-point percentage last year at just shy of 50 percent, and he’s been compared to Jimmer Fredette, a similarly statured sharpshooter who was last year’s Naismith Award winner and was drafted 10th overall in June's NBA draft. Gibbs prefers to compare his game to Los Angeles Clippers guard Mo Williams or Golden State's Stephen Curry.
“I try not to think about the NBA too much,” Gibbs said. “I’m just going to keep playing my game. At the end of the day, we just need to win. The more they see you the better chance you have at the NBA, especially at the NCAA tournament.”
It’s hard, though, not to obsess over the next step. The questions wear on every college senior: What’s next? Do you have a job? What’ll you do with that shiny college degree?
You try and play it off, that feeling of uncertainty. But it clouds every moment.
“There are teams out there looking for guards who can make shots,” said Pitt assistant coach Brandin Knight. “Miami’s looking for a point guard. Miami has guys that are gonna make plays. They’re looking for a guy who can stand in the corner, or when guys double Wade or LeBron or Bosh, they have a guy that can make shots. With Ashton, it’s John Paxson, B.J. Armstrong — that’s who you are. Embrace it. He’s just gotta find the right place, the right fit.”
The kid is working on it. He watches YouTube highlights of his favorite NBA players every night, studying shooting technique and decision-making. He’s become a more confident field general, working on his court vision and penetration. He’s not sure if the future will be the NBA, or playing basketball in Europe, or coaching.
Yet it can be easy to forget, as Gibbs readies himself for Saturday's game against Oklahoma State at Madison Square Garden in New York City, that he’s still just a kid. He still snickers when he tells of his mother’s pride when she visited campus and people kept stopping Gibbs for autographs. He’s still closer to the kid who’d play competitive games of one-on-one with his younger brother, Sterling — now a freshman guard at Texas — and dent the family’s garage door with thrown balls and brotherly fights than he is an NBA star. He still shows up for an interview more than an hour late, saying he’d spent the past hour searching for his wallet until he finally found it in the crack of his bed.
And right now, he’s still gotta go to class.
Gibbs walks out of the arena, into the wet snow that just started falling, down the steep climb known as Cardiac Hill. He’ll miss college. He’ll miss the carefree times. He’ll miss Pitt’s statuesque Cathedral of Learning. He might even miss classes.
Gibbs turns into Allen Hall on campus and trudges into class. The night before, he’d scored 20 points in a blowout win against Virginia Military Institute, but his shooting had been erratic, hitting six of his 15 three-point attempts after an ice-cold first half. His shooting percentage has been down from the year before. He still has things to finish here. First, Gibbs wants to avenge last year’s early exit from the NCAA tournament. He wants to win a Big East title, a national title. He wants to soak in the last bits of college.
The rest? That can wait.
You can follow Reid Forgrave on Twitter @reidforgrave, become a fan on Facebook or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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