Trust, Commitment, Care: Jack Gibbs and his Davidson Career

Jonathan Swann – When Jack Gibbs ’17 was an incoming freshman on the Davidson basketball team, he, along with rising sophomore Jordan Barham ’16, decided to get TCC, Coach Bob McKillop’s mantra for the team, tattooed on his rib cage. This seems like a bold decision for an incoming freshman, but now, after the end of Gibbs’ marvelous Davidson career, no one can second-guess the decision. While the college basketball season is not quite over, Davidson’s season, and Gibbs’ career, ended with a 60-84 loss versus Rhode Island in the A-10 tournament semifinals. In that game, Gibbs capped his Davidson career by becoming the third leading scorer in Davidson basketball history with 2,036 points, passing Fred Hetzel, who played for the Wildcats in the 1960s. The leading scorer in Davidson history is a name familiar to everyone, Stephen Curry, while John Gerdy, who scored 2,483 points for the Wildcats in the 1970s, is in second place.

Gibbs finished his career by becoming the first Wildcat with at least 1,500 points, 400 rebounds, and 400 assists. He ranks first in program history in free throws made with 487 and is fourth alltime in 3-pointers made with 255. During his four-year career with Davidson, Gibbs became the face of the team through his prolific scoring, his playing style, and his leadership. Always aggressive, always willing to shoot (even if it meant launching a deep 3), and always setting up plays for his teammates, Gibbs led Davidson to new heights as a program.

There have been numerous articles throughout his career comparing him to Davidson’s last prolific scorer, Steph Curry; both are undersized point guards. While Steph Curry, as Coach McKillop said in an interview last year in the New York Times, is on a planet of his own, Gibbs certainly could be seen as being on a smaller celestial object of his own; perhaps a moon or asteroid, if you want to continue the metaphor. Curry’s playing style was one of swift dribbling, incredible passes, and arcing 3-pointers. Gibbs, shorter but more solidly built, relied more on curling around off-ball screens and driving to the basket through pick-and-rolls.

The Beginning

Let’s pause and rewind in time, over five years ago, when Gibbs was a junior in high school and going through the recruiting process. Assistant Coach at the time (now Associate Head Coach) Matt McKillop came to watch Gibbs at Westerville North High School, 15 miles north of Columbus, Ohio. It was the third game in the high school season. In that game, Gibbs tore his ACL in his left knee, which meant he was out for the rest of his junior year. A number of high-profile basketball schools were recruiting Jack at the time, but dropped out after the injury. But Davidson’s coaches never backed down from recruiting Gibbs. As Matt McKillop says now, “He made enough of impression on the coaching staff [that we] never thought twice about continuing to recruit him.” Commitment.

A relationship developed between Gibbs and his family and the Davidson coaching staff after the injury. As Gibbs says, the fact that Davidson never let up showed that they cared about him as a person, and that Davidson didn’t just want him for basketball. Gibbs returned his senior year and was named Ohio Gatorade Player of the Year. Gibbs took recruiting visits to other schools, and received offers from Wichita State and Creighton, among others, but in the end chose Davidson because of the continued interest Davidson showed in him, and also, he says, because when he visited campus, Davidson felt like a close-knit community. Care.

One story during the recruiting process that ties directly into the impact Gibbs would make on Davidson basketball is what he received when he arrived at Davidson during his visit. Somehow it became known during the recruiting process that Gibbs loved Kit-Kats, and therefore when he visited another school, that school gave him a big bag of Kit-Kats. When he visited Davidson, however, the coaching staff gave him a basketball. Why? Because the coaching staff wanted Gibbs to know that as a Wildcat, he would be given the reins to the program and would be able to lead the team. Trust.

His Four Seasons as a Wildcat

During his freshman year, Gibbs absorbed the intricacies of Coach McKillop’s high-powered motion offense. He improved throughout the year, learning from both the coaching staff and from other players on the team, including Tyler Kalinoski ’15, point guard Tom Droney ’14, Brian Sullivan ’16, and more.

Gibbs made his first appearance against Duke at Cameron Indoor, ultimately appearing in 32 contests off the bench and averaging 20 minutes a game. He scored in double figures ten times during the season, and was selected to the Southern Conference All-freshman Team at the end of the season. The Wildcats had a great season, but a disappointing finish as they lost to Western Carolina in OT in the Southern Conference semifinals and Missouri in the first round of the NIT.

In Davidson’s inaugural A-10 year, Gibbs was the starting point guard and was named the first sophomore team captain in Coach McKillop’s tenure at Davidson. Davidson concluded a magical season by winning the A-10 regular season title and receiving an at-large bid to the NCAA tournament for the first time ever.

Davidson was picked to finish last in the league in the coaches’ pre-season poll but Kalinoski, Sullivan, Gibbs, Peyton Aldridge ’18, and others fueled the team to victory throughout the season. Kalinoski was named the A-10 Player of the Year, with 16.7 points per game, a stellar 42% on 3-pointers, and a thrilling buzzer-beater lay-up versus La Salle to solidify Davidson’s at-large bid. Gibbs hurt his knee midway through the season, but came back to lead the Wildcats down the stretch and was named 2nd team All-Conference, averaging 16.8 points per game and leading the A-10 in assists and free-throw percentage. Commitment.

In the 2015-2016 season, Gibbs emerged as one of the top scorers in the country, averaging 23.5 points per game. However, in the second year in the A-10, expectations were higher for the Wildcats, yet A-10 teams had played Davidson once or twice before, meaning they could better prepare for the Wildcats. That, along with injuries suffered by Jake Belford ’16 and Barham, and early season-ending injuries to freshmen Kishawn Pritchett and Dusan Kovacevic, caused some struggles during the season. However, Gibbs, Sullivan, and Aldridge still led the Wildcats to a 20-13 record and a berth in the NIT. Gibbs had three 40-point games, including one with Steph in attendance, and had ten 30-point games, along with averaging nearly 5 assists per game.

During this past season, Gibbs averaged 22.1 points per game and was named A-10 1st team All-Conference. Although this year the team’s goal was a NCAA tournament berth, injuries were again a problem. In fact, Gibbs almost redshirted this year, which may be a surprise to many Davidson fans. Late October during practice, Gibbs sprained his left shoulder and the injury was serious enough that Gibbs told Coach McKillop he wanted to redshirt the season. But Coach McKillop put faith in him that he could play, and that was enough for Gibbs to decide not to redshirt. He and the coaches knew the risk of the shoulder popping out again, but, as Matt McKillop says, Gibbs didn’t want to disappoint the team and Davidson fans. As a result, Gibbs worked tirelessly rehabbing the shoulder, and he missed only the first game of the season. Trust, Commitment, and Care.

Gibbs was such a prolific scorer that the coaches didn’t run plays for him, knowing that Gibbs could create his own plays. They ran numerous plays for Aldridge, who has transformed into an extremely versatile player. Aldridge and Gibbs formed a formidable one-two punch for the Wildcats this season; they were the second highest scoring duo in the nation. Trust.

Injuries, the loss of Sullivan, the highest in-conference strength of schedule in the A-10, and the inability to close out tight games meant the Wildcats failed to receive a postseason berth this past season. However, Gibbs closed out his Davidson career with a flourish.

The Dayton Game

In the A-10 quarterfinals versus the number one seeded Dayton Flyers, Gibbs scored a season-high 34 points, and hit two pivotal three-pointers in the last minute of the game to Coach Bob McKillop has had high praise for the send the Flyers home. The game got heated midway through the second half as Gibbs, who broke his nose in February and wore a facemask as a result, felt he was elbowed in the nose by a Dayton player. After that play, Gibbs seemed to play with extra motivation. The game came down to the final couple possessions, and Gibbs says he wanted the ball in his hands as a senior: “[I] wanted to make plays for the team and if my Davidson career ended, it was going to end my way.” For Gibbs and Aldridge, the game was especially significant as both of them are from Ohio.

Matt McKillop believes the Dayton game vindicated Gibbs’ season. After continuously battling injuries, and not having the season the team had envisioned, Gibbs proved in the end he could never be counted out. The competitiveness and fire Gibbs brings to the court was something that A-10 teams always had to prepare for, and when it mattered, Gibbs showed that his fire was never going to go away. Commitment.

Looking Back while Moving Forward

As Gibbs reflects on his Davidson career, and looks to the next chapter of his life, he says he couldn’t have imagined the career he would have at Davidson when he committed to the school. Gibbs scored 800 points in high school, but he is now among the greatest Davidson players of all time with over 2,000 points. He says that is a testament to Coach McKillop, Matt McKillop, and all the other coaches and teammates he has had. Care.

Coach McKillop had this to say about Gibbs and his career with Davidson: “It’s easy to measure Jack’s significant contribution and place in the history of Davidson basketball by the extraordinary statistics that he had during his career. However, it’s the size of his heart that will forever be remembered by me as his greatest asset to our program. Jack was a fearless competitor and every time he took the court that was evident in the way he played. He always played with abandon and battled injuries constantly because of this fearlessness. I shake my head in amazement reflecting upon the statistics that he accomplished amidst the daily physical battles that he fought just to get on the court. He truly was a warrior.” Commitment.

Currently, Gibbs is talking to agents and preparing to play for the East Team in the Senior All- Star game in Phoenix, Arizona, this week, as well as the Portsmouth Invitational over Easter break, which invites the top 64 seniors in the country to play against each other. Hoping to play professionally, Gibbs has sought the advice of former Davidson players as well as the Davidson coaching staff. Trust.

Overall, he’s incredibly thankful that he decided to come to Davidson, and for the memories he has of playing basketball; he considers the team to be his second family. However, Gibbs says “In the end, basketball is just a game.” The people and relationships he has developed in his four years at Davidson seem far more important to him than basketball. He is already planning to return to campus once he graduates, no matter what his post-Davidson career turns out to be. Care.

Davidson basketball will move forward without the presence of Jack Gibbs on the floor every night, but the program was, and will most likely continue to be, shaped by the career of Jack Gibbs. From a diehard Davidson fan and current Davidson student, thank you Jack for the memories. You will always be a Davidson Wildcat.