By Greg Domorski
Special to www.SHUpirates.com
Point guard Sterling Gibbs couldn't help but smile as his fingers moved nimbly over the fabric of a Seton Hall jersey this fall.
It's a feeling he never thought he'd have again.
In 2010 point guard Sterling Gibbs, a 6-foot-1, 185-pound Scotch Plains native was like any other highly rated high school basketball player. He had a ton of offers due to his high basketball IQ and understanding of the game, plus his ability to put the ball in the basket. However what separated Gibbs from the rest of his peers was not what happened on the court, but the obstacles that lied ahead after his senior season at Seton Hall Prep.
After committing to the University of Maryland, the sudden retirement of longtime head coach Gary Williams made him rethink his decision. Instead he chose to go halfway across the country to the University of Texas.
However, after a year of challenges in the Big 12 conference, Gibbs did the unexpected. He packed his bags, left the team and headed home.
Gibbs noted he loved Texas. Especially due to a developed friendship with two notable former Longhorns in Oklahoma City Thunder small forward Kevin Durant and Indiana Pacers point guard D.J. Augustin. He enjoyed the competition, saying there was nothing that helped him more when it came to learning about college basketball. But Texas was still halfway across the country. Texas was not home.
So, after the season Gibbs looked back at his Seton Hall Prep roots and called up Seton Hall University assistant coach Shaheen Holloway asking for a chance to prove his abilities to the Pirates. It didn't take long for Holloway to say 'Yes'.
"I am grateful to have the opportunity to come home," Gibbs said, this week. "I am glad they accepted me here. I can't wait to put on a Seton Hall jersey again and represent our team and state to the fullest. I know I can help. I am willing to do whatever is needed to win games".
"I will work extra hard knowing the support of my family and my friends are all around me. At Texas, they knew my name but not exactly who I was. They didn't follow me through high school. Here that's different".
Unfortunately Seton Hall fans will have to wait until next season to see the Scotch Plains native, who will be the first Seton Hall Prep player to compete for Seton Hall University since shooting guard Jamar Nutter in 2003.
Gibbs originally wanted to play this season, but the NCAA denied his hardship waiver, which stated that moving closer to home was in part due to an ill relative. Still, despite Gibbs having to sit out 2012/13 it has not slowed him down one bit. In fact if anything he thinks it will aid him in his development of becoming a better college basketball player.
Sterling is allowed to practice with the team every day and has individual workouts with the coaches each morning. When Gibbs steps on the court, whether in practices or games it's more than just about scoring baskets or registering assists.
"I like competing against other players and just going at it," he said. "Going at it is not all about scoring. It's about making plays for your teammates. It is about knowing where to be on the court and how to give your team the best chance to win."
Gibbs competitive nature comes from his past, both in New Jersey and then Texas.
At the University of Texas Gibbs said he had the opportunity to learn from Augustin, who taught him how to make quick decisions under pressure and to better distribute the ball. And he said a player like Durant taught him how hard work is needed to dominate in college.
But back in New Jersey it's Gibbs' family that wants to see him excel at the college level more than anyone else.
Gibbs said father Temple and mother Jacqui plan on attending all his games next season. That will motivate him.
And growing up his brother Ashton, who went on to play for the University of Pittsburgh, pushed his younger sibling hard every day to become a better player.
Because of that Sterling now returns the favor with the help of Ashton to push the youngest member of the family T.J., a freshman in high school to reach his enormous potential.
Middle brother Sterling even admits that at a similar age Temple Jr is probably the best of the 'brothers Gibbs'.
"I am really tough on him because I know how tough Ashton was on me. I know he made me a better player and now I want to kind of return the favor and make my younger brother better too".
"He is way more talented then Ashton and I were at his age. Ashton and I have both accepted that, but we stay on him so he knows how hard you have to work in order to succeed at the next level."
Gibbs said he has also been pushing his Seton Hall family which includes his teammates, especially the point guards on the team, Aaron Crosby, Freddie Wilson and Tom Maayan. He said he wants everyone to get better this season even though he cannot be on the court with them.
Gibbs believes in this year's squad. "We'll be good, mark it down. Much better than most expect".
For Gibbs, an opportunity to practice with his teammates is great, but actually playing in front of his family and friends cannot come soon enough.
"I can't wait to play here in New Jersey again. Just being back in state where I grew up my whole life........well let's just say I have a connection. As much as I did love Texas, it was nothing like New Jersey. It is just great that I have the opportunity to play here again in front of my family, friends and everyone who is a Seton Hall fan."
"I left the area but found out how much I missed it. I can't thank coach Holloway and coach Willard enough for giving me this opportunity to right a wrong."