NBA Saturday: The Perks of College Experience
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Taj Gibson Proves Benefits of Long College Career
In today’s NBA, lottery teams are very likely taking 19-year-old former college freshmen with their top selections in future drafts, mostly because those premier talents are anxious and deserving of the opportunity to get worldwide fame and unfathomable riches.
But Chicago Bulls power forward Taj Gibson, who in his rookie season was a ripe 24 years old, passed up his own opportunity to do the one-and-done thing in college. For him, the reason to stay at USC was unbelievably simple:
“To be honest,” he said. “I was really into school.”
Not that Andrew Wiggins and Jabari Parker and Julius Randle aren’t happy to be at their respective universities, but they know they’re on short-term leases there. Gibson, however, isn’t sure they should be quite so anxious to leave.
“Most players don’t understand. They are so focused on making it to the league,” Gibson said. “College is so fun. You don’t have any worries. You wake up, go to class, have fun. You don’t understand that when you get to the pros, it’s not always fun.
“I see all these guys leaving early for the pros, and they just don’t understand that it’s not what it seems,” Gibson continued. “It’s not how it used to be, where you’d get four years guaranteed coming out. Nowadays, guys are getting at most a two-year guarantee as a first-round pick. You’re not even guaranteed if you’re second-round pick. It’s so tough. What’s the hurry?”
Gibson remembers after his own strong freshman year, USC head coach Tim Floyd pulled him aside and talked through his chances at getting drafted the following summer. Gibson didn’t bolt, and he’s still extremely happy with the way things played out.
“I think about it all the time at night,” he said. “I could have left. I had a chance to leave USC my freshman year, which was my best year. I got a lot of slack for not leaving, especially because my next season was rough.”
And that, he admits was a risk he understood even then. He also understands that it’s a risk that more highly-touted youngsters face when making their own decisions, but that doesn’t change the fact that things worked out just about as perfectly for Gibson as they possibly could. Part of that was his extensive college experience.
“I was blessed to be put in a situation where I was on a winning team,” Gibson said. “But I was ready to play for that team because I had been in a system with a pro-style coach who really taught me the ins and outs of the NBA, how to handle myself.
“And this organization is first-class. The players we had on the team were unselfish. Everybody on the team only had one goal, and that was to win. We’ve never complained. We’ve never gone towards the media. It’s always smiles. Any given night somebody could step up, and everybody on that bench is happy for them. That’s what is so great about this team.”
His path was not a typical one—getting into college as a 21-year-old freshman, then ending up on a playoff team as a late first-round pick—but Gibson has shown that a high-character, high-talent kid can still stick around for multiple years of college and find his way in the league.
“I never thought I would have a chance to go to the NBA. I love basketball—and there are people in this league who don’t really love basketball—but I really love basketball, and when I went to USC I was just happy to get into school. I worked hard, and I wanted to work on my academics. After that first year, we blew up, and I had the chance to leave. Coach Floyd told me I could’ve left, but I chose to stay and just learn more. I just thought, ‘I’m going to stay. The NBA will be there if it’s mean to be there.’”
Clearly, it was meant to be there.
The start of the college basketball season is right around the corner! This season the NCAA will feature one of the most intriguing potential draft classes since John Wall and Paul George were still in college. Click here to read in-depth profiles on the top 40 prospects for the 2014 NBA Draft!
Tom Thibodeau Defends Big Minutes for Starters
Nobody has played more minutes per game in the last two seasons than Chicago Bulls small forward Luol Deng, who has led the category for two years running. Three seasons ago, Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau’s first season with the team, Deng finished fourth in that category.
Thibodeau is the one who gets the blame for these huge minutes, just like he shouldered some of the burden (at least from media and fans) for keeping Derrick Rose in the game too long when he injured his ACL a year and a half ago.
Since that time, he’s received nothing but flak for how much emphasis he seems to put on the regular season, and for how many minutes he plays his starters. There are some who suggest that he’s wearing them too thin, that he should try resting his best players more often rather than sacrificing their health for seemingly meaningless regular season contests.
Thibodeau, predictably, doesn’t see it that way. And he might have a point.
“You’re building winning habits all season long, and if you try to establish your habits when you get to the playoffs, I don’t know what you get done there. It’s too late at that point,” Thibodeau said before Friday night’s preseason finale against the Denver Nuggets.
“The challenge is to be playing your best at the end. You always begin with the end in mind,” he added. “When you study championship teams you see certain trends. You talk to guys like (Michael) Jordan, Paul Pierce, (Tim) Duncan early in his career, those guys conditioned themselves to play big minutes. Pippen played big minutes here. Sometimes you start pacing yourself, you can get yourself in trouble.
In other words, don’t take your foot off the gas once you’ve found a good speed. It’s a reasonable mantra, and one that Thibodeau thinks has very little to do with injuries.
“When a guy plays 20 minutes a game and gets hurt, does anyone say he got hurt because he’s not playing enough?” Thibodeau asked rhetorically. “Injuries are part of the game, so you have to do all the things necessary to condition yourself to go through a long season. It’s very competitive.”
And competition, according to Thibodeau, is exactly why Luol Deng will likely be among the league’s leaders in minutes per game this coming season.
“When you look at the makeup of teams, a guy like LeBron, a guy like Durant, a guy like Paul George—they’re going to play big minutes. Most teams have two or three guys that play a long time. When we were in Boston, we won a championship, and then we cut Garnett’s minutes. But we didn’t cut Ray Allen’s minutes, and we didn’t cut Paul Pierce’s minutes. They had to play big minutes. Your best players are going to be on the floor.”
That’s the bottom line for the Bulls’ head coach, which means very little is likely to change in terms of how he approaches the regular season. He’s not over-valuing the regular season, as some suggest; he’s using it to establish a rhythm. Once that has been accomplished, he simply doesn’t want to lose it.
There’s rationality in that, even if it occasionally comes with a few extra bumps and bruises. That is a risk Thibodeau is willing to take to build a championship team.
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