March 3, 2014
By Sean Brennan
Special to BIGEAST.com
The year was 2008.
George W. Bush was still having his mail delivered to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, "Kung Fu Panda" was racking up big bucks at the box office, the Queens Elizabeth 2 was making her final voyage and the Detroit Lions were just about done putting the finishing touches on the NFL's first ever winless 16-game season.
It was also the start of Grant Gibbs' long, strange trip through college basketball.
"It's been quite the journey," Gibbs said.
Gibbs is one of the rarest of college players. The Creighton Bluejays senior has played for two of college basketball's most successful programs (he began his career at Gonzaga in 2008), has been part of more than 100 college wins and is adding to those totals in what is now his sixth season of eligibility.
But it hasn't always been a joyride for the 24-year old Gibbs. We'll let him fill in the details.
"Well, I missed my freshman year at Gonzaga with a shoulder injury when I had a torn labrum," Gibbs said. "Then I had a procedure done on my knee after my sophomore year (before he transferred to Creighton). But right around the time I transferred when I was rehabbing from that procedure it just didn't feel right. The procedure didn't really do what I had anticipated. I was still having a lot of pain so I wound up having another surgery, a major one on my patella which put me out the whole year."
That year was the 2010-11 season which Gibbs would have had to sit out anyway as a transfer. But the multiple surgeries left Gibbs to wonder if a long playing career was in the cards for him.
"When I transferred I had had so many injury problems that it was hard to foresee where my career was going to go," Gibbs said.
But after two solid seasons in 2011-12, where Gibbs led the Missouri Valley Conference with 176 assists, and 2012-13, where his 210 assists were the most by a Bluejays player since the 1973-74 season, Gibbs appeared ready to ride off into the college sunset with his little piece of Creighton history tucked in his back pocket.
That's when Gibbs and Creighton decided to petition the NCAA for that rare sixth year of eligibility and a chance to extend Gibbs' injury-riddled career one more season. It was a `Hail Mary' pass for sure.
"We applied pretty late for it and I don't think anyone around the team thought my odds were very high of winning," Gibbs said. "But I was perfectly fine exploring the possibility and seeing if I could get another year."
The reasons for Gibbs' hopeful return were twofold. First, there was the opportunity to play in the BIG EAST this season and second, the chance for one more go-around with his friend, Doug McDermott, who had passed on a chance to leave for the NBA after his junior season for one more year in Omaha.
"I think Doug coming back was the biggest factor," Gibbs said. "If he doesn't come back we probably don't apply for the waiver because I wouldn't be a guy that would step in and become the leading scorer or anything like that. I think me and Doug's chemistry and the way we work together and the fact that he was coming back, it made more sense for me to apply for the extra year and play one more season. And obviously the allure of playing in the BIG EAST also had something to do with it."
The waiting game on a decision dragged on for what seemed an eternity for Gibbs until a phone call to the Creighton basketball offices last July.
"The one magical day we got word that I had been given another year," was how Gibbs put it. And a chance for Gibbs to become the answer to a trivia question. Because the addition of Gibbs to the Creighton roster nudged the Bluejays over their scholarship limit, someone was going to be forced to relinquish theirs and that someone turned out to be Doug McDermott.
"It's a pretty unique situation," Gibbs said with a laugh. "I made Doug the best walk-on in the history of college basketball. But jokes aside, it was obviously a tremendous gesture by Doug and coach Mac (head coach Greg McDermott) who pretty much volunteered to pay for my school for another year so I could play so I'm extremely blessed for that opportunity. But it just shows, character-wise, the kind of person Coach Mac is and Doug too. I'm very grateful to them for this opportunity."
Finally, the planets all seemed aligned for Gibbs' final college basketball run. And when Creighton jumped out to a 12-2 start to its season, and 3-0 in the BIG EAST, you wondered if a Hollywood ending was in the offing.
Until the night of January 7, that is, when Gibbs crumpled to the floor in a game at DePaul and the fairytale ending seemed to go down with him.
"It was one of those moments where the knee joint went the wrong way and I was in a lot of pain," Gibbs recalled. "I'm lying there thinking, `So this is how it's going to end after everything I've been though.' We were having a great start to our season but all signs pointed to it being very, very bad."
Gibbs thought that Creighton's 81-62 win that night would be the final one of his career unless an MRI the next day said otherwise. Gibbs needed another `Hail Mary,' especially after getting an initial diagnosis.
"The first doctor that was at the DePaul game said, `that doesn't look very good. It's probably an ACL (injury),'" Gibbs said. "Then we saw our team doctor the next day right before we got the MRI and even he wasn't optimistic. But thank God the MRI showed it was just a dislocation of the knee cap and nothing was torn. I dodged a bullet."
Four weeks on the shelf never felt so good to Gibbs.
Since Gibbs' return in early February Creighton has continued to flourish. The Bluejays have been ranked as high as No. 9 in the country, they are battling Villanova for the BIG EAST regular-season crown and another NCAA Tournament invitation has already been printed.
Along the way Gibbs has logged 477 assists (through March 1) to move into fourth place on Creighton's all-time list and that Hollywood ending can still be scripted. Yes, after six seasons, two schools, multiple injuries and a boat load of assists, it is good to be Grant Gibbs.
"I've been really fortunate," Gibbs said. "Coach Mac has really been the biggest part of my career. First getting me healthy but then also carving out a spot for me to play the way I way. Obviously playing with an elite scorer and a lot of guys that can really shoot it, it really has been a perfect marriage for me in terms of what I do. It would be hard for me to imagine having the career that I've had just because when I got here things looked pretty grim overall. But I've been fortunate the way things have worked out and being able to find a niche on a team that has won a lot of games."
In fact, Gibbs' career record in his Creighton stint is a sterling 80-19 heading into Tuesday night's game at Georgetown (7 p.m. tip off on Fox Sports 1).
There are still hurdles to clear now that March is here - there's that battle for the BIG EAST regular-season title as well as the conference tournament crown and an expected deep run in the NCAA Tournament. And he also has to dodge Mrs. McDermott, Doug's mom and Greg's wife, who is helping to foot the bill for Gibbs' final season at Creighton.
"She has jokingly reminded me a couple of times that I owe her a hefty amount of money once my career is over," Gibbs said laughing.
And, of course, there will be what is expected to be an emotional Senior Night on March 8 when Gibbs will play before the home crowd at the CenturyLink Center for the final time with fellow seniors McDermott, Ethan Wragge and Jahenns Manigat. It will be Gibbs' second Senior Night, actually. One of the perks of sticking around for six seasons.
"I think you just got to savor every day," Gibbs said. "I don't have a lot of practices left and even less games so to be able to come back and have one more year after thinking I was done has been a special situation and I definitely value each day here. Senior Night is going to be something. You're looking at a group of guys - Doug, Ethan and Jahenns - it's crazy to see how far we've come in four years and how much we've been able to accomplish. It's been quite the journey for all of us individually but we've also grown so much as a group. It's definitely been a special experience."