With Pittsburgh men's basketball coach Jamie Dixon at the helm, Ashton Gibbs was the primary starter at the point for Team USA during the FIBA under-19 world championship tournament recently in Auckland, New Zealand.
Gibbs averaged a team-high 22.4 minutes played and 9.8 points per game with 20 assists and just six turnovers, as Team USA went undefeated (9-0) on its way to the nation's first gold medal since 1991 in this event.
"It was a real good time for me, actually, a really great experience,'' Gibbs said. "It was my first time out of the country, so it was great for me on the court and off it as well. It was really enjoyable. (And) I knew a lot of the guys from AAU ball and playing my first season at Pitt, so that was good.
"And having Dixon as a coach, that was beneficial to me, too. Our practices were really tough, and the other guys were complaining. But I just told them that Coach knows what he's doing, and it would pay off for us in the end. And it did, because we won the gold medal. And that was a great feeling.''
While there certainly was much celebration and jubilation when Team USA secured the gold, they weren't the only things Gibbs experienced.
"When that final horn sounded, it was just a feeling of relief for me,'' Gibbs said. "I was elated, but also relieved because we were working so hard and practicing two-a-days in the beginning to get ready for the tournament. And we kept working hard right along during the event, so it was tough.
"We really didn't get that much of a break for 2-3 weeks, but all that hard work paid off in the end. And that was the relief for me. We didn't want to let our country down, and we didn't. We were able to come home with the gold. I was third, I think, in scoring. And I played the most minutes. I was in the top two in assists and only had six turnovers. So, I definitely did my part.''
And as he proved late into Big East play, as well as the Conference and NCAA tournaments, Gibbs got stronger with every game. This should bode well for Pitt during the next three seasons.
"This was an opportunity for me to showcase my abilities with some of the best young players in the country,'' Gibbs said. "And we went up against some pretty good competition over there, especially at the end in the medal round. So, it definitely was something that I hope takes me a long way.
"And I hope it was just the beginning for me. I want to take another step this season at Pitt. So, it was good for me to start at point guard. I believe that I proved I could play the position and be able to handle in the Big East. I know some people had questions about that, but I think I proved myself.''
While Gibbs practically was mistake-free as a point guard and at the defensive end, he didn't light it up on offense. Gibbs canned 12 of 38 shots from 3-point range, he had his moments from long range with the Panthers last season. And as his playing time increased, Gibbs play improved as well.
"Dixon just told me to take what the defense gives me, so that's what I did,'' Gibbs said. "I didn't want to force my shot, but I still got off some good shots. And I also was able to get my teammates involved, but that's just the role of the point guard. So, there was a little bit of everything for me.''
"It was a great atmosphere over there, one that I really tried to soak up. It's an experience I'll never forget. We played a lot of basketball, with practices and then the games in the tournament, but we had some fun, too. New Zealand is beautiful, and we just enjoyed our time together over there.''
It wasn't all fun and games for Team USA, however, and the wicked two-a-day practice sessions were more than many U.S. players could handle. Gibbs assured them that Dixon knew what he was doing and believed the gold medal was in reach before they even played a game.
"We pretty much were able to handle the teams in our bracket, but once we got into the medal round the game's got tougher,'' Gibbs said. "And that's the way we thought it would be. Our coaches knew what to expect, and that's why we picked up our defense down the stretch in the medal round.
"That was a big difference for us. Sure, we hit some shots, but we had some rough games in that area, too. So, we had to fall back on our defense and rebounding and aggressiveness, just like we do sometimes at Pitt. And I really think it's the reason that we eventually won the gold medal.''
Gibbs returned to Pittsburgh Friday after a brief stay in his hometown, but like his Panthers teammates there's hardly any rest for the weary. Even though Pitt lost four starters from last season, including NBA second-round draft picks Sam Young and DeJuan Blair, Gibbs believed returning and new players would not take a step back for the program.
"I'll get right back at it, working out to get ready for this season,'' Gibbs said, "just like all the other returning players. And the freshmen have been at it for a while, too. So, we'll be working hard with our trainers to increase our strength and endurance and keep our conditioning up for the upcoming season.
"And, of course, I'll be in the gym, too, working on my individual game and getting in on some pick-up games with my teammates. We'll work a lot together to get ready for this season, because we have a lot build on after last season. And we lost four starters, so we'll have our work cut out for us.
"But we'll be all right,'' Gibbs added. "We have a lot of talented guys left and a bunch coming in this year, so we'll basically be pretty young. But we'll have some talent. That's for sure, and all the young guys -- and Jermaine Dixon -- we're looking forward to stepping up our games for this season.''
And after his recent performance in international competition, Gibbs is ready to lead the Pitt men's basketball program to the next level.
Gibbs Ready For Starting Role At Pitt
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