Catching Up With Ashton Gibbs
November 1, 2012
Like most American guys who pick up a basketball as a kid, Ashton Gibbs dreamed of playing in the NBA one day. In fact, the 6-2 guard from the University of Pittsburgh was hoping he’d be on a roster when the league began play on Tuesday night.
His dream, however, has been delayed. Instead of adjusting to life as an NBA rookie, Gibbs is adjusting to life as a European professional and an expatriate living in one of the world’s oldest cities: Athens, Greece.
USA Basketball recently caught up with Gibbs via email to find out how he’s adapting to living and playing overseas.
“(The) biggest adjustment has been living by myself, so keeping myself busy besides basketball,” wrote Gibbs. “I had a roommate in college, so it was different. On the court, defense is different and the 24-second shot clock as well, so you have to move quicker.”
This isn’t the first time Gibbs has played competitively under FIBA’s rules.
Gibbs got his first taste of international basketball as a member of the 2009 USA Basketball U19 World Championship Team that stunned the world when it captured the USA’s first gold medal at the event in 18 years. Playing in New Zealand, the U.S. squad advanced out of preliminary play unscathed with a perfect 5-0 mark before downing Canada 93-73 in the quarterfinals. Croatia stood in the way of the U.S. advancing to the gold medal contest, but 11 points from Gibbs helped his squad clip Croatia 81-77. The gold medal contest was a rematch against Greece, which the USA topped 85-69 in preliminary play. Gibbs, who was the USA’s fourth-leading scorer overall with 9.8 points a contest, scored 13 points as the Americas earned gold by defeating Greece 88-80.
Following on the heels of his 2009 U19 experience, Gibbs upped his scoring at Pitt by 11.4 points a game and was tabbed the 2010 Big East Conference Most Improved Player and to the All-Big East second team. Continuing to improve his game, Gibbs following his junior season was tabbed a 2011 Associated Press All-America honorable mention and All-Big East Conference selection.
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That summer he was selected to his second USA Basketball Team – the 2011 USA World University Games Team – and traveled to Shenzhen, China, in hopes of winning another gold medal. However, those hopes were dashed by Lithuania in the quarterfinals. Plagued by ice-cold shooting, including 0-of-14 from 3-point in the second half, the Americans, which received 16 points from Gibbs, fell to the Europeans 76-74 and were relegated to play for fifth place at best. The U.S. men did not hang their heads, instead they came out strong and downed Romania 94-80 before going down to the wire against Germany to take an 86-83 victory and fifth place. The U.S., which posted the best record in the tournament at 7-1, saw Gibbs contribute a team third-best 11.6 ppg., while dishing out a team-high 18 assists.
Upon completion of his senior season, during which Gibbs averaged 14.6 ppg., he went undrafted, and signed this summer to play for Panionios in Athens, Greece, where he still harbors hopes of achieving his NBA dreams.
While he only had 17 international games under his belt before starting with Panionios, some of those games were extremely hard-fought and physical.
“(Those games) helped me a lot because I know now that I can play with all types of players and in different systems,” he wrote. “The rules were easy to pick up on since I played internationally for those two summers.
“I actually have two players that played on the Greek team we beat in the championship in New Zealand on my team now.”
Gibbs arrived in Athens about two months ago, landing the day the 2012 USA 3x3 World Championship Teams were departing, and he said he has enjoyed the experience so far. He readily admits it took some time to adjust to the seven-hour time difference, but didn’t fall into the rut many Americans face when arriving overseas: not adjusting their internal clocks to the local time, but communicating with folks back home at all hours of the night.
“I've adjusted to the time now but it took me a while. I was up all night talking with family and friends for a few weeks, but I slowly got adjusted.”
His team is 3-0 in the Greek league, in which the club finished third last season, and it opens EuroCup play on Nov. 7 against Belguim side Telenet Oostende.
Averaging 10.3 ppg. in his first three contests, Gibbs likes his team’s chances this season.
“My expectations are very high,” he said. “We have a young team, but we're talented and play hard on every possession. The best is yet to come for our club.
“I love it here in Athens, Greece,” he added. “(It’s) one of the best countries I've been to, and they love basketball out here so that makes it even better. It's been a great start on and off the court, so hopefully it only gets better moving forward.”
Gibbs is not only hoping for a successful season in the two leagues in which Panoinois competes, he’s striving to improve his game so that eventually he’ll be signed to one of the 30 NBA rosters. Before that happens, he acknowledges that he has areas to work on, including “still to become a complete guard overall. My coaches out here are definitely helping me expand my game and IQ of where to go in certain situations of the game. So, I'm getting better and hopefully I can make it in the near future.”
What else did Ashton have to say about life in the cradle of Western Civilization and other subjects? Read below for more of the interview.
How long have you been in Athens?
“I have been Athens for about two months and it's been a wonderful experience so far. The food and the weather are second to none in Europe.”
Did you know the other Americans on your team before arriving, or know any others who are also playing in Athens? Do you socialize with the expat community or are you mostly sticking with other basketball players?
“No, I didn't know any of the Americans on my team before I came, but once I got here we all connected instantly, which made it easier on the court. I don't know anybody else playing in Athens, but I'm starting to meet some of them as we play against teams with Americans. I talk to regular people in Athens though. I've met some U.S. Marines that are staying out here and some Americans who married Greeks, so they're are actually living here full time now.”
What do you do when you're not playing/practicing? Have you explored the historical areas yet?
“Yes, I have explored the area. My mom and cousin just came out here, and we went to the Acropolis Museum, the area of Korinth, and different shopping areas around the city. (I’m) slowly working my way around the area.”
How are you keeping in touch with family & friends?
“I usually use Skype to keep in touch with my family and friends but I just bought a Greek phone that I can make calls with to anyone back in that U.S., so that makes it a little easier for me.”
Are you still close with some of your Pitt teammates and do you have a Slingbox or something else set up to watch the team this year?
“I don't talk to them as much as I did when I was back in the U.S. I'm seven hours ahead, so it's a little tough to communicate but I just got the Slingbox so I'll be tuned in to the games. This should a big year for those guys.”
Your brother Sterling, who was a member of two USA Basketball teams, transferred from Texas to Seton Hall this summer. Did you give him any words of advice after he was denied the hardship transfer request and now must sit out the year?
“I told him to use it as a year to sharpen his skills on and off the court. Getting an extra year can help him get ahead in the classroom, and become a better student of the game by watching, and studying tendencies that guys have, so he'll be more than ready when he steps on the court next year.”
This summer USA Basketball will field teams for the U19 World Championship and World University Games. What kind of advice do you have for guys who want to play on one of those teams and what can you say about the competition you faced?
“They just have to play hard when you put that USA jersey because everybody will be gunning for you. Some teams don't even care if they win it all, but if they beat the USA then they feel like it’s a mission accomplished. It's a great honor to play for your country against the best players in the world, so you should act like it every time you're on the court.”