Almost before it started, budding Towson star Jason Gibson’s basketball career was possibly ending.
He was 8 years old playing AAU ball in his native Severna Park, Md., and the stress — thanks mostly to loud adults — was almost more than he could take. Thankfully, none of those adults were his parents. The Gibsons — Jason Sr. and Amber — knew basketball was supposed to be fun.
“When I was younger, I had bad anxiety at those games,” Gibson recalled. “I guess it was such a new environment that it was scary. My parents pushed me not to give up and that made me work harder until I overcame it.”
Now Gibson is scaring Towson opponents with a beautiful, innate game that looks like he has loved every bit of it all his life. Actually, he has, after overcoming those early doubts. Now he’s a curly-haired, baby-faced freshman assassin for the Tigers, who are 14-11 overall and 8-5 in the hardnosed Colonial Athletic Association.
The 6-foot-1 Gibson has been a fixture in the Tigers’ rotation from Day One this season. He is fourth on the team with 8.1 points per game, while shooting better than 37 percent from the field and dishing out the second-most assists. He’s a shooter who can bust open a game, and also he’s turning into a floor leader who can control the action.
“He’s the kind of player that gives you a sense of calmness and security as a coach that the ball is going to get to the right place at the right time,” Towson head coach Pat Skerry said. “He started out great, and then had a little bit of a lull against our tough schedule. But his body is changing, he’s getting stronger. You don’t always see that with young guys this time of year.”
Skerry gave Gibson a little bit of an anxious moment, too, though. Back when Gibson was on his way to leading Sidwell Friends to the District of Columbia State Athletic Association Class AA State title in 2019, Skerry was in the stands. The coach snuck out before the end of the game. Gibson was a little worried since he didn’t shoot particularly well that day. He fouled out, and his team won the title in overtime with him on the bench.
Turns out Skerry was running a little bit of a backdoor play to slip out unnoticed.
“Sometimes you do that because you don’t know who else is there and I didn’t want anyone else to know what I thought I knew,” Skerry said.
And what the veteran Towson coach knew was that he had found a player.
“I was excited,” Skerry said. “We needed a quarterback and I fell in love with him right away.”
The feeling was mutual.
“[Skerry] is the reason I came here. He told me my game would fit perfectly and he just told me to come and play confidently,” Gibson said. “He thought that I was a smart player, and while some people say I’m small, I play really hard. He doesn’t see that [size] as something that holds me back. That obviously gave me a lot of confidence.”
Gibson played 27 minutes and had 11 points in his collegiate debut against George Washington, and, in fact, was in double-figure scoring his first three games before the Tigers ran into No. 15 Florida to start a three-game losing streak.
College basketball can be a big adjustment for any freshman, but Gibson hasn’t been rattled. Once he found his way through that early anxiety of AAU, he was a legitimate star, finishing his Sidwell Friends career with 1,502 points. He was DCSAA Player of the Year and earned DCSAA State Tournament MVP honors in 2019, even if Skerry didn’t hang around to see him pick up the hardware.
Gibson averaged 18.9 points per game as a senior, and he has all the props and chops to raise his scoring average in college as his career continues to unfold.
“It has been an adjustment from high school,” Gibson admitted. “I’m usually the smallest guy on the court. The speed is a lot different. I’m just trying to get my IQ into my game, be a lot smarter and try to get my teammates open shots.”
His last six games, he is shooting 50 percent (24-of-48) from the field and 52 percent (13-of-25) from 3-point range, finding his own open shots. Gibson was named CAA Rookie of the Week Jan. 27 after scoring 13 points against Elon and a career-high 21 at William & Mary.
The Tigers continue to hang around the upper half of the CAA standings. It’s what Skerry’s teams do. Two of the Tigers’ last five conference games are at home, including a big clash with William & Mary Feb. 20, before the CAA Tournament March 7-10 at Washington, D.C.’s Entertainment & Sports Arena, the very site where Gibson made some magic about this time last year.
Skerry’s team will be ready, but he’s already thinking long term, too.
“I’m really pumped up thinking about what he can do this offseason,” said Skerry, thinking about Gibson’s work ethic translating to that big improvement most players make freshman to sophomore season. “He can blow up. He is going to be locked into doing that because he has the right mindset.”
Well, the right mindset ever since getting it together back as an 8-year-old baller.
“I can’t thank my parents enough,” he said of their big assist. “They weren’t like the other parents yelling and screaming. They didn’t handle it that way and it was the right thing for me.”
The Gibsons did let young Jason drop football, though.
“I had four touchdowns in my first game, but I didn’t like it,” Gibson said. “I didn’t like the contact, so I stayed with soccer and basketball.”
Good for the Gibsons.
And great for the Tigers.
All statistics are entering Towson’s non-conference game against Regent Feb. 12.
Photo Credit: Courtesy of Towson Athletics