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NJIT’s Gibbs relies on relentless work ethic to help him on and off the court

Shyquan Gibbs succeeded on and off the court for the NJIT Highlanders basketball team.

Born and bred in Hillside, New Jersey, it did not take too long for Shyquan Gibbs to find a passion for the game of basketball. Helped by the fact Gibbs’ brother, sister, father, grandfather, and cousins were athletes. His father coached high school basketball at Henry Snyder High School and played on the St. Peter’s University basketball team, where he finished fourth on all the all-time scoring career list and is a member of the school’s Athletic Hall of Fame. Gibbs started playing hoops at the ripe age of three years old.

Attending Academy I Middle School in Jersey City, Gibbs played on the school’s basketball team that won the city tournament during his 8th-grade year and finished seventh in the country at the nationals. Gibbs also got the opportunity to play on the AAU F.A.C.E.S. team coached by Robert Cole and Shelton Gibbs from the age of 7 to 14. The team traveled all around the country, going up against prospects in Donovan Mitchell, Eric Paschall, Tyus Battle, and De’Aaron Fox.

Moving on to St. Anthony’s High School, Gibbs played under Hall of Fame Coach Bob Hurley Sr. Gibbs was part of the Friars squad that went 28-2 in his junior year as St. Anthony’s won their sixth consecutive Non-Public B Championship. However, the pinnacle of success for the school would occur in Gibbs senior year with the team going undefeated at 26-0, winning a state championship, the Tournament of Champions, named the Number 1 team in New Jersey and fourth in the nation by the USA Today. Gibbs’ personal achievement would come in the form of being one of the Top 25 players in New Jersey by NJHoops.com

“I love Coach Hurley and his family and very thankful for what they have done for me,” said Gibbs. “Everybody sees the yelling, being very demanding, but he loves each and every one of his players. I absolutely mean it when I say that man loves every last one of his players and wholeheartedly means it. Some people misunderstand him because they see the yelling or how hard he is, but that was completely and strictly out of love.”

“For me personally, my brother went to St. Anthony’s as well, won a state championship, went undefeated and won the Tournament of Champions. It’s something to live up to. A bar has been really set high, and at 15, 16, and 17, you want to reach those expectations” It could be a lot, but that’s the point of life. You got to grow and mature in order to reach that goal.”

“We won a state championship, Tournament of Champions and was ranked nationally. It was great because I accomplished it with my long-time friends that I had grown up since I was a kid. Being able to go from 7 to 17 with them ( RJ Cole, Juvaris Hayes, Idris Joyner, Jaleel Lord, Asante Gist, Kaleb Bishop) and winning at that capacity and level.

Continuing to play AAU basketball while attending St. Anthony’s under head coach Frank Burno, Gibbs got the chance to play RJ Cole, Jagan Mosely, Brandon Anderson, Ray Montilus, Sa’eed Nelson and Leon Daniels. Off the court, Gibbs flourished as well. He was named St. Anthony High School Valedictorian, News 12 New Jersey Co-Scholar Athlete of the Week, and received the Investors Bank Academic Excellence Award.

“My parents told me one day the ball is going to stop bouncing, and you have to have something to rely on. I always did well in school and I am blessed to do well in basketball,” Gibbs said.

After graduating from St. Anthony’s, Gibbs visited several colleges such as St. Peter’s, Central Connecticut, Holy Cross and Dartmouth. When it came down to making a decision, Gibbs decided to remain close to home and attend NJIT.

“NJIT was kind of the perfect thing. I knew a lot of people there and I went to school with Tim Coleman and Mohamed Bendary,” Gibbs said. “I knew the coaching staff for most of my life. Coach (Brian) Kennedy, Kim Waiters are 12 minutes away from my house. Coach Kennedy gave me a chance, took a shot on a 6 foot, 130-pound kid when I was a senior in high school.”

In his freshman year, Gibbs averaged 3.3 points per game and started 13 games. “My freshman year, I got to go down to Mexico at the start of the season. The first home I played at the Fleisher Center against Division III St. Lawrence. I was able to get significant minutes, trying to get everyone a few shots, had a few assists and didn’t particularly shoot the ball well.”

On scoring his first college career points and road game: “I was on the free-throw line, I said to myself, ‘I better make these.’ The score was 35-13 with 10 minutes left in the first half and said, ‘I have to get my feet wet.’

“The first road game was at Utah State. Damon Lynn had 30 points and carrying us in that game offensively. Thankfully I played a lot in that game, had a few buckets, good plays. It was my first really high-level game seeing the intensity of college game for the first time.”

Increasing production in his sophomore year, Gibbs averaged 5.8 points per game, shooting 50 percent from three-point range, 81 percent from the free-throw line, and totaling 31 steals

“Freshman to sophomore year was a confidence thing and figuring out the college game,” Gibbs remarked. “My freshman year, I would be confused and lost out there. It started to click towards the end of my freshman year. I started playing well, scoring in double figures, and started every game. I got more comfortable with the game and system.”

“I had an unbelievable shooting year my sophomore year, shot 50 percent, 48 percent from the field and 80 something from the free-throw line. It was a kind of maturation. I had more confidence in myself throughout that period of time. Once any basketball player gets that confidence, that’s when they are at their best. That’s kind of what happened to me during that time.”

The confidence kept rising for Gibbs in his junior year, averaging 8.6 points per game, including a career-high 25 points against Cornell. Playing in 35 games and tallying 1,073 minutes on the court. NJIT won a program-record 22 games, won its first ASUN Tournament game against Florida Gulf Coast University. The Highlanders secured a spot in the CollegeInsider.com Postseason Tournament, where they defeated Quinnipiac 92-81.

“We started clicking together and chemistry was building. Last year we had guys that had played for 2 or 3 years already,” Gibbs said. “We knew where everybody was going to be at and having talented bigs in Abdul (Lewis), Mohamed (Bendary), Diandre (Wilson), and Donovan (Greer), as well as me and Zach (Cooks). We were more experienced and kind of put it all together. We had been to every A-Sun Tournament game but could never get a win and finally got that weight off our back. To finally beat Florida Gulf Coast was a great feeling because we had never won at their arena.”

Gibbs’ final season turned out to be a very challenging season as he was the only senior on the team. NJIT struggled with injuries and finished with a 9-21 record. However, the Highlanders battled number one seed Liberty on their home cFeourt for 40 minutes in the ASUN Tournament Quarterfinals before falling 55-49, ending Gibbs’ career in a Highlanders uniform. Gibbs finished the season averaging 8.2 points per game in 30 games. Gibbs ended his career starting 108 career games, which was the highest in the ASUN, 13th in the NCAA. He also set an NJIT record playing in 125 games.

“It was different than any other year. Only eight or nine guys at practice because of injuries and we really couldn’t practice the way we wanted to. We made it work. I can’t complain looking back and I have no regrets about everything. I was happy I was able to do it. I have played over 3,000 minutes in my college career, and I can’t complain about it.”

“It really didn’t hit me right away. It took a few days. We’re in the locker room, hugging everybody. Maybe in a couple of months, I will say, ‘Wow, I’m not on the court with these guys and in the locker room.’ I’m going to be in the stands watching the games, and that’s a huge difference.”

What mattered most to Gibbs during his senior season was passing down his experience and knowledge to the underclassmen. He also wanted to acknowledge the accomplishments of teammates that he had been playing with.

“I wanted to relay as much information to them because I have been in their shoes. When I was a freshman, I was not playing a lot. Towards the middle of freshman year, I was on the bench. Games that I didn’t play and wouldn’t play 2 or 3 games in a row and didn’t know if I was starting. I had ups and downs freshman year so I can tell them I have been through it. I would talk to them and tell them you have to believe in the work you are putting in and believe in yourself. As long as you keep working hard, it will come back to you full circle and not to worry and get down on yourself.”

Gibbs thrived in the classroom at NJIT. He was named to the A-Sun All-Academic Team for a third consecutive year, CoSIDA Academic All-District Team in his junior year, and ECAC (Eastern College Athletic Conference) Winter/Spring Academic Honor Roll in his sophomore year. Majoring in Finance, Gibbs has already earned his bachelor’s degree and on the verge of completing his Master’s Degree.

“Growing up, I was told there was no basketball without books,” said Gibbs. “My parents instilled that in me at a very young age, and it kind of stuck with me throughout my life. In high school, I graduated as a valedictorian and coming into college, I had that same mindset.”

“To get out of NJIT with a Master’s Degree, I’m going to keep that promise to them. My parents have done everything in their power to make sure I was successful. I can only thank God to have two incredible parents, two siblings, two additional siblings, sister-in-law, brother-in-law, and three nephews. Just having that support system on the basketball court and giving it my all and in the classroom having that same type of mentality.”

“I finished my bachelor’s and just want to complete my Master’s. It’s for me personally a large part is for my parents and want to do that for them. They are my motivational factor behind that. My family sacrificed a lot for me, time and financially. To be able to give back to them, I have been lucky enough to do it in four years and put in as much time to basketball.”

“It’s all about time management and priorities. Manage your time and what’s important to you. I was never much of a party guy. I was doing homework when I was watching basketball film, getting in the gym. I believe anybody can do this if they put their mind to it and have the right guidance. Knowing the process and not doing things without knowing what you are doing.”

One of the most memorable moments for Gibbs was on Senior Day against Florida Gulf Coast on February 22nd. “It was the first time my family sat courtside at a game. A big moment for me and reflecting back on a lot of people in my corner. Coach Hurley and his family were in the stands and how deep it runs. Not everybody has the opportunity to get to play Division I basketball at a high level for four years.”

“Everything I have been able to accomplish as a college basketball player I have to give to Coach Kennedy because not too many people wanted to I have nothing but thankfulness and praise for him. I developed a relationship with Kim Waiters, Joe Gutowski, Jeff Rafferty, and Danny Manuel. Aside from the basketball side of life, its actual life. I know if I’m having a hard time, I can pick up the phone and call or text one of them. It’s a blessing because not too many people have that option or relationships with their coaches. It’s a testament to the people they are.
Not everything is about basketball and talk about your future.”

“On the flip side, I gave it my all and everything I had to NJIT coaching staff and teammates. I’m forever thankful for the opportunities and blessings that came with going to NJIT and the people I have met and came across. I hope I can repay them in whatever way I can.”

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Sunil Sunder Raj

Sunil is the Rockland Boulders Beat Writer for DoubleGSports.com and also covers North Jersey High School Sports
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